The unsinkable Titanic wasn't, when it went down in the North Atlantic in 1912.
Most readers have seen television shows and movies based on the great tragedy, but how many of us have actually read the words of the survivors in contemporary newspaper coverage of the time? This coverage took place in a world without cable TV, cellphones, computers, satellite trucks or instantaneous communication?
When the Carpathia arrived in New York, figures on the number rescued varied. Carpathia reported 710 saved from what the White Star Line said was 2,180 passengers, and that others say was 2,340. The list of names given by the Carpathia on her docking in New York shows the rescued included 188 first cabin passengers, 115 second cabin, 178 third class and 206 of the crew for a total of 687.
"The tragedy of the Titanic was written on the faces of nearly all of her survivors. Some, It is true, who were saved with their families could not repress the joy and thankfulness that filled their hearts, but they were very few compared with the number of the rescued. These others bore the Impress of their time of darkness, when their people passed out in an accident that seemed like an insane vision of the night. Their faces were swollen with weeping. They had drunk more deeply of sorrow than is rarely given to human kind. But manv whose spirits were fainting from despair walked firmly enough down the gang-plank. Some walked unseeing in a kind of dreadful somnambulism of despair."
When I read that the youngest survivor had recently died - Elizabeth Gladys Dean, known as Milvina, was only two months old when she, her toddler brother and mother were rescued - I decided to see how the newspapers of the time handled this story. I used NewspaperARCHIVE.com as my source and decided to choose the Syracuse Herald in New York.
Dean was listed in the Syracuse Herald as recovering in New York City's St. Luke's Hospital, with her brother and mother (third on the list below):
Eyewitness accounts gave a strong picture of the best of humankind and the worst, of unsuspecting passengers who believed this was a trifling incident, of wives who refused to leave their husbands, of cowardice and bravery:
The stories illustrated how little the passengers really knew about what would happen:
Wives expected husbands would follow in another lifeboat, but some, like Mrs. Levi Strauss, refused to leave their spouses:
According to NewspaperArchive.com's "In The Headlines" column:
Millvina Dean was only nine weeks old on that fateful day when an iceburg struck the great ship on its maiden voyage.
"But, the Titanic crashed into the iceberg, ripping a hole in the ship that had been thought unsinkable. Soon after, a sailor wrapped Dean in a sack and lowered her into a lifeboat," explained The Ottawa Herald on August 19, 1997.
"She, her mother, Georgetta, and older brother, Bertram Jr., were among the more than 700 survivors rescued by the Carpathia. Her father was among the 1,517 who died."
Because they sailed third class and the passenger logs were not correct, initial reports showed the family as missing. But they landed in New York safely and returned to England via the Adriatic.
In 1998 and in her 70s, Dean came to the attention of moviegoers when the film "Titanic" premiered.
"For one of the last Titanic survivors, all it took was 86 years and one monster of a movie to make her a full-fledged celebrity," reported the Norwalk Reflector on April 18, 1998.
"Millvina Dean, a petite English woman with a kindly air, held court with journalists, signed autographs and acted as a guest of honor Friday as the Titanic Historical Society opened its three-day annual convention."
The youngest Titanic survivor was the last of the ship's survivors when she died at age 97 on Monday, June 1.
Choose any event and check it out in NewspaperARCHIVE.com or other resources online to read the words of those who reported that event, or who were witnesses to it.
Have you found information about events online in contemporary reporting? Which site did you use? Did the historical coverage change your views on the event? Did it help you to understand what really happened as described by those who were closest (in time) to the event?