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Life After The Titanic: Stories Of Seven People Who Survived

Today, almost everyone knows that most of the passengers of the Titanic died. But most of us do not know what happened to those happy few survivors. Maybe they landed in New York with renewed feelings, a thirst for life and a determination to do something with the remaining time? Or did they spend the rest of their days suffering from guilt that they did not die with their relatives and were haunted by memories of the dead and dying? Did they benefit from this experience, or were they just trying to forget all that happened? Of course, it is impossible to tell about the fate of all 706 survivors, but some stories deserve special attention.

1. Madeleine Astor

Life After The Titanic: Stories Of Five People Who Survived

Even those survivors who occupied privileged positions did not escape the Titanic's shadow. Eighteen-year-old Madeleine Astor was travelling on the liner with her husband, John Jacob Astor (together, above), one of the richest men in the world. She had recently discovered she was pregnant and was returning home from her honeymoon in Egypt and Europe when she lost her husband in the disaster. As she disembarked the Carpathia in New York, one witness recalled: "I never saw a sadder face or one more beautiful, or anything braver."

Women and children first
Women and children first”: The Edwardian code of chivalry prevented men from boarding the Titanic’s 20 lifeboats before all the women had done so. The grim truth was that there was lifeboat capacity for only half the passengers and crew. The agony for American millionaire John Jacob Astor was deepened by knowing his wife Madeleine was pregnant with their first child. (Illustration by Fortunino Matania)

Although Madeleine found herself a rich woman – she inherited the income from a $5m trust fund (equivalent to $114m today), an immediate payment of $100,000 and the right to live in a Fifth Avenue mansion – Astor's will carried a nasty sting in its tail. She would be eligible to benefit from the inheritance only if she remained unmarried for the rest of her life.

Madeline died in 1940.

2. Dorothy Gibson

Dorothy Gibson

For a cynical few, the Titanic was nothing more than an experience to be mined, an opportunity to turn dolour into dollars. Within moments of stepping off the Carpathia, silent-screen star Dorothy Gibson, who survived the Titanic with her mother Pauline, met with her lover – the wealthy, but married film pioneer Jules Brulatour – and hatched a plan to make a film of the disaster starring herself.

Shooting began almost immediately at the Fort Lee studio in New Jersey and on location on board a derelict freighter in New York Harbor. Wearing the same outfit she had worn the night the ship went down – a white silk evening dress, a sweater, overcoat and black pumps – the verisimilitude of the experience was overwhelming.

"She had practically lost her reason," wrote one witness who attended the shoot for the film, Saved from the Titanic, in effect the world's first exploitation movie. A reporter also present described how "the cameramen advanced upon her alone on the deck of this supposedly doomed ship", and how they "witnessed a tragic bit of acting that stirred even their hearts, accustomed as they were to weekly scenes of the kind".

3. Violet Constance Jessop

Violet Constance Jessop

Jessop boarded RMS Titanic as a stewardess on 10 April 1912, at age 24. Four days later, on 14 April, it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, where Titanic sank a little more than two hours after the collision. Jessop described in her memoirs how she was ordered up on deck, because she was to function as an example of how to behave for the non-English speakers who could not follow the instructions given to them. She watched as the crew loaded the lifeboats.

She was later ordered into lifeboat 16; and as the boat was being lowered, one of Titanic's officers gave her a baby to look after. The next morning, Jessop and the rest of the survivors were rescued by the RMS Carpathia. According to Jessop, while on board Carpathia, a woman, presumably the baby's mother, grabbed the baby she was holding and ran off with it without saying a word.

Britannic

During the First World War, Jessop served as a stewardess for the British Red Cross. On the morning of 21 November 1916, she was on board HMHS Britannic, a White Star liner that had been converted into a hospital ship, when it sank in the Aegean Sea due to an unexplained explosion. During a major diving expedition on the wreck in 2016 it was determined that the ship had struck a deep sea mine. This was shown in the documentary film of that dive, entitled The Mystery of the Britannic.

Britannic sank within 55 minutes, killing 30 out of the 1,066 people on board. British authorities hypothesized that the ship was either struck by a torpedo or hit a mine planted by German forces. Conspiracy theories have even circulated that suggest the British were responsible for sinking their own ship. Scientists have been unable to reach definitive conclusions as to the true cause.

While Britannic was sinking, Jessop and other passengers were nearly killed by the boat's propellers that were sucking lifeboats under the stern. Jessop had to jump out of her lifeboat resulting in a traumatic head injury which she survived. In her memoirs, she described the scene she witnessed as Britannic went under: "The white pride of the ocean's medical world ... dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child's toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths."

Later life

After the war, Jessop continued to work for the White Star Line, before joining the Red Star Line and then the Royal Mail Line again. During her tenure with Red Star, Jessop went on two around the world cruises on the company's largest ship, Belgenland. In her late thirties, Jessop had a brief marriage, and in 1950 she retired to Great Ashfield, Suffolk. Years after her retirement, Jessop claimed to have received a telephone call, on a stormy night, from a woman who asked Jessop if she saved a baby on the night that Titanic sank.

"Yes," Jessop replied. The voice then said "I was that baby," laughed, and hung up. Her friend and biographer John Maxtone-Graham said it was most likely some children in the village playing a joke on her. She replied, "No, John, I had never told that story to anyone before I told you now." Records indicate that the only baby on boat 16 was Assad Thomas, who was handed to Edwina Troutt, and later reunited with his mother on Carpathia.

Jessop, often winkingly called "Miss Unsinkable", died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at the age of 83.

4. Molly brown

Molly brown

Brown had spent the first months of 1912 traveling in Egypt as part of the John Jacob Astor IV party, until she received word from Denver that her eldest grandchild Lawrence Palmer Brown Jr. was seriously ill. She immediately booked passage on the first available liner leaving for New York, the RMS Titanic. Originally her daughter Helen was supposed to accompany her, but she decided to stay on in Paris, where she was studying at the Sorbonne. Brown was conveyed to the passenger liner RMS Titanic as a first class passenger on the evening of April 10, aboard the tender SS Nomadic at Cherbourg, France.

The Titanic sank early on April 15, 1912, at around 2:20 a.m., after striking an iceberg at around 11:40 p.m. Brown helped others board the lifeboats but was finally persuaded to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6. Brown was later called "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" by authors because she helped in the ship's evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and urging that the lifeboat go back and save more people.

Molly brown

Her urgings were met with opposition from Quartermaster Robert Hichens, the crewman in charge of Lifeboat 6. Hichens was fearful that if they went back, the lifeboat would either be pulled down due to suction or the people in the water would swamp the boat in an effort to get in. After several attempts to urge Hichens to turn back, Brown threatened to throw the crewman overboard. Sources vary as to whether the boat went back and if they found anyone alive. Brown's efforts sealed her place in history, regardless.

Upon being rescued by the ship RMS Carpathia, Brown proceeded to organize a survivors' committee with other first-class survivors. The committee worked to secure basic necessities for the second and third class survivors and even provided informal counseling.

During the last years of her life, she was an actress. Margaret Brown died in her sleep at 10:55 p.m. on October 26, 1932, at the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, New York. Subsequent autopsy revealed a brain tumor. Her body was buried along with J.J. in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York, following a small ceremony on October 31, 1932, attended only by close friends and family. There was no eulogy.

5. Millvina Dean

Millvina Dean

Dean's parents decided to leave the United Kingdom and emigrate to the United States; they were planning to move to Wichita, Kansas, where her father had relatives, and his cousin owned a tobacco shop that he was going to co-own. They were not supposed to be aboard the Titanic, but due to a coal strike, they were transferred onto it and boarded it as third-class passengers at Southampton, England. Dean was barely two months old when she boarded the ship.

Her father felt its collision with the iceberg on the night of 14 April 1912, and after investigating, returned to his cabin, telling his wife to dress the children and go up on deck. Dean, her mother, and her brother were placed in Lifeboat 10 and were among the first third-class passengers to escape. Her father did not survive, and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

It was not until Dean was in her seventies that she became involved in Titanic-related events. Over the years, she participated in numerous conventions, exhibitions, documentaries, radio and television interviews, and personal correspondence. In 1997, Millvina sailed to New York, along with several members of the Titanic Historical Society, aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2). After a few days in New York, Millvina travelled to Kansas City, and visited the house that her uncle owned, and to where her family was going to settle.

Several of her uncle's descendants met Millvina for the first time. In 1998, she travelled to the United States to participate in a Titanic convention in Springfield, Massachusetts, and another in 1999 in Montreal, Quebec. She had also been scheduled to appear at a commemoration of the 94th anniversary of the sinking in 2006, but a broken hip prevented her appearance. She also appeared in the History special Titanic's Final Moments: Missing Pieces.

Dean, however, staunchly refused to see James Cameron's film Titanic (1997). She recalled having nightmares after seeing A Night to Remember (1958), the film based on Walter Lord's book. Dean could imagine her father as one of the people in the crowd of passengers stranded on the sinking liner, and did not wish to do so.

She declined invitations to the premiers of Titanic and Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), and criticised a 2007 episode of the BBC science fiction series Doctor Who about a disaster on a spaceship replica of the RMS Titanic colliding with a meteor as being "disrespectful to make entertainment of such a tragedy".

In October 2007, Dean became the last Titanic survivor following the death of Barbara West Dainton, who died at age 96 in England.

Dean died of pneumonia on the morning of 31 May 2009, 97 years and seven weeks after the Titanic sailed, at a care home in Ashurst, Hampshire. She was cremated, and on 24 October 2009, her ashes were scattered from a launch at the docks in Southampton where the Titanic set sail.

6. Archibald Gracie IV

Archibald Gracie IV

Archibald Gracie IV was an American writer, soldier, amateur historian, real estate investor, and survivor of the sinking of RMS Titanic. He survived the sinking by climbing aboard an overturned collapsible lifeboat and wrote a popular book about the disaster, which is still in print today.


After the rescue, Gracie returned to New York aboard Carpathia and immediately started on a book about his experiences aboard Titanic and Collapsible "B". His is one of the most detailed accounts of the events of the evening; Gracie spent months trying to determine exactly who was in each lifeboat and when certain events took place.

The Truth about the Titanic

Gracie died before he could finish correcting the proofs of his book. It was published in 1913 under the original title, The Truth about the Titanic. Since then, the book has gone through numerous printings and is currently available under the title Titanic: A Survivor's Story. Most modern editions also include a short account of the disaster by John B. "Jack" Thayer, III, who also survived the sinking aboard Collapsible "B"; Thayer's account, "privately published for his family and friends in 1940", is titled The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic.

Gracie never recovered from the ordeal he endured in the sinking of Titanic; as a diabetic, his health was severely affected by the hypothermia and physical injuries he suffered. He died of complications from diabetes on December 4, 1912, fewer than eight months after the sinking. He was buried in the Gracie family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City; many of his fellow survivors, as well as family members of victims, attended his funeral. He was the first adult survivor to die.

Gracie was so preoccupied with Titanic's sinking and work he had done on the subject that his last words were, "We must get them into the boats. We must get them all into the boats."

7. Frederick Fleet

Frederick Fleet

Frederick Fleet (15 October 1887 – 10 January 1965) was a British sailor, crewman and survivor of the sinking of the RMS Titanic after it struck an iceberg on 14 April 1912. Along with fellow lookout Reginald Lee, on duty, aboard the Titanic when the ship struck the iceberg, it was Fleet who first sighted the iceberg, ringing the bridge to proclaim: "Iceberg, right ahead!"

Fleet testified at the subsequent inquiries into the sinking that, had he and Lee been issued with binoculars: "We could have seen it (the iceberg) a bit sooner." When asked how much sooner, he responded, "Well, enough to get out of the way."

Fleet served in the Titanic's sister ship RMS Olympic before leaving the White Star Line in August 1912 after noticing that the company treated those involved with the Titanic differently - in an attempt to forgive what had happened.

For the next 24 years he sailed for different shipping companies, including the Union-Castle Line. Fleet served on merchant ships throughout World War I. Later, he was the ship's lookout again on the RMS Olympic, during the 1920s and early 1930s.

When he left the sea in 1936, he was hired by Harland & Wolff to work at the company's shipyards in Southampton. While working there, he lived with his wife's brother. He served again during World War II.

Later, when he was about to retire, he became a newspaper seller, going through difficult economic times.

Shortly after Christmas, on 28 December 1964, Fleet's wife died, and her brother evicted him from the house. Consequently, Fleet fell into a downward spiral of depression and subsequently hanged himself in the house's garden on 10 January 1965. Fleet was buried in a pauper's grave at Hollybrook Cemetery, in Southampton.

Frederick Fleet

This grave remained unmarked until 1993, when a headstone bearing an engraving of the Titanic was erected through donations raised by the Titanic Historical Society.

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