Titanic Blog


Born in 1893, Madeleine Force was a young woman when she first met John Jacob Astor, an immensely wealthy industrialist and builder from New York City. After she was presented as a debutante in 1910, she and Astor became close and in 1911 announced their engagement. When they married on September 9 of that year, she was 18 and he was 47.

The scandal of Astor’s 1909 divorce plus the disparity between their ages led to intense public gossip and commentary. As a result, the newlyweds soon departed for an extended honeymoon to Europe and Egypt in order to let the gossip die down at home. Upon learning that Madeleine was pregnant, the couple decided to return to America as first class passengers on Titanic.

In the luxury of their C62 suite of rooms, one of the most expensive suites on Titanic, Madeleine and Astor were enjoying their voyage until the night of April 14. Anxious for his wife’s safety, Jacob placed her in a lifeboat but could not join her. He ultimately perished when Titanic sank. 

Upon arriving in New York, Madeleine was met by family and taken home to recover. Astor’s death had both financial and emotional repercussions for his young wife. She received money from a trust fund and the use of two houses if she remained an Astor. Should she ever chose to remarry she would have to give up all of the amenities that being an Astor would entail.

Exactly four months after the night of the sinking, Madeleine welcomed their son, John Jacob Astor VI to the world on August 14. In spite of the financial support, Madeleine gave up her fortune in June 1918 to marry William K. Dick, an old friend that did not have nearly the wealth of the John Jacob Astor.

After 15 years together and two sons, Madeleine went to Reno to file for divorce. She then immediately married an attractive Italian boxer – more than 10 years her junior - who had given lessons to her children. They divorced in 1938, leaving Madeleine ill and less than rich.  She died at age 47 in Florida.


Beginning on April 19, 1912, a special subcommittee of the United States Senate Commerce Committee held hearings to determine the cause of RMS Titanic’s sinking and where possible fault might lie.  Senator William A. Smith (R-MI) chaired this committee, which continued until May 28, 1912, when the senator visited theOlympic to interview some of her crew.  The committee heard the testimony of 82 witnesses over this period, and produced a report that was over 1,100 pages long.  The official title of the report is “Titanic” Disaster: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, United States Senate, Sixty-Second Congress, Second Session, Pursuant to S. Res. 283, Directing the Committee on Commerce to Investigate the Causes Leading to the Wreck of the White Star Liner “Titanic.”, and was made available in paperback in 1998, after release of the James Cameron movie Titanic increased the public’s interest in the disaster.

The Senate report includes many subheadings, which itemize what was concluded to be the determining factors in Titanic’s fate.  Summaries of some of these items will be listed here, though interested parties may access the original document at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/TitanicReport.pdf

Summaries of the United States Senate Hearings on the Titanic Disaster

  • Only Two Lifeboats Lowered during Drills: The subcommittee determined that the only lifeboat drill conducted in Southampton consisted of the lowering of two lifeboats on the starboard side and hoisting them back up within thirty minutes.  It was also concluded that many crewmembers were ignorant as to their posts for several days after the departure from Southampton, leaving them in the dark as to their responsibilities in the instance of an emergency.
  • Boat Davits and Lifeboats of the Steamship Titanic: While Titanic had the capacity to hold 64 lifeboats, she was outfitted with only 16 lifeboats and four collapsibles.  The total lifeboat capacity was 1,176, and there were enough life belts for all aboard the ship.
  • Ice Warnings: “On the third day out ice warning were received by the wireless operators on the Titanic, and the testimony is conclusive that at least three of these warnings came direct to the commander of the Titanic on the day of the accident”.  The committee determined that the Titanic crew did not heed these warnings with the necessary haste, and that the accuracy of the reports could have prevented disaster.  The ship did not reduce speed, and the weather was clear.  In fact, it was determined Titanic’s speed gradually increased over the three-day journey.
  • The Steamship ‘Californian’s’ Responsibility: The subcommittee concluded that the Californian was closer to Titanic than the 19 miles reported by her captain.  Furthermore, the crew and passengers aboard the Californian saw the distress signals, and failed to respond to respond to them “in accordance with the dictates of humanity, international usage, and the requirements of law.”  Because theCalifornian did not offer assistance, the subcommittee determined she was, in part, responsible for theTitanic’s passengers’ fates. 
  • Capacity of Lifeboats Not Utilized: Due to lack of preparation in the event of a disaster, there was much confusion aboard Titanic as she began to sink.  As a direct result of this uncertainty, the capacity of the lifeboats was not utilized, and led to the loss of lives unnecessarily. 
  • No Distinction Between Passengers: Based on the testimony of witnesses interviewed, there was apparently no preference given to passengers on the basis of their class.  Women and children were loaded into the boats first. 
  • No Suction: “The committee deems it of sufficient importance to call attention to the fact that as the ship disappeared under the water there was no apparent suction or unusual disturbance of the surface of the water.”  This indicated to the committee that those equipped with life belts or in lifeboats in the vicinity of the sinking ship would have had the ability to swim or row away. 
  • Captain Rostron: The committee greatly praised Captain Rostron of the Carpathia for his valiant efforts in rescuing the survivors of Titanic.  For more on Captain Rostron and the Carpathiacontinue here.
  • No Bodies Visible: The committee theorized that because no bodies could be found in the vicinity of the disaster after the ship sank; the bodies of those lost either did not rise to the surface or were carried away or hidden by the ice floe.  



The Laroche Family

Juliette Laroche, 22, married her Haitian husband, Joseph, in her home town in France.  Although an engineer, Joseph had difficulty finding a job in Villlejuif, a southern suburb of Paris.  The couple already had two beautiful little girls, Simonne, 3, and Louise, 1.  In March, a new pregnancy was confirmed, and the Laroches determined to travel home to Haiti where prospects would be better – after all, Joseph’s uncle, Cincinnatus Leconte, was President of Haiti.

After purchasing passage on the SS France, they quickly changed to Titanic when they learned the girls would not be allowed to eat with them.  They boarded Titanic in Cherbourg, meeting new friends, the Mallet Family of Albert, Antoinette, and 2-year-old André, also bound for the same ship.   While both husbands, Joseph and Albert,  spoke English as well as French, the ladies did not.  With this advantage, the men quickly recognized the danger of sinking and therefore made sure their wives and children made it onto Lifeboat 10. 


After braving the night, these women and children still had other challenges to meet because they spoke no English.  On Carpathia, there was a lack of diapers for the two little ones, so they managed to secure dinner napkins for this more immediate need.  Both families were taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York for treatment and eventually found benefactors to support them while they recovered.  Juliette and the two girls eventually returned to her family in France where Joseph, Jr.  was born on December 17, 1912.  Juliette eventually won a settlement from the government and was finally able to support her family. 

Juliette did support her family, but the devastation of losing her husband and her future stayed with her all her life.  It is not always easy to be a mother; but in 1912, after Titanic, these mothers also had to be survivors in every sense of the word and for as long as they lived.


Occasionally, historical events are so anomalous that seems impossible that they are factual.  Such is the case with Miss Violet Jessop, the twenty-four year old stewardess who was working  on Titanic’s maiden voyage.  Born and raised in Argentina,   she was the oldest child of Irish immigrants .  After her father’s death, the family returned to England.  When her mother subsequently became ill, Jessop   left covenant school to become a stewardess.  Initially she worked for the Royal Mail Line, but then proceeded to be employed by White Star.

Violet Jessop was working aboard the Olympic when it collided with HMS Hawke in 1911.  The event was jarring, but no one was seriously injured or killed in the accident.  While the subsequent inquiry proved a legal and financial nightmare for  the White Star Line, the fact that damage was minimal reinforced the company’s claim that their three great liners were immune to disaster.  When asked whether she would like to begin serving on Titanic, Jessop reportedly was swayed by her friends’ insistence that it would be a wonderful experience.  What is the source of this statement.

Jessop was a devout Catholic, and had much faith in the power of prayer.  She carried a rosary in her apron, and also held close to a translated copy of a Hebrew prayer of protection.  Of course, before embarking on theTitanic, she had no way of knowing how important these symbols of her faith might become.

Onboard   Titanic, Jessop and the other crewmembers were very satisfied by their quarters.  In her memoirs, Jessop mentions ship designer Thomas Andrews by name, and speaks of him fondly.   She recalls, "Often during our rounds we came upon our beloved designer going about unobtrusively with a tired face but a satisfied air. He never failed to stop for a cheerful word, his only regret that we were 'getting further from home.' We all knew the love he had for that Irish home of his and suspected that he longed to get back to the peace of its atmosphere for a much needed rest and to forget ship designing for awhile." Did this come from her memoirs or a secondary source?

Jessop was not quite asleep when Titanic hit the iceberg.  She later wrote, ''I was ordered up on deck. Calmly, passengers strolled about. I stood at the bulkhead with the other stewardesses, watching the women cling to their husbands before being put into the boats with their children. Some time after, a ship's officer ordered us into the boat (16) first to show some women it was safe. As the boat was being lowered the officer called: 'Here, Miss Jessop. Look after this baby.' And a bundle was dropped on to my lap.'This story has never been verified.

After eight hours, Jessop became one of the small percentage of Titanic passengers and crew  rescued by theCarpathia. She was still holding fast to the baby she had been given, when the mother of the child found her and snatched the child away.  Jessop denied that she was ever thanked for seeing the child safely through the disaster.  Again not verified.

Even after the sinking of Titanic, Jessop continued to work for White Star, and went on to serve as a nurse on the RMS Britannic, the third of Ismay’s  trio of dream ships during World War I.  Requisitioned as a hospital ship in 1915, her name changed to HMHS Britannic which stood for His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Britannic. On November 21, 1916,  Brittannic suddenly sank in the Aegean Sea between troop tours. In an uncanny repetition of Titanic, Britannic sank in a mere 50 minutes.   Among those rescued  was none other than Violet Jessop. 

After some forty-two years at sea, Jessop returned to England and lived quietly in a cottage in Suffolk.  She died in 1971.


Perhaps one of the most tragic of Titanic survivor stories is that of Mrs. Rhoda (or Rosa) Abbott.  This Rhode Island resident was divorced from her husband, Stanton Abbott, a boxer and sports promoter,  in 1911 and moved with sons Rossmore (16) and Eugene (13) to her native England in order to be closer to her family.  Less than a year later, she decided that for the sake of her homesick boys, it would be best to move back to the United States.  Abbott bought tickets on the Philadelphia but and was pleasantly surprised when, due to the English coal strike, her ticket was changed allowing her family to return home in style on the beautiful RMS Titanic.

Shortly after midnight on April 14, 2012, the Abbott family awoke to commands to don lifejackets and make their way to the decks.  The steerage passengers were herded upwards, where only women and children were allowed to proceed to the stern boat deck.   Although Mrs. Abbot was offered a lifeboat seat, she declined because at least one of her sons, and possibly both, would not be considered children, but rather adult males.

At around 2:00 am, while waiting for Collapsible Boat A to be prepared, Titanic’s passengers were swept into the ocean as she sank further into the water.  In the dark, freezing waters, Abbott lost hold of her sons and never saw them again. Hope for her own survival was minimal when she was snatched out of the water, and placed in the waterlogged Collapsible Boat A.  With water up to their knees, approximately twenty survivors fought for their lives against the lethal cold; only thirteen of these survived the night.  Just before dawn, these few survivors were transferred to Lifeboat 15 by Officer Lowe.  .

Unconscious and in poor condition, Rhoda Abbott was brought onboard Carpathia; her only source of comfort was Amy Stanley who could talk with her about her sons.  Broken in body and spirit, Abbott, as the only Salvationist traveling in uniform, was immediately taken by ambulance to the hospital under the direct care of Salvation Army delegation gathered at the pier to minister to the survivors.

With the help of the Salvation Army and friends from her church in Providence, Abbott slowly recovered from her terrible frostbite, hampered breathing, and devastating loss of her sons.  Rossmore’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and buried at sea; Eugene’s body was not recovered.  She received funds from the Women’s Relief Committee and the Titanic Relief Fund.


Abbott did remarry a long time friend and relocated to Jacksonville, Florida.  With few prospects, they returned to England to settle an estate.  Shortly thereafter, her husband suffered a stroke that made him an invalid the rest of his life in 1938.   Although poor, she cared for him the rest of his life, despite her own debilitating respiratory problems.   Abbott continually renewed her passport and stated her intention to return to America, however the start of World War II made this impossible.  Rhoda Abbott died of heart failure due to hypertension on February 18, 1946.  She never made it home to America.


On the fateful night RMS Titanic sank, the first ship to respond to her distress call was the Cunard Line’s RMS Carpathia.  It would take her approximately three and a half hours to arrive at the position of Titanic’s final distress call, a time which was only managed by Captain Arthur Rostron’s valiant efforts to speed up his nine year old ship.  The ship managed 17 knots, which far surpassed her quoted top speed.  While making their way to the last know coordinates of Titanic, Rostron’s crew were kept busy making preparations to receive the surviving passengers, in order to ensure the rescue could be both as successful and swift as possible.  First aid stations were set up, hot beverages were prepared, and life boats were fixed to be deployed.

Carpathia arrives at spot of Titanic disaster

To the dismay of Captain Rostron and his crew, there was no sign of Titanic when they arrived at the radioed position at around 3:30 am.  Half an hour later, Rostron ordered the engines of his ship be shut off and his crew began to search desperately for some sign of survival.  Miraculously, a flare from one of the lifeboats caught the attention of one of Carpathia’s crew.  After this initial sighting, more of the lifeboats were spotted, and eventually 705 individuals were saved from the icy waters; the rescue efforts were completed by 8:30 am. 

Captain Rostron then chartered a course to head to New York, where they arrived on the evening of April 18, welcomed by thousands of spectators.  Medals were awarded to those served on Carpathia through the voyage.  Margaret T. Brown, who began to raise relief and reward funds while still aboard RMS Carpathia, presented bronze medals to the crew, silver medals to the officers, and a silver commemorative cup to Captain Rostron. 

For his leadership and bravery in such a daring rescue, Captain Rostron received many high honors. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the United States Congress, and was an invited guest in the White House with President Howard Taft.  Rostron would go on to testify in both the United States and British inquiries into the sinking of Titanic. He would continue to command sea-faring vessels for almost two decades after his heroic rescue of Titanic survivors, and was knighted by King George V in 1926 for his service.


The Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Limited, was the primary service provider for transatlantic wireless telegraphs and radio  communication aboard seafaring vessels in the early twentieth century.  Two employees of the company, Senior  Wireless Operator Jack Phillips and Junior Wireless Operator Harold  Bride, were onboard the Titanic during her brief voyage.  These operators were both regarded as well qualified, which begs the question as to why warnings of ice in Titanic’s path were not heeded  with the necessary precaution.

What is known is that there were two messages that did not reach Captain Edward Smith the night of April 14, 1912.  Approximately two hours before Titanic struck the iceberg, the MV Mesaba sent a telegraph which read: "In lat 42N to 41.25N long 49W to long 50.30W saw much heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs also field ice. Weather good, clear." Unfortunately for Titanic, the message did not include the prefix “MSG”, standing for Masters’ Service Gram, which required the message have a personal acknowledgement receipt from Captain Smith.  It is assumed that Phillips was too busy fielding messages from other sources to recognize the significance of this message, and without the prefix signaling its importance, it was overlooked.  This hypothesis is speculation, however, because anyone who would have come into contact with a Masters’ Service Gram passed away in the Titanic disaster.

The second message was to be sent approximately forty minutes before Titanic began to sink by S.S. Californian.  The latter had been stuck in the perilous ice field upon which Titanic was approaching, and was waiting until morning to attempt maneuvers. The operator aboard Californian, Cyril Evans, was instructed by Captain Stanley Lord to send a warning message to warn Titanic of her vicinity to the dangerous waters.  Evans, too, failed to use the prefix of MSG, and sent a message to Titanic which reportedly boomed over the fainter signals she was receiving.  Irritated by the interruption, an exhausted Phillips responded to his counterpart with a message of “D-D-D,” which translates as shut up.  Because Evans’ message was interpreted as informal, it was not relayed to the Bridge, as would have been mandated a formal MSG report.

During these early years of Marconi radio transmissions, the primary purpose of these communications was to relay personal messages to passengers.  Beyond the MSG report, there was no system of prioritization amongst messages.  The disastrous effect this lack of regulation had for Titanic prompted regulation which mandated that any messages regarding ships’ navigation be given priority.


Isidor Straus, 67, and his wife Ida, 63, almost always traveled together; in fact, they were rarely apart during their married life and wrote each other daily during periods of separation.

The son of German immigrants who had settled in Georgia, Isidor met Ida when he and his brother moved to New York City following the Civil War. Isidor arrived penniless in New York because he had paid every one of his debts before he left Talbotton, Georgia, even though standard practice at the time was not to honor the suddenly worthless Confederate scrip. Soon, though, Isidor and his brother Nathan became involved in the firm of R.H. Macy & Co., and eventually acquired it. Isidor also served as a New York congressman from 1895-97.


The Strauses—now wealthy philanthropists who generously supported dozens of causes in New York— had traveled to Europe early in 1912, crossing the Atlantic on the German liner Amerika. It was their custom to travel on German steamers whenever possible, but on their return trip to America they decided to travel on the maiden voyage of Titanic.

Isidor, Ida, and the Night of the Titanic Sinking

On the night of the disaster, as the call to board the lifeboats went out, Isidor escorted Ida to Lifeboat 8 and prepared to say goodbye to her. Ida, however, refused to enter the small boat, saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” Several other first- class passengers tried to convince Ida to board but she could not be swayed. Instead, she sent her newly employed maid, Ellen Bird, in her place, after first wrapping her in a fur as protection against the cold. The Strauses were last seen seated side by side on Titanic’s Boat Deck.

The Strauses were not far from a member of their family on the night of their deaths. Their eldest son, Jesse Isidor, the US Ambassador to France, was traveling back to Paris on the Amerika, which had sent Titanic an ice warning earlier that day. Jesse Isidor had also sent his parents a personal telegram, mentioning the ice he had seen.

Isidor’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett. A funereal service for Isidor was delayed for a few days in the hopes that Ida’s body might too be recovered, allowing the two who had lived and died together to also share a funeral—but Ida’s body was never found. Several days later, over twenty thousand people gathered at Carnegie Hall in New York City for a memorial service in the Strauses honor.




Jacques and Lily May Futrelle were both born in Georgia (Lily May in Atlanta in 1876; Jacques in Pike County in 1875), and both aspired to writing careers. They first met when Jacques was 18 and working as an aid to the business manager at the Atlanta Journal. Shortly thereafter, Jacques went off to Boston to write for the Boston Post, but he missed Lily May and returned home. 

Back in Atlanta, Jacques rejoined the Atlanta Journal where he was charged with developing the newspaper’s first sports department. He and Lily were married in July 1895 in her family home on Hilliard Street in Atlanta. 

The newlyweds soon moved to New York where Jacques took a job with the New York Herald as the paper’s telegraph editor, and then to Boston, where Jacques took a job on the editorial staff of the Boston American. Besides his newspaper work, Jacques wrote in a variety of genres, including science fiction and a few plays, but it was as a detective storywriter that he really found his niche. Lily had also found success with her writing career, publishing several magazine articles and novels.

In early 1912 they took an extended trip to Europe, during which Jacques wrote several magazine pieces. On the eve of their return to America, friends of the Futrelle’s gathered in London to celebrate Jacque’s 37th birthday. The party didn’t end until 3 am, and Jacques and Lily had to pack and head to Southampton to boardTitanic without getting any sleep.

Jacques and Lily May Futrelle's unfortunate trip home to America

While at sea, Jacques and Lily enjoyed the ease and luxury Titanic had to offer. On the Ship’s final night, they shared a gourmet meal with famous Broadway producer Henry Harris and his wife Renee. Lily retired early, but Jacques was in the smoking room when the Ship crashed into an iceberg. Jacque rushed into their stateroom, and told Lily to hurry and get dressed so that they might make their way to the boat deck. There they encountered a group of men with “smoke-blackened faces” standing and staring at Lily. She later wrote that, “They said nothing but their eyes seemed to say, ‘At least you have a chance, we have none.’”

As the lifeboats were loaded, Lily refused to leave her husband. But as the last of the lifeboats began to fill up he told her, “For God’s sake, go. It’s your last chance, go!” A Ship’s officer forced her into a lifeboat. “I didn’t want to leave Jacques,” Lily later recalled, “but he assured me that there were boats enough for all and that he would be rescued later.” Tragically, that proved untrue, and Jacques died in the disaster—his body was never recovered


London, England had close ties to the Titanic, from the homes and workplaces of her passengers to the offices of the White Star Line. Let’s take a look at a few of the London locations that are forever tied to Titanic.

Belgrave Square: Lord Pirrie, the chairman of Harland & Wolff shipbuilders, invited J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of White Star Line, to his home, Downshire House, for dinner one night in July 1907 and the two began planning their masterpieces: Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic

Cockspur Street: At the other end of Titanic’s life span, the White Star Line offices on Cockspur Street attracted crowds of panicked relatives and friends in April 1912 after news of the disaster broke.

Trafalgar Square: Not too far away from Cockspur Street and just off of Trafalgar Square was the White Star Line’s headquarters, the Oceanic House. It was built in 1903 and can still be seen today.

Fleet Street: On the embankment of Fleet Street stands a memorial to first-class Titanic passenger William T. Stead, who was a famous journalist and peace activist. The inscription states: “This memorial to a journalist of wide renown was erected near the spot where he worked for more than thirty years by journalists of many lands in recognition of his brilliant gifts, fervent spirit & untiring devotion to the service of his fellow men”.

Cornhill: In 1912, Lloyd’s of London, who had the insurance policy on Titanic’s hull, was headquartered at the Royal Exchange.

Buckingham Gate, Westminster: At this location on May 2, 1912, The British Board of Trade began its inquiry into the Titanic disaster in the Wreck Commissioner’s Court at Royal Scottish Drill Hall.