The sinking of the Titanic was a horrific disaster. More than half of the 1503 passengers lost their lives in the frigid Atlantic ocean that night. Since then, tales of that fateful evening have become the stuff of legends.
The survivors themselves are legends. Their stories are powerful and moving, showing the remarkable resiliency of the human spirit and an inspiring will to live.
Here are a few survivors sharing their stories of that tragic evening, in their own words.
15 at the time, McGowan recalls the sacrifice and chaos of that ngiht.
“Women wouldn’t leave their husbands. They were screaming, and I could hear gunshots in the background. Apparently, some of the men had tried to dress like women in order to be rescued, and they were shot.”
She also recalls a man jumping into their lifeboat, though the call was for women and children first, and telling the boat crew, “Let me in or I’ll tip the whole lifeboat over.”
Though she was one of the lucky ones to be saved by the Carpathia that evening, upon arriving in New York she came to a shrewd realization.
“There was scarcely anyone who had not been separated from husband, child or friend. Was the last one among the handful saved? I had a husband to search for, a husband whom in the greatness of my faith, I had believed would be found in one of the boats. He was not there.”
Russel, 33 at the time of the tragedy, saw the Iceberg and remarked how people thought it was “fun.”
“There was a very slight bump. Just a little jar, nothing at all. I went in my room. There was a second light jar, nothing of consequence, but you knew something had happened. One man said “that’s an iceberg and it’s a whopper!”
Because you know, there’s 1/8 above the water and 7/8 below and this blooming thing is rising all the way over the top of the ship. We thought nothing of it. We picked up the bits of ice and most of us played snowballs!”
Elin and Pekko Hakkarainen
Elin’s husband made the ultimate sacrifice that evening.
“We rowed away quickly, watching our ship slide beneath the surface of the water. The screams of those in the water were horrible – I remember calling over and over, “Pekko, Pekko, I am here; come this way.”
It was cold on the lifeboat, and I wasn’t wearing warm clothes. I didn’t know if I was falling asleep or freezing to death, but I drifted into unconsciousness.
Soon after, it was daylight, and we could see a ship in the distance – we would be rescued… and made warm. Once aboard the Carpathia, the passengers and crew did their best to console us. We were given clothes, food, and hot coffee.
But with all we were given, I was still lacking. I slowly realized the last words I might ever hear from my husband were, “I’m going to see what has happened.” I remember standing at the railing for hours, looking out to the open sea and hoping upon hope that I would discover just one more lifeboat.”
Eva Hart may have lost her father in the sinking, but it didn’t inhibit her desire to travel or sense of adventure.
“People I meet always seem surprised that I do not hesitate to travel by train, car, airplane, or ship when necessary. It is almost as if they expect me to be permanently quivering in my shoes at the thought of a journey.
If I acted like that I would have died of fright many years ago – life has to be lived irrespective of the possible dangers and tragedies lurking round the corner.”
Helen Churchill Candee
Helen saw first-hand the sacrifices some men made that evening to allow others to get to safety.
“A group of stokers [steam engine workers] fleeing the water-filled decks below appeared. Each face reflected the sight he had seen, the sight of coming death. Each knew what the passengers did not know… All of a sudden, the junior officer who led them gave a short, “Halt!”
The men did as they were told, turned around and went back down below – to their deaths. I looked with profound admiration at the descending column of men, who could courageously relinquish their life.”
These orphaned twins were on their way to America to start a new life when they lost their father in the Titanic tragedy. Even though they were incredibly young when it happened, Michael Navratil remembers his father’s final words to him.
“My child, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expected her to follow us, so that we might all live happily together in the peace and freedom of the New World.”
It took a month, but their mother did finally find them, thanks to a picture in the newspaper.
In her young age, she was 12-years-old at the time, Becker remarked on the beauty in the chaos.
“The night was dark, no moon. It was a very dark, black night, and that boat was just beautiful. All the lights in the boat were on. It was just a beautiful sight. It was going down quietly and the lights were going under the water as it went down.
I remember that very plainly as it was a beautiful sight and a terrible sight as we could see the boat was going down.”
Those involved in getting people off the ship had no idea what to do once they were safely rowing away in life boats.
Our men knew nothing about the position of the stars, hardly how to pull together. Two oars were soon overboard. The men’s hands were too cold to hold on…
Then across the water swept that awful wail, the cry of those drowning people. In my ears I heard: “She’s gone, lads; row like hell or we’ll get the devil of a swell.”
Laura Mabel Francatelli
The fear and remorse of watching the ship sink what a stark contrast to the emotions felt when seeing a ship coming to save you.
Oh, at daybreak, when we saw the lights of that ship, about four miles away, we rowed like mad, and passed icebergs like mountains, at last at about 6:30 the dear Carpathia picked us up, our little boat was like a speck against that giant.
Then came my weakest moment, they lowered a rope swing, which was awkward to sit on, with my life preserver ’round me. Then they hauled me up, by the side of the boat.
Can you imagine, swinging in the air over the sea, I just shut my eyes clung tight saying ‘Am I safe?’ at last I felt a strong arm pulling me onto the boat…