Among the bodies found after Titanic sank was that of a woman, clinging to the body of a Great Dane. Ann Elizabeth Isham had a seat in a lifeboat but was told her dog was too big to come with her. So she jumped back on board the ship. They drowned together.
This is one of the stories told in a current exhibit about the people and dogs of Titanic at the Widener University Art Gallery in Chester PA. There were at least twelve dogs on board. Three survived. Small dogs, they were carried in bags or wrapped in blankets and, held on laps, they didn’t take extra space. Astonishingly, a Pomeranian was refused entry on the rescue ship Carpathia. That, after he and his mistress had survived the night on a lifeboat. Mrs. Martin Rothschild raised such a fuss that her little dog was allowed to board.
Dogs were 1st class passengers while cats were crew, on mousing detail. There is a story that one cat saved a man as well as herself and her kittens. She was on board from Belfast to Southampton where she disembarked, carrying her kittens off one by one. A man, debating whether to seek continued work on the ship’s journey, saw the cat leave and decided he too should stay ashore.
Happenstance, loyalty and sacrifice
The tale of the Titanic is filled with happenstance, loyalty and sacrifice. Ida Straus was in a lifeboat when she realized her octogenarian husband wasn’t allowed on. “Where he goes, I go” she said and stepped back on the ship. They died together.
Quebec Shamrock hockey player Quigg Baxter was on board with his mother and sister and, without their knowledge, so was his girlfriend Berthe Mayné, a Belgian cabaret singer. He introduced Berthe to his mother and sister as he put her in the lifeboat with them. He drowned. Berthe later returned to Belgium and told stories of her doomed Canadian beau but nobody in her family believed her. After her death, they found a small box filled with photos of Quigg and his love letters to her.
A Canadian businessman, Capt. Arthur Peuchen, survived but later wished he hadn’t. A yachtsman, he got on a lifeboat with women and children to safely row it away. Back in Toronto, he was scorned for having survived. He retreated to a logging camp and horse farm in Alberta, haunted by survivor guilt. He died in 1929, a double survivor I think; of Titanic, then of societal opprobrium.
Titanic 100 years later
The Titanic specials for the 100th anniversary taught me a lot about the ship and our folklore about her. The hubris believed to be shown by the claim that she was unsinkable: the Captain and ship designers never said that, only the media did. The image of frivolity we see in the band playing as the ship listed and sunk: those musicians willingly gave their lives, knowing the value of music to keep others calm and provide solace for those facing death. Engineers accepted death to stay below trying to save the ship, then just to delay the sinking to save as many other lives as possible. The Captain hadn’t run her at full speed. He knew the danger of icebergs. On his final voyage before retirement, he went down with his ship.
Unfortunate timing of events coupled with miscommunication led to the disaster. The errors were not having enough lifeboats and not enough practice at loading those they had. But, faced with disaster, people did the best they could. I hope Titanic is protected effectively now and left as the burial ground she is. Let her remain a testament to the power of the sea and the sacrifice of so many.
From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Apr. 19, 2012 (comments below)