Mrs. Anne Crain puzzled over the cheerful smell of coffee brewing as she lay in her cabin on the Cunarder Carpathia, bound from New York to the Mediterranean. It was nearly 1:00 A.M. on the fourth night out, and by now Mrs. Crain knew the quiet little liner well enough to feel that any sign of activity after midnight was unusual, let alone coffee brewing.
Down the corridor Miss Ann Peterson lay awake in her bunk too. She wondered why the lights were turned on all over the ship-normally the poky Carpathia was shut down by now.
Mr. Howard M. Chapin was more worried than puzzled. He lay in the upper berth of his cabin on A Deck-his face just a few inches below the Boat Deck above. Sometime after midnight a strange sound suddenly woke him up. It was a man kneeling down on the deck directly over his head. The day before, he had noticed a lifeboat tied to a cleat just about there; now he felt sure the man was unfastening the boat and something was wrong.
Nearby, Mrs. Louis M. Ogden awoke to a cold cabin and a speeding ship. Hearing loud noises overhead, she too decided something must be wrong. she shook her sleeping husband. His diagnosis didn’t reassure her-the noise was the crew breaking out the chocks from the lifeboats overhead. He opened the stateroom door and saw a line of stewards carrying blankets and mattresses. Not very reassuring either.
Here and there, all over the ship, the light sleepers listened restlessly to muffled commands, tramping feet, creaking davits. Some wondered about the engines-they were pounding so much harder, so much faster than usual. The mattresses jiggled wildly . . . the washstand tumblers rattled loudly in their brackets . . . the woodwork groaned with the strain. A turn of the faucet produced only cold water-at twist on the heater knob brought no results-the engines seemed to be feeding on every ounce of steam.
Strangest of all was the bitter cold. The Carpathia has left New York on April 11, bound for Gibraltar, Genoa, Naples, Trieste and Fiume. Her 150 First Class passengers pre-Florida era; her 575 steerage passengers were mostly Italians and Slavs returning to their sunny Mediterranean. All of them welcomed the balmy breeze of the Gulf Stream that Sunday afternoon.Toward five o’clock it grew so warm that Mr. Chapin shifted his deck chair to the shade. Now there was an amazing change-the frigid blast that swept through every crack and seam felt like the Arctic.
On the bridge, Captain Arthur H. Rostron wondered whether he had overlooked anything. He had been at sea for 27 years-with Cunard for 17- but this was only his second years a a cunard skipper and only his third month on the Carpathia. The Titanic’s call for help was his first real test.
When the CQD (morse code distress signal) arrived, Rostron had already turned in for the night. Harold Cottam, the Carpathia’s operator, rushed the message to First Officer Dean on the bridge. They both raced down the ladder, through the chart room, and burst into the Captain’s cabin. Rostron-a stickler for discipline even when half-asleep-wondered what the ship was coming to, with people dashing in this way. They were meant to knock. But before he could reprimand them, Dean blurted the news.
Rostron bolted out of bed, ordered the ship turned, and then-after the order was given-double-checked Cottam: “Are you sure it is the Titanic and requires immediate assistance?” “Yes, sir.” “You are absolutely certain?” “Quite certain.” “all right, tell him we are coming along as fast as we can.”
Rostron then rushed into the chart room and worked out the Carpathia’s new course. As he figured and scribbled, he saw the boatswain’s mate pass by, leading a party to scrub down the decks. Rostron told him to forget the decks and prepare the boats for lowering. The mate gaped. Rostron reassured him, “It’s all right; we’re going to another vessel in distress.”
In a few moments the new course was set-North 52 West. The Carpathia was 58 miles away. At 14 knots she would take four hours to get there. Too long.
Many an iceberg has been identified as “the iceberg that sank the Titanic,” but this one has a better pedigree than most. It was photographed near the scene on April 15. The Chief Steward of the German ship Prinz Adelbert took the picture, not because of the Titanic-he hadn’t yet heard-but because a great scar of red paint ran along the berg’s base. It suggested a recent collision with some ship. White Star Vice President Philip A.S. Franklin was sufficiently impressed that he always refused to look at the picture. (Author’s collection)
This year is the centennial of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum, with whom I am affiliated and am art director, is the impetus of this blog. We are running an art show, the theme, “The Titanic.” Since Lockwood is sponsoring the commemoration of its maiden voyage, I researched tales to tell. Last week the blog was about a tenacious amazing survivor, Helen Churchill Candee, this week talks about the nearest ship CQD (SOS) call to come to the aid of the sinking ship. In my research, I found this story in a 1955 book “A Night to Remember,” by author Walter Lord and published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. It is taken from Chapter IX “We’re Going North Like Hell.”
What would you think if you were sailing in balmy waters, suddenly becoming frigid?
To be continued…