Titanic Survivor Stories: Who Survived The Titanic And What Happened To Them?
Michel Marcel Navratil, and his younger brother, Edmond Roger. Taken in April 1912 to publish in newspapers in order to assist in their identification. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)
Less than one-third of the passengers on the R.M.S. Titanic survived the sinking of the Ship of Dreams. Every one of the passengers who were picked up by the R.M.S. Carpathia was grateful to be alive, and each of the Titanic survivors' stories are enthralling, if (in some cases) grisly. Everyone's heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, but do you know about ...
The Titanic Orphans
More so than any other survivors of the Titanic, Michel Marcel Navratil, Jr. and his brother, Edmond, whipped up a media frenzy following the horrible events of April 15, 1912. The two young boys spoke nothing but French and had no family present in their lifeboat. After a woman who spoke French took them to New York City, the boys became a national sensation. But who were they?
Registered under false names, the Titanic orphans had been kidnapped by their father, with plans to bring them to America for a fresh start. As the Titanic sank, their mother frantically searched for them in Nice, France. Finally, she recognized them in the media and traveled to the Big Apple to take them back to France, where they lived out the rest of their days. Edmond went on to become an architect and passed away following World War II, while Michel lived until 2001, which made him the oldest male survivor of the Titanic disaster.
Charles Lightoller, a British naval officer working as the second officer onboard the Titanic, should have been dead after he went down with the ship. After ushering as many women and children into the lifeboats as he could, Lightoller attempted to swim away from the Titanic as it plunged into Atlantic, but the sinking ship created a vacuum in the ocean that dragged Lightoller underwater. Minutes away from drowning, a boiler exploded beneath the waves and "blew [him] right" out of the water. It's a good thing, too: On May 31, 1940, the Royal Navy sent the then-66-year-old officer to Dunkirk to rescue stranded members of the Allied Forces. He returned home with 130 men shoved onto his small boat.
Archibald Gracie IV
Archibald Gracie was ready to go down with the ship on April 15, 1912. Thanks to his boisterous nature, this wealthy American was well known to everyone onboard the Titanic, but he wasn't all bluster. Immediately after the collision, he raced to the deck, bringing all of the women and children he met along the way to make sure they made it to the lifeboats. After helping Charles Lightoller fill them up, Gracie finally boarded a collapsible that overturned immediately, and he and the rest of the men had to hold onto its underside as they drifted toward the Carpathia. He survived the trip but died eight months later from complications of hypothermia. His memoir of the event, The Truth About The Titanic, was released posthumously in 1913.
Lawrence Beesley was reading in his cabin when the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. He wasn't overly alarmed at first, as it simply felt like the ship had stopped moving, but ever the inquisitive science teacher, he decided to check out the situation on deck. He was told everything was fine, but he knew something had to be up when he noticed the crew preparing the lifeboats. He couldn't hope for much as a man on a sinking ship, but he made it onto a lifeboat that had room for one more after all the women and children were evacuated.
Months after the incident, Beesley provided the world with one of the first accounts of the disaster with the publication of his book, The Loss Of The S.S. Titanic. In 1958, he sneaked onto the set of the historical drama A Night To Remember to make an unscheduled cameo as the fake Titanic went down, but it was apparently not the touch of realism the director was going for. He was removed from the set and lived another nine years to the age of 89.
Remember that fancy car where Leo and Kate got steamy (literally) in 1997's Titanic? It was based on the one owned by Lucile Carter and her family, who were all passengers on the ship. Carter initially spun a harrowing yarn for the media about her husband rushing her and their children to the lifeboats before joining the other men, but in her divorce papers, she revealed that her husband told her the ship was sinking and then dipped. She made it to a lifeboat with her children on her own and later bumped into him on the Carpathia, where he was just as surprised as she was. He told her that he never thought she would make it off the Titanic.
The sinking of the Titanic wasn't Violet Jessop's first rodeo, as far as boating accidents are concerned. That was the collision of the R.M.S. Olympic, where she was working as a stewardess, and the H.M.S. Hawke. Thankfully, both managed to stay afloat after the British warship ripped a hole in the ocean liner, but within a year, Jessop was experiencing another disaster. As the Titanic went down, the Argentinean native helped confused Spanish-speaking women and children escape before she was ordered to hop into Lifeboat 16, where she was handed baby to take care of as she floated away.
After she was rescued by the Carpathia, she didn't give up on sea life. "Miss Unsinkable" was working on the H.M.H.S. Britannic when it was struck by a mine on November 12, 1916, and she once again escaped with her life. She continued to work until her retirement in 1950 and passed away on dry land in 1971.
Frederick Fleet was a 24-year-old sailor who had worked his way up to lookout for the Titanic in 1912. Supposedly, he was the guy who actually saw the iceberg at the end of his shift and called out for anyone who could hear to steer away. After the collision, he was tasked with rowing Lifeboat 6 and brought its passengers to the Carpathia, but although Fleet survived, his remaining years weren't happy ones. He was plagued by survivor's guilt, and he died of suicide in January 1965, two weeks after his wife died during what must have been a particularly depressing Christmas season.
You might not think a wealthy countess would be among those pushing up their sleeves to save the passengers of the Titanic, but that's exactly what Noël Leslie did. As the ship went down, she manned the tiller on Lifeboat 8 and took its helm for more than an hour. Upon returning to shore, Leslie stayed out of the public eye and did her best to lead a quiet life. The one Titanic contact she kept was that of Tom Jones, the crewman who was in charge of her lifeboat, with whom she maintained a regular correspondence until her death in 1956.
Hosono was working for Japan's Ministry of Transportation onboard the Titanic when he woke up to the sounds of chaos outside his cabin and ran to the deck with everyone else. He was initially denied a space in the lifeboats because of his ethnicity, but he hopped in another boat that had space for two more passengers.
At first, he was celebrated along with the rest of the survivors, but the media soon chided him for supposedly bucking the "women and children first" policy of maritime disaster, and good old Archibald Gracie later referred to him as a "stowaway" on the lifeboat. It didn't help that the sailor manning the lifeboat speculated that Hosono disguised himself as a woman to get onboard.
It was a meritless claim, but the damage was done. Hosono even lost his job for being a "coward," though he was swiftly rehired, and following the release of James Cameron's Titanic in 1997, Hosono's honor was restored when his family released the letter to his wife that he had written on the Carpathia, which featured his version of events.
As a member of the radio team, Harold Bride did his best to radio ships in the area as the Titanic went down, even though he knew help was unlikely to arrive until much too late. He worked until Captain Edward Smith relieved him of duty with only two lifeboats remaining, and Bride and his fellow radioman made it to Collapsible B, a foldable lifeboat. As they climbed onboard, a wave overturned the boat, but Bride and the 15 other people on Collapsible B eventually made their way to the Carpathia. Once onboard the rescue ship, he got back to work and helped their radioman send messages from his fellow survivors.
When the Titanic went down in 1912, Millvina Dean was only two months old. The Dean family initially booked steerage on another ship, but a twist of fate in the form of a strike on that boat forced them onto to the Titanic. As third-class passengers, the family should have been done for, but Dean's father happened to be on deck at the time of the ship's collision with that blasted iceberg and brought his family up to make sure they were at the front of the line for lifeboats. Dean and her mother made it out, but her father didn't. They returned to England, and Dean lived for another 93 years, becoming the last living survivor of the Titanic. After she passed away in 2009, her ashes were scattered at the Southampton dock where the Titanic set sail.
Tags: 1910s | titanic | titanic survivors
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