Most of us are familiar with the inspiring story of Margaret Brown, otherwise known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
The Denver native earned that nickname by commandeering one of the Titanic’s lifeboats and threatening to toss one of the ship’s officers overboard if he didn’t turn back to look for more survivors.
Both a Broadway musical and a film adaptation (literally) sang her praises. But Brown wasn’t the only survivor with a fascinating story. Check out these “lived to tell” tales.
The Titanic Orphans
How did Hollywood miss this real-life tear-jerker from the Titanic? Edmond and Michel Navratil were two and four, respectively, when their father, Michel Sr., kidnapped them and set sail for New York on the Titanic.
Navratil hoped that his estranged wife—who he believed was having an affair—would soon follow, and they could all start fresh in a new country.
On that fateful night, Navratil was able to get his boys onto a lifeboat, but would soon perish. Michel Jr. would later recall that just before putting him in the boat, his father gave him a message: “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.”
Since the two boys didn’t speak English, they were taken in by a French-speaking survivor, Margaret Hays. The family was reunited a month later, after the boys’ mother spotted their pictures in a newspaper.
Violet Jessop-“Miss Unsinkable”
You could say this is a bad news, good news kind of thing. Before Violet Jessop, an ocean liner stewardess and nurse, survived the sinking of the Titanic, at age 25, she survived the collision of the RMS Olympic with a British warship in 1911. (The ship managed to stay afloat.)
Undeterred, Jessop began working on the HMHS Britannic (dubbed the Titanic 2), until it came across a mine that had been planted by a German U-boat in 1916 and sank. Jessop would cheat death once again. Retiring in 1950 and dying at the ripe old age of 84, Jessop more than earned her nickname: “Miss Unsinkable.”
Poor Frederick Fleet. One of the ship’s lookouts, the 25-year-old was one of the first two people to spot the giant mountain of ice that would doom the Titanic, and would utter the immortal words “Iceberg! Right ahead!”
After the ship sunk, Fleet would man one of the lifeboats and row many to safety. Afterwards, things would take an unfortunate turn for Fleet. The young man would undergo countless interrogations to determine whether—with his help—the disaster could have been avoided.
Fleet would insist that things would have turned out differently had he been supplied with a pair of binoculars. Fleet would commit suicide in 1965, after the death of his wife. On the centennial anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, someone would leave a pair of binoculars at Fleet’s gravestone, with a note reading “Sorry for bringing these 100 years too late.”
Masabumi Hosono- “The Shame of Japan”
One survivor was actually mocked for making it out alive. For Masabumi Hosono, 42, the only Japanese passenger aboard the ship, the decision to board a lifeboat—rather than going down with the ship—was not an easy one.
Eventually, after he saw another man jump into a boat, Hosono’s survival instincts kicked in, and he snuck onto another lifeboat. Hosono would survive, but paid a heavy price: Returning to his homeland, Hosono was scorned by his countrymen for taking a spot on a lifeboat. He lost his job, and became a source of shame for his family.
Women and children first was the famous proclamation from the disaster. Charles Lightoller, the second officer on the luxury liner, took the pecking order to heart—and to chivalrous extremes.
The 38-year-old let some of the lifeboats go empty, rather than allow men to occupy the seats. Lightoller himself was sucked underwater then shot back to the water’s surface when the ship’s boiler exploded. He clung to an overturned collapsible boat and survived.
Hmmm…is it possible for someone to die vicariously? Handsome, thirty-five-year-old Lawrence Beesley, a science teacher at the Dulwich College in England, managed to board a lifeboat with the unlucky number 13, and was later picked up by the RMS Carpathia. Beesley would pen The Loss of the SS Titanic, just a few weeks later.
Apparently, he still hadn’t gotten the event out of his system. Four decades later, during the making of the 1958 film A Night to Remember, recounting the tragic Titanic, Beesley snuck onto the set during the sinking scene, hoping, as one writer would put it, to “symbolically go down with the ship.” Alas, he was banished by the movie’s director (union rules and all).
It was the ultimate case of art imitating life. American silent film actress, and one of the great beauties of her day, 23-year-old Dorothy Gibson arrived in New York immediately after surviving the tragedy, and began work on Saved From the Titanic, the first film to detail the events of the disaster.
It was released in May 1912, a month after that fateful day. Talk about realism: Gibson wore the same clothes and shoes in the film as she had worn during the actual sinking. The movie would become a success, though years later, the only known print of the film would be destroyed in a fire.
Ann Elizabeth “Lizzie” Isham didn’t survive the Titanic, but deserves a mention. The 50-year-old Isham, one of five female first-class passengers, climbed out of a life boat because she was told she had to leave her dog, a Great Dane, behind.
The story goes, Isham was later sighted in the water, her frozen arms clutched tightly around her beloved pooch.