Shock Waves Of Titanic’s Sinking Was Felt In Queens
Welcome to April 1912!
The gentle, rhythmic splashing of oars broke the night’s silence as lifeboats serenely cut through the icy North Atlantic water. Melancholy yet intrepid, a string orchestra played on, the notes of “Nearer, My God, To Thee” a funeral dirge as cries for help one by one succumbed to the numbing chill. It was the early morning hours of Apr. 15, 1912, and the R.M.S Titanic was dying, soon to carry with her stories of a glamorous age of extravagant wealth and migrant yearning for the streets of a country she would never call upon.
Getting underway from Southampton, England on her maiden voyage on April 10, the Titanic offered its first class guests the finest in early 20th century amenities: a gymnasium with the latest exercise equipment, swimming pool, squash court, wireless telegraph and opulently furnished cabins fit for the cream of society that would sail with her. Architects, in fact, had aimed to create the impression that passengers were guests not on a ship but in a grand, floating hotel. The largest of the White Star Lines’ three Olympic class liners, her state of the art safety features included watertight compartments and remote controlled watertight doors. She only carried, however, enough lifeboats for 1,178 people, or about one–third of her full complement of passengers and crew.
After calling at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland, the Titanic charted a westbound course for New York City. In the late evening hours of April 14, about 375 miles south of Newfoundland, an iceberg loomed out of the mist, striking a glancing blow on the unsinkable leviathan and ripping open five watertight compartments, which rapidly filled with icy seawater. The floating tribute to the elegance and gracious living of a bygone era slipped beneath the waves just before 2:20 a.m. the following day. She took with her 1,517 souls, from the titans of American and European industry to hopeful immigrants striving for a better life, their dreams and stories forever entombed in dark, majestic silence.
In the days that followed the disaster, relatives of passengers queued patiently outside the White Star offices at Number 9 Broadway, in Manhattan, an orderly yet pathetic scene as many waited for positive news of loved ones, for tearful, heartfelt embraces and reunions that were never to be.
Among those whose lives would never be the same were many residents of Queens. The day before sailing for Europe to take command of the ocean liner, Titanic Captain E.G. Smith lunched with Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Willis of Bowne Street in Flushing, proclaiming to his friends that “The Titanic’s appearance on the Atlantic would mark a high point of safety and comfort in the evolution of ocean travel.” (Long Island Daily Star, Apr. 18, 1912)
Those fortunate enough to survive returned to resume their lives to a city in shock and disbelief. Mrs. E.D Appleton of Bayside, traveling from Europe with her sisters, was rescued by the steamship Carpathia and returned safely home to New York. Katherine Buss, coming from England to get married in California, lost her trousseau in the disaster and arrived in the country with little more than the outfit she was wearing that fateful night. The city of New York opened its arms to the survivors of the tragedy, and Ms. Buss found herself the guest of Sergeant Allan Knapp, of 5th Avenue in Whitestone, before she resumed her westward journey.
New York undoubtedly lost some of her finest citizens on Apr. 15, 1912. Among them was Mr. Emil Taussig, president of the West Disinfecting Company on Orchard Street in Long Island City, returning from a Grand Tour of Europe with his wife and daughter. After the tragedy, a company representative hurried to Halifax, Nova Scotia in hopes of retrieving and repatriating Mr. Taussig’s remains from the funeral ship Mackay–Bennett. Mr. John Jacob Astor, whose family lent its name to the community of Astoria, was never seen again after ushering his wife into one of the Titanic’s remaining lifeboats. According to a survivor who witnessed their parting, “He led Mrs. Astor to the side of the ship and helped her into the lifeboat to which she had been assigned. I saw that she protested and said that she would remain and take her chances with him. But Colonel Astor quietly insisted and tried to reassure her in a few words. As she took her place in the boat, her eyes fixed upon him, Colonel Astor smiled, touched his cap and when the boat moved away safely from the ship’s side he turned back to his place among the men.”
In the 100 years, since that tragic, early spring evening, the legacy of the Titanic has grown through books, films and, most notably, the undersea exploration that uncovered her final resting place in 1985. As a result of the disaster, legislation advocated by Congressmember John Kindred of Astoria, among others, ensured that passenger ships entering U.S. waters would never again set sail without sufficient life saving equipment for all passengers.
The name Titanic itself lives on, a byword for negligence and hubris on a grand scale. Echoing these tragic attributes, a poem which appeared in the Daily Star 12 days after the disaster perhaps best memorializes the doomed ship and her infamous maiden voyage of so long ago:
They drove her with most relentless speed,
The dictates of judgment failed to heed,
Though the air was chilled with an icy breath
They drove her into the “jaws of death.”
They were warned but slackened not their pace,
Regardless of dangers they might face,
Though peril was great they little cared
They drove her ahead and grim death dared.
With over two thousand lives at stake
They tried the record of speed to make,
The chance they took was a fearful one,
They trifled with fate and ruin won.
And for all avarice, pride and greed,
Though it caused unnumbered hearts to bleed,
To make a record their only plea
They drove her to death through icy sea.
The waters closed o’er the sunken wreck
And stilled the wails from her fated deck,
But the face of the world took on a frown
When was learned the cause why the ship went down.
That’s the way it was April, 1912!
The Greater Astoria Historical Society is open to the public, Saturdays, noon until 5 p.m. and is located at the Quinn Funeral Home, 4th Floor, 35- 20 Broadway in Long Island City. Additional hours include Wednesday 6 to 8 p.m. Visit our gift shop on line. For further information, call 718- 278- 0700 or, visit www.astorialic.org.