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A long-lost account of Titanic survivor, reveals what it was like to be on the “unsinkable ship of dreams”

Ian Harvey

Although the movie depiction of the ship Titanic was surprisingly accurate, one survivor said that it does not show viewers what it felt like to be on that ship. There was so much chaos and panic that it is hard to describe unless you had been there yourself.

It has been nearly 100 years since the ship struck an iceberg in the Atlantic. A book written by Colonel Archibald Gracie, then a 53-year-old amateur historian, who managed to survive that dreadful night, is now being reissued.

Gracie begins the book from the first feeling that the ship had struck something hard. He was actually asleep when the shock woke him. He had looked into the hallway and recognized that there wasn’t any commotion that would have caused the noise. However, just after that, there came the sound of escaping steam. He knew then that something terrible had happened.

Archibald Gracie IV.Source

Archibald Gracie IV.Source

Following the sound, he dressed quickly and went to the Boat Deck. He describes the night as beautiful and cloudless, with the stars brightly shining. At first, he thought another ship had struck the Titanic, however there wasn’t any other ship in the area. He still had not thought about the possibility of striking anything else.

He almost expected to see one of the ship’s officers on the Boat Deck, but none had come up. There was only one middle-aged couple that that had been walking topside, but they were not concerned either.

As he was heading down the stairs to the companion-way, Gracie passed Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star Line, which was the owner of the Titanic. Ismay was preoccupied and didn’t seem to notice anything unusual; Gracie believed that he could have been putting on a brave face so he did not alarm anyone.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on 10 April 1912.Source

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on 10 April 1912.Source

At the foot of the stairs, Gracie ran into his friend, Clinch Smith. From him he learned that the ship had collided with the iceberg. Someone in the smoking room had rushed outside to see what it was the ship ran into, and hurried back inside to tell everyone there was an iceberg towering 50 feet above the deck.

Gracie learned that the mail room was already flooded with two feet of water. The postal clerks were working to save 200 bags, with 400,000 letters in all, by carrying them up to the upper deck. Gracie heard the ship’s band begin to play happy tunes as chaos broke out. In the distance, he spotted another ship – however, it soon disappeared. Gracie believes that if the other ship had seen the Titanic, many more people would have been able to survive.

A collapsible lifeboat with canvas sides

A collapsible lifeboat with canvas sides.Source

About 45 minutes after the collision, the captain began lowering lifeboats, seeing that the ship was going down fast. The captain and his pregnant wife braved the final decision to stay behind and go down with the ship so that others could use the lifeboat space. Gracie was one of the men who helped women and children get onto the lifeboats safely. He stayed calm and collected all throughout the evacuation process so that those he was helping would remain calm as well. He also commented that Captain Smith was the only person that stayed with him until the last of the lifeboats were filled.

Captain Smith of the Titanic. This photo appeard in the New York Times some days after his death in the sinking of the Titanic..Source

Captain Smith of the Titanic. This photo appeard in the New York Times some days after his death in the sinking of the Titanic..Source

Soon after the last lifeboat was filled, everyone heard an awful noise shudder across the entire ship. Water had begun sucking up the hatchway. Smith then made the suggestion to move toward the stern, and everyone who did not get onto a lifeboat followed him.

Sadly, these men and other passengers did not make it to the stern because they were blocked by a mass of people and could not get through. On a closer look, those people were all steerage passengers. Men, women, children alike were all left to their fate.

It wasn’t long before people noticed there was water rising behind Smith and Gracie. Everyone then panicked and began running to the deck.

Gracie.Archibald.IV .Source

Gracie.Archibald.IV .Source

Although this is not the entire story, it sure shows a different perspective than the movie. What Gracie and Smith did was amazingly brave. They are the reason some of those people survived. The men did not think of themselves, they thought of others. In a time of panic, people generally think of themselves and no one else.