Today marks the centennial of the sinking of RMS Titanic. On its maiden voyage with over 2,200 passengers and crew, it departed Southampton, England, on April 10, and after briefs stops in Cherbourg, France and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, it set off across the North Atlantic to New York. At approximately 11:40pm on the evening of April 14, it struck an iceberg off the Grand Banks, some 400 miles southeast of Newfoundland. At 2:20am the following morning, the Titanic sank to its watery grave and over 1,500 souls - the rich and the famous as well as the poor and unknown - perished with her.
A lot is being said and written about this lamentable tragedy and I am not going to rehash it all here. Just a few months ago, however, during a visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was introduced to a chapter of the Titanic saga about which I was wholly unfamiliar. Today I want to share this with you. I was going to write and post this story from Halifax, but I decided it would be more appropriate to share it as we mark the centennial of this greatest maritime disaster in history.
I am reminded of that touching scene in James Cameron’s 1997 film, which was borrowed from its 1958 predecessor, “A Night to Remember,” when the ship’s string ensemble led by Wallace Hartley, having played through the early morning hours as Titanic began to slowly slip below the waves, chose to play one final song - “Nearer, My God, to Thee” - instead of saving themselves. The strains of this lovely hymn play as the audience watches various passengers, realizing their fate, prepare for their deaths while others frantically race about the deck as the icy waters of the North Atlantic wash over them and RMS Titanic passes from the British registry. The playing of this hymn is one of the more popular legends originating with the sinking of Titanic. Some choose to believe it. Others don’t, claiming that the ensemble played “Autumn,” or an Archibald Joyce waltz. I am among the former, probably because I have always loved this hymn and it captures so well the victims’ final hours.
Soon, there was nothing left of the great ship and its passengers and crew other than a few life boats carrying the 705 survivors, some surface detritus, and the frozen corpses of those who were unable to find space in a lifeboat. Less than two hours later, RMS Carpathia, bound from New York to Mediterranean ports, arrived at the site of the sinking, took the survivors aboard, and transported them to their final destination in New York. The dead were left where they died.
Two days after the sinking, and once The White Star Line had finally admitted the full extent of the disaster, it dispatched the first of four Canadian-flagged vessels, three of them from Halifax and one from St Johns, Newfoundland, to recover the bodies. The cable ship CS Mackay-Benett was the first to arrive on site, on April 20, and over the course of the next five days it recovered 306 bodies, 116 of which were, after an appropriate religious service, buried at sea because there were not enough coffins and embalming fluid on board. It returned to Halifax with 190 bodies after being relieved on April 26 by the cable ship CS Minia. Over the next eight days it recovered an additional 17 bodies, two of which were buried at sea. CGS Montmagny departed Halifax on May 6 and returned with three bodies having buried one at sea. SS Algerine sailed from St. Johns on May 16 and located a single body before the recovery was suspended a month after the sinking, having located only 328 bodies of the approximately 1500 people who died. The sea took the rest of them.
The 209 bodies brought to Halifax were unloaded on the harbor waterfront. Those bodies still wrapped in canvas shrouds for the journey, were place in coffins stacked on the wharf, and the grim cargo was transported to a temporary morgue at the former site of the Mayflower Curling Club, on Agricola Street (now a downtown parking facility), the only building large and cold enough to accommodate the bodies. There undertakers from all over Nova Scotia prepared the bodies for burial. Families claimed 59 of the identified bodies. Three local cemeteries are now the final resting places of the remaining 150 bodies recovered and brought to Halifax. They were buried here between May 3 and June 12, 1912 after funerals were conducted in churches throughout the city.
On a cold morning back in early January, as an icy rain fell, I visited the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax’s North end. Here, on a wooded hillside, is a plot where 121 victims of the April 14-15, 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic are interred under rows of gray memorial stones paid for by the White Star Line. Many of the victims have never been identified, and perhaps the best known of these graves is that of “The Unknown Child.” Only in the past decade has forensic testing made it possible to identify the child as an English boy who perished with his entire family. Even during the winter this singular grave is surrounded by flowers, stuffed animals and various toys. There are an additional 29 Titanic victims buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, and others at the Baron de Hirsch Jewish cemetery adjacent to Fairview Lawn Cemetery.
Wallace Hartley and the other members of the eight-piece string ensemble went to their deaths the night they played as Titanic sunk beneath them. Hartley’s body, along with that of his fellow violinist, John “Jock” Law Hume, was recovered by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, Hartley’s violin case still strapped to his back. His body was eventually returned to Britain for a hero’s funeral at which his favorite hymn escorted him to his grave. I found Hume’s grave at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, in Halifax, far from his home in Dumfries, Scotland.
This morning, at 2:20am ship's time – 0547 GMT or 12:47am EDT – a minister on board the MS Balmoral, a luxury cruise ship which sailed to the site of the sinking this past week to commemorate the Titanic centennial, lead prayers while floral wreaths were cast into the sea and a shipboard band, regardless of the veracity of the legend, played the hymn one more time.
Though like the wanderer, the sun goes down, Darkness be over me, my rest a stone, Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee.
This is more than I could have ever hoped for. I had no idea what I was going to do when I launched this site on a whim back in late 2008. What a rewarding experience it has become! I enjoy sharing my random notes with you, and I appreciate all the positive feedback I continue to receive. Please share your comments . . . I always enjoy hearing from you!
I have several new postings going up in the coming days, weeks and months. I hope you will continue to visit this site and share your thoughts and comments with me. I am always interested in any suggestion how I might improve this blogspot and make it more reader friendly.
Steven B. Rogers' Random Notes from the Edge of America
in the beginning . . . .
"Journalism is the first rough draft of history." - Philip Graham, late publisher of The Washington Post
[Photo by Michael G. Stewart]
Steven B. Rogers . . . .
is originally from Chicago and is a freelance cultural and military historian and research consultant based in Washington, DC. He holds a BA in German and English from Florida Southern College; a MA in German Literature from the University of Arizona; and a PhD. in Germanic Studies from the University of Maryland. His essays, articles, poems, reviews and translations have appeared in several books, journals and magazines, encyclopedias, and anthologies. He is currently working on books about Frank Lloyd Wright and Thomas Wolfe, and on a novel set in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Having retired from the Department of Justice in 2010 after almost 32 years of service investigating war crimes and human rights violations, he and his wife Sally Ann travel extensively and divide their time between their home in historic Mount Rainier, Maryland, and a lakeside cottage in New Gloucester, Maine.
June 9, 2013. 6-8pm. Road-testing new poems at Iota Club & Cafe. 2832 Wilson Boulevard. Arlington, Virginia.
July 4, 2013. TBA. Reading the Declaration of Independence. Town Hall. New Gloucester, Maine.
August 7, 2013. 7pm. An Evening of Poetry with Steven B. Rogers. Monhegan Library. Monhegan Island, Maine.
August 15, 2013. 7pm. An Evening of Poetry with Steven B. Rogers. New Gloucester Public Library. New Gloucester, Maine.
September 26, 2013. 7pm. Lecture on Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Shakers. New Gloucester Historical Society. New Gloucester, Maine
October 13, 2013. 6-8pm. Road-testing new poems at Iota Club & Cafe. The Federal Poets are featured. 2832 Wilson Boulevard. Arlington, Virginia.
December 8, 2013. 6-8pm. Road-testing new poems at Iota Club & Cafe. Featured readers are Hailey Leithauser and Greg McBride. 2832 Wilson Boulevard. Arlington, Virginia.
from the edge . . . .
Watch here for breaking news and commentary. Two nice pieces in The Lakeland Ledger [Lakeland, Florida] concerning a recent talk I gave as part of the Homecoming festivities at my alma mater, Florida Southern College: http://www.theledger.com/article/20130212/NEWS/130219802 http://www.theledger.com/article/20130215/NEWS/130219559?tc=ar
A very nice tribute to my late friend John Haines by my good friend Miles David Moore who was kind enough to cite my tribute to John in his review. http://www.scene4.com/0113/milesmoore0113.html A nice shout out to my posting on the Newton massacre. http://www.scene4.com/milesdavidmoore/2012/12/recommending_another_column.html
"Greetings from Asbury Park - 2009," in The Light in Darkness. August 2, 2012. http://www.thelightindarkness.com/darkness/greetings-from-asbury-park-2009/
"An America Beyond the Sunset: Thomas Wolfe and Jack Kerouac and Their Manuscripts of the Night," in Pembroke Magazine #41 (North Carolina). Spring 2009. [See "Recommended Links"]
"August Neithardt von Gneisenau," in David T. Zabecki, ed. Chief of Staff: The Principal Staff Officers Behind History's Great Commanders, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008. [See "Recommended Links"]
A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines, Fort Lee, NJ: CavanKerry Press, 2003. [See "Recommended Links"]
"Stories I Have Listened To" in Steven B. Rogers, ed. A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines, Fort Lee, NJ: CavanKerry Press, 2003.
"In Search of John Steinbeck’s Maine," in Steinbeck Studies, Fall 2001. [ See postings for April 19, 2009 and April 26, 2009 for a revised and updated version of this essay.]
"The Frank Lloyd Wright Campus at Florida Southern College: A Child of the Sun" in Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Summer 2001.
‘That’s the Way to Live:" Thomas Wolfe Visits Vermont." in Pembroke Magazine #32, 2000.
"A Letter from Comrade Baird," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Spring 1998.
"She Looked Like One of the Valkyries: Who Was Thomas Wolfe's German Girlfriend," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Spring 1997. (Finalist for the 1997 Zelda Gitlin Prize)
"Ocean Point Rhapsody," in Down East Magazine, August 1996.
"From Nüremburg to OSI: The Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals," in The Holocaust: Introductory Essays. David Scrase and Wolfgang Mieder, ed. Burlington, VT: The Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont, 1996.
"The Postwar German Vogue of Thomas Wolfe," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Fall 1995.
"‘A Great Education Temple:’ The Frank Lloyd Wright Campus at Florida Southern College," in The Archi, Winter 1995.
"Leslie Baird and Thomas Wolfe: Chance Encounters in Paris and Hollywood," in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Fall 1994.
Spatial Behavioral Patterns in Selected Short Prose pf the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany As Evidence of Developing Cultural Diversification. Ann Arbor: University Microfilm International, 1985.
"The Unconscious Geometry of Human Space," in Günther Pfister, ed. Language Acquisition Through Cultural Awareness. Bethesda, MD: Cumberland Press, 1978, pp. 90-98.
final moments on the edge . . . .
photo gallery . . . .
At the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota - April 2007 [Sally Ann Rogers]
At the helm of the "Rebecca T. Ruark" on Chesapeake Bay - September 2007 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Relaxing in New Harbor, Maine - June 2008 [Sally Ann Rogers]
At the Summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire - May 2009 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Leaving Tilghman Island, Maryland at Dawn - May 2009 [Ian Rogers]
At Harvard University - May 2009 [Steven B. Rogers]
On the wreck of the "D.T. Sheridan" which floundered on Monhegan Island, Maine in November 1946 - August 2009 [Sally Ann Rogers]
At Ohiopyle Falls, in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania - November 2009 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Breakfast in Sunshine, Maryland - January 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
In the Everglades - March 2010 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Blessing of the John Deeres - May 2010 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Skowhegan, Maine - July 2010 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Man of Mystery - September 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
Ian's Wedding in Quantico, Virginia - November 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania - December 2010 [Michael G. Stewart]
Point of Rocks, Maryland - February 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
Steve's New Ink - April 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
In Baltimore - May 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
In Gray, Maine - August 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
In Winchester, Virginia - November 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
Antietam Battlefield, Maryland - November 2011 [Michael G. Stewart]
With Sir Walter Scott in Halifax, Nova Scotia - January 2012 [Michael G. Stewart]
Prairie Public Radio Interview - Grand Forks, North Dakota - March 2012 [Greg Gordon]
With Ian - Olney, Maryland - April 2012 [Michael G. Stewart]
Cruising the Chesapeake Bay - May 2012
Harpswell, Maine - July 2012 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Port Clyde, Maine - September 2012 [Sally Ann Rogers]
Delivering campus lecture at Northwestern Oklahoma State University - October 2012 [Eric J. Schmaltz]
In Romney, West Virginia - November 2012 [Michael G. Stewart]
Clarksville, New Hampshire - January 2013 [Tom Jordan]
Addressing the "Legally Speaking" luncheon in Lakeland, Florida - February 2013 [Ernst Peters, The Lakeland Ledger]
At the Glen Allen Cultural Center near Richmond, Virginia - March 2013 [Michael Lawrence]
Marital Bliss - Mount Rainier, Maryland - April 2013 [Michael G. Stewart]