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Louis Untermeyer


The Story of the Titanic
as told by its survivors
 

edited by Jack Winocour
Dover Publications, 320 pp, 1960

I bought this book a few years ago off the clearance rack at Barnes and Noble for about three or four dollars. It was quite a find, actually, because it contains invaluable eyewitness accounts of the Titanic disaster.

This volume contains two books, one by British science student Lawrence Beesley, the other by Archibald Gracie, a retired colonel from the U.S. Army. Of the two, Gracie's is a more compelling personal story, while Beesley offers a fine overview and analysis of the disaster. The book is rounded out with an essay by Commander Lightoller, the highest-ranking officer to survive, and one of the Titanic's Marconi operators, Harold Bride.

Beesley didn't witness much of the on-deck drama. He was in his room when the ship collided with the ice, and was one of the first ones off the Titanic and into a lifeboat. His account is based on his own personal observations and interviews with other survivors. For example, he believes that many lifeboats went away empty because few passengers believed the ship was sinking. They saw no reason to abandon the supposed safety of the mighty Titanic for the small lifeboats. The crew never did announce make a ship-wide announcement that Titanic was going down, and Beesley believes that was the correct call, because such an announcement would have produced a massive panic.

According to Beesley, all was mainly quiet on the deck as the ship sank. Those left behind met their fate calmly and graciously. Beesley also claims, as do the other three, that the Titanic did not break in two. We know now that it certainly did, so how did they miss it? Perhaps it broke apart underwater. Who knows?

Colonel Gracie's account is more compelling because he, like Lightoller and Bride, went down with the ship and survived by clinging to the bottom of a capsized collapsible boat. He conducted himself well by helping fill other lifeboats with women and children. He actually was sucked underwater and had to swim back up to the surface.

The other two accounts are fairly pedestrian and don't add anything new. But they're all interesting because they all claim the same thing - the ship didn't break in two, Captain Smith was not negligent in going too fast through ice, that they and other passengers could see the lights from the Californian just ten or twelve miles away, and all passengers showed remarkable courage when facing death.

If you're fascinated with the Titanic and what happened that fateful night, you'll love this book.

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