Unlike Halifax that was dubbed the “City of Sorrows” for its grim role in the recovery and burial of the Titanic victims, New York City became notorious as the city that welcomed the 713 survivors. After a three-day journey hampered by fog, ice and rough seas, the RMS Carpathia docked at 9:30pm on April 18, 1912 at New York’s Pier 54. The rescue ship was greeted by tens of thousands of people anxiously waiting under a heavy rain. “At the pier, rich men, poor men stood shoulder to shoulder, all of them united in the hope of seeing the faces of those they loved,” Wyn Craig Wade wrote in “The Titanic: End of a Dream.” “People at the pier began weeping quietly. There was no hysteria; everyone remained in control.”
The throngs also included scoop-hungry reporters vying to feed a frenzied media as initial reports were confusing and incomplete list of survivors had come through. The story of the tragedy was particularly poignant in New York City as the victims included some of the wealthiest and most prominent New Yorkers like John Jacob Astor IV, Isidor Straus and Benjamin Guggenheim. The city also felt special ties to other victims such as Washington A. Roebling II, grandson of the engineer who built the Brooklyn Bridge.
Many local charities, including the Women’s Relief Committee, the Traveler’s Aid Society of New York and the Council of Jewish Women provided immediate relief in the form of clothing, food, shelter and transportation. An inquiry by the United States Senate began on April 19, 1912 with initial hearings held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. On April 29, 1912, the Metropolitan Opera held a fund-raising opera event collecting $12,000 for the victims of the disaster. The special concert included versions of “Autumn” and “Nearer My God To Thee”, the songs played by the gallant band members in the final moments before the great ship foundered.
I was astounded to learn about the historic and significant connection that New York City shares with the Titanic. The streets and alleys of our beloved and bustling metropolis is dotted with oft-forgotten remembrances of this maritime tragedy. Perhaps it is timely, a hundred years later, to take a tour of one of the cities with the most Titanic-related sites.
The RMS Titanic was destined for the White Star Pier 59 when she sank. Survivors were rescued on Cunard’s RMS Carpathia. The Carpathia dropped off the Titanic’s lifeboats at Pier 59 before going back south to Pier 54 where she unloaded the passengers and survivors.
Nowadays, it is home to the Chelsea Piers Driving Range.
Location: 18th Street and the West Side Highway.
A fading but evocative reminder of the Titanic, Pier 54 is today a remnant of the Beaux Arts style pier designed in 1910 by Warren and Wetmore, who also designed Grand Central Station. On April 18, 1912, at 9:35pm the rescue ship Carpathia, carrying 713 Titanic survivors, docked under the pouring rain and gusty wind. The first and second class survivors disembarked, followed by third class survivors at 11 p.m. An area on West Street immediately outside the piers had been fenced off with only relatives and friends. Reporters shouted questions to the survivors, hoping to get stories for their papers. The crew were the last to leave Carpathia and then transferred to Lapland at Pier 60. From here, the survivors fanned out across the city, staying with friends, at hotels or at hospitals. It was recounted that C.W. Thomas, Assistant Director of the White Star Line, wept openly as survivors descended the Carpathia onto the pier.
The pier’s ill-fated reputation persisted after the Lusitania departed from this same pier on its last voyage before the Germans torpedoed it on May 7th, 1915. Nowadays, all that remains of the old building is the imposing, albeit rusted archway over the entrance. One can decipher the fading words “Cunard Line” in white, painted above “”White Star”.
Today the pier’s platform is used for summer music concerts.
Location: 13th Street and the West Side Highway.
White Star Line Offices
As news of Titanic’s sinking reached New York, thousands of relatives and friends congregated here in April 1912 at 9 Broadway and the adjacent Bowling Green Park to learn the latest. Among them was Vincent Astor, who was awaiting news of his father and who like many relatives left the building in tears.
Today the building houses a Radio Shack store and a Subway restaurant.
Location: 9 Broadway
Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and Park
After the Titanic tragedy, Mayor Gaynor created a 32-member committee to plan for a significant public memorial. The New York Times reported that a heated debate took place at the initial meeting, which lasted three hours. Some suggestions included a monument shaped like a large steamer and an iceberg cut in stone; the largest lighthouse in the world placed in the lower bay, whose light could be “seen from the lower bay for fifty to seventy-five miles;” or to combine with the Women’s Dollar Campaign for a national memorial. Sadly, the monument committee dissolved after major disagreements.Dedicated one year after the sinking, the only public memorial to the Titanic in Manhattan was initially built atop the Seaman’s Church Institute on the East River south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The ceremony included many friends and relatives of those lost on the ship. David Greer, Episcopal Bishop of New York, said “As its light by night shall guide pilgrims and seafaring men from every clime into this port, so…looking at noon toward this place to note the time of day, may they remember that our days pass as the swift ships, and in view of the shortness and uncertainty of human life, strive to fulfill their duty well…” (NYTimes, April 16, 1913). At the time, the lighthouse projected a green light visible throughout the harbor and as far as Sandy Hook in New Jersey. On top of the lighthouse was a time ball, which was dropped at noon daily upon a telegraphed signal from the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. However, the Institute relocated in 1967 and the building was demolished, except for the upper story of the lighthouse, which was donated to the South Street Seaport in 1975. Alas, the lighthouse’s light and ball are no longer operational due to lack of funds.
Location: Fulton to Pearl Street-South Street Seaport Museum
Wireless Operators’ Memorial Battery Park
This granite monument with bronze panels was initially dedicated to John George Phillips, the twenty-five-year old, senior wireless operator on the Titanic. He stayed at his post radioing for help even after Captain Smith released him from his duties instructing him to save himself. He, presumably, was the one who sent out the SOS – one of the first ships in history to send the new “SOS” distress call. Although Phillips reached one of the overturned collapsible rafts, he died of exhaustion and exposure before morning. His hometown in Godalming, England erected the largest Titanic related monument in the world in his memory. Subsequently, many other names, including those aboard the Lusitania, were added to the monument in Battery Park. Carved in the stone is the inscription: “Elevated in memory of wireless operators lost at sea at the post of duty”.
It stands in Battery Park at the foot of Manhattan, facing out to the inner harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Since September 11, 2001 Battery Park has been under renovation and the monument may still be undergoing off-site renovation. Its present location is unknown.
Location: Battery Park-memorial is along pathway about halfway between Caste Clinton and Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty ferries.
The Old Institute of Seaman’s Friend
The 125 surviving Titanic crew had been staying on the steamer Lapland docked at Pier 61 at West 21st Street. On April 20, 1912, they were escorted south to Jane Street where they arrived at the American Seaman’s Friend Society. After they were given new clothing, sandwiches and coffee, they participated in a memorial service for those lost on Titanic. A group of crewmen posed on the front steps of the Institute before boarding the Lapland back to England.
The Institute was eventually converted into a single-room occupancy hotel and today is a trendy boutique hotel.
Location: 113 Jane Street/507 West Street-Overlooking the Hudson.
Corse Evans Memorial
If you walk thru a small door at the left of the lobby of the Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway & 10th Street, you can can find a stained glass window of angels ascending a ladder to heaven Below this, within the central arch is a carved rosette and the inscription: “In gratitude to God for the memory of EDITH CORSE EVANS who in the midst of life gave herself for others on the Titanic XV April MCMXII trusting in Him who hath made the depth of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over. Love is strong as death.”
36 year-old Edith Corse Evans gave up her seat on Collapsible D, the last remaining lifeboat to be launched from the sinking Titanic. She selflessly offered her seat to Mrs. Caroline Brown, a 59 year-old woman with children by saying: “You go first, you have children waiting at home.” Evans died in the sinking and her body was not recovered. A memorial service was held for her at Grace Church on Monday April 22, 1912 at 10am.
Location: 802 Broadway (at East 10th Street)
William T. Stead Memorial
On a wall in Central Park, on 5th Avenue across from East 91st Street, sits a bronze memorial plaque for William T. Stead. He was a crusading British journalist who rocked Victorian Britain in 1885 by revealing the scandal of child prostitution. Later, he began to believe in spiritualism and ironically wrote stories about passenger liner accidents before his own death on the Titanic. Another copy of the memorial tablet can be found on the Thames Embankment in England.
The plaque is a bas-relief of Mr. Stead with figures on each side symbolizing courage and charity. Inscribed is the following:
This Tribute To The Memory Of A
Journalist Of Worldwide Renown Is
Erected By American Friends And
Admirers. He Met Death Aboard The
Titanic Apr 15, 1912 And Is Numbered
Amongst Those Who Dying Nobly
Enabled Others To Live
Finis Cornat Opus
Location: Central Park Wall, 5th Avenue at East 91st Street
Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial
Ida, wife of Isidor Straus, millionaire and co-owner of Macy’s department store, refused to leave her husband when offered a seat on a lifeboat. She famously said: “I have lived with him for fifty years, I won’t leave him now”. They were last seen sitting on deck-chairs while the Titanic was slowly sinking and the band was still playing. The famous couple was mourned nationwide but nowhere so deeply as in New York City. A memorial service was held in Carnegie Hall four weeks later and attendance was great. “The great hall was filled to capacity, and hundreds who pleaded to get in were turned away because there was no more room inside. Every seat and every box was occupied, while perhaps 300 men and women stood up in the rear of the auditorium,” reported The New York Times. During the service, Jacob H. Schiff mentioned Ida’s fidelity to her husband. “There is no doubt that in the awful hour when the Titanic sank that the noble woman broke not the oath that she had given at the altar, ‘Until death do us part.’”
The planning for this memorial began immediately after the disaster and donations poured in. By the fall, 20.000$ had been raised. A competition for the memorial was held and the winning design, one amongst 59 submissions, was that of Mr. Augustus Lukeman. Dedicated by New York’s mayor on April 15, 1915, the memorial consists of a serene lily pond supplied by a two-tiered fountain, with an overlying bronze figure of a contemplative female. The design by Augustus Luckeman was entitled : “Memory”. Inscribed on the rear of the monument was a biblical passage: “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives/And in their death they were not divided”
Sadly, the lily pond with its singular reflecting pool, was filled in as a flower bed in order to facilitate its maintenance. And interestingly, Mr. and Mrs. Straus once lived nearby in a house which no longer exists at 2747 Broadway near West 105th Street.
Location: Broadway at West 106th Street.
John Jacob Astor Titanic Memorial
On the easternmost bay of the north aisle of St. John the Divine is a stained glass window, which was donated by the Astor family. Representing a memorial to John Jacob Astor IV who worshipped here, it depicts a picture of the sinking of the Titanic. An inscription on a stone below reads: ““This Window Is Given By The Members Of His Family To The Memory Of John Jacob Astor Who Died Nobly At The Sinking Of The Titanic On April 15, 1912.”
Location: Amsterdam Avenue at West 112th Street
New York Cemeteries
Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is where 12 Titanic victims are buried, more than any cemetery in the United States. The tombstone of Charles H. Chapman, a second-class passenger reads: “Lost his life on the S.S. Titanic”. The tomb of Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s, was designed by the famed architect James Gamble Rogers and is a striking replica of a pharaonic funeral barge. The inscription on the tomb does not mention the Titanic but merely says: “Lost at sea. April 15, 1912.” Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn has nine victims who perished in the disaster and survivors who later passed away. None is more moving than the story of a six year-old boy named Robert Douglas Spedden. The young child, firmly clutching his polar bear purchased at F.A.O. Schwartz (himself interred at Green-Wood), managed to make it into one of the lifeboats with his family. He reportedly marveled at the floating ice by saying: “Look at the beautiful North Pole with no Santa Claus on it.” Little Douglas was tragically killed by a car three years later while running after a tennis ball. John Jacob Astor is buried in the Astor Vault located at the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum in Manhattan, at 155 and Broadway. An Astor cenotaph is also found at the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery at 74 Trinity Place (Wall Street and Broadway).
Saint Vincent’s Hospital
It is here that many of Titanic’s survivors received medical attention once they disembarked the Carpathia, since it was the closest hospital to Pier 54. St. Vincent’s, which was founded by the Sisters of Charity, often cared for injured seamen. In keeping with its long tradition of treating the needy, the Sisters of Charity wired the rescue ship, the Carpathia, that St. Vincent’s ambulances would be waiting at the dock, but would take only passengers from steerage. It was said that the sisters knew that the rich passengers would be taken care of. More than 100 were transported to the hospital that April day in 1912 when Carpathia docked at Pier 54.
In February 1914, a new emergency wing ward was dedicated to Dr. William Francis Norman O’Loughlin, the doctor who went down with the Titanic. He often visited the hospital to attend to the seamen. During the dedication ceremony, Dr. Edward C. Titus, an associate of Dr. O’Loughlin, said:
“Dr. O’Loughlin, whose memory we perpetuate, was a ship surgeon for forty years. He was a constant visitor at this hospital, in caring for his ship’s injured sailors. Not more than a month before his death he said to me, ‘If I die on land, I hope that my burial will be in peace, but by all that is fitting I should be wrapped in a sack and sunk in the sea which I have traveled for forty years.'”
When it opened, the emergency ward consisted of 17 beds including three beds for patients “in delirium” and five overflow beds which could also provide necessary medical care to female patients.
Another Titanic memorial was also found in the building. Next to the emergency room’s triage desk was a large bronze tablet remembering all those who perished on the Titanic. Unfortunately, there are no records of what the tablet exactly said. By the later 1970’s, the hospital was looking to update its facilities and one of its first steps was to demolish the Seton Building, the 1899 red-brick structure named after Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American to be canonized. Many in the Greenwich Village community opposed the building’s demolition, for it had become a Village landmark.
Unfortunately, the Seton Building was torn down in 1980, to make way for the smaller, newer edition. The tablet for the Titanic’s passengers was destroyed with the building. The hospital, founded in 1849, was around to treat 911 victims in 2001, but it sadly closed in 2010 after 161 years of service. An upscale housing development is planned in its place.
Location: 7th Avenue and West 12th Street
1- http://www.glts.org (Great Lakes Titanic Society)-article by Trent Pheifer
2- http://www.nyu.edu/projects/mediamosaic/thetitanic-article by Joseph J. Portanova
5- NYTimes “100 Years Ago, a Disaster Captivated the City”-by James Barron