All posts by Mark Taylor

Catching up on Titanic News;Court Allows Salvage of marconi radio

[Sorry for not posting sooner-been busy with work!]

Judge Okays Titanic Salvage

Titanic Wreck Bow
Image: Public Domain (NOAA-http://www.gc.noaa.gov/images/gcil/ATT00561.jpg)

A federal judge has ruled in favor of R.M.S. Titanic (RMST)to go on an expedition to recover artifacts from the Titanic wreck. The company had petitioned to court to allow it to retrieve the Marconi telegraph and other artifacts. The company argued that due to deterioration these items had to be removed or they would be lost forever. The company, which has salvor-in-possession status, was seeking a modification of a July 2000 order which forbade it from cutting into the hull.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) opposed by filing an amicus curiae with the court. NOAA challenged the evidence justifying the expedition and arguing it was illegal under a 2017 Commerce Appropriations Act that prohibits this activity unless approved by the Secretary of Commerce. They also argued it was out of bounds due to an international agreement. Judge Rebecca Smith found the only issue before the court was whether RMST had followed the requirements required by previous court rulings. Since NOAA was not an actual party to the case, she did not rule on any of the merits raised in their brief to the court.

Source:

Commentary:

This was not wholly unexpected. While many in the Titanic community were against the salvage, RMST claimed it was trying to preserve important artifacts from being lost as the wreck deteriorated. They were able to show to Judge Smith had to merely determine if this was a proper request, that how it would be done be consistent with previous authorized salvage, and that the items would be properly conserved. She was satisfied with what they presented to her.

NOAA’s involvement with the case was odd. Since they were not an actual party, they could only file a friend of the court brief. Their brief though was clearly meant as if they were an actual party to the case. One gets the distinct impression that folks at NOAA believe the federal government and not the court has jurisdiction here. They argued that the Secretary of Commerce is the one that makes decisions here and that an international treaty was also an issue. Judge Smith acknowledged the treaty but made it clear that NOAA has no seat at the table. They were essentially in the stands looking down waving paper at the judge. This must have miffed those behind it at NOAA. They can choose to appeal but on what grounds? If they go the route the Department of Commerce has authority, it sets up an interesting fight on maritime law. They may very well appeal this to stop the salvage. Providing of course they can convince a higher court to stop it. That may not be so easy as it sounds.

Titanic Chronology Updates

May 16,1912

  • Two boys thought orphaned when Titanic sank-Michel Navratil, Jr., 3, and Edmond Navratil, 2, were reunited with their mother. Their father had placed them in a lifeboat and perished when Titanic sank. A worldwide appeal to find relatives of the two boys led to finding the mother.

May 14,1912

  • Advertisement for the 1912 film “Saved from the Titanic”. This is an EDITED version, it is a simulated color version based on the color version already on Commons.
    1912
    Public Domain

    The first silent disaster movie, Saved From The Titanic, was released. Starring Dorothy Gibson, who had been a passenger aboard Titanic, received positive reviews from critics. Sadly due to a fire in 1914 at the film studio, all prints of the movie were lost. All that we have are production stills and secondary evidence from other accounts of its existence.

May 13,1912

  • RMS Oceanic found the remains three people in a lifeboat from Titanic. The body of passenger Thomson Beattie and two unidentified firemen were recovered. While they apparently survived the sinking, they died from hypothermia or thirst in the collapsible lifeboat. The Canadian ship Montmagny  recovered three victims and brought them to Louisberg, Nova Scotia where they were transported to Halifax.

May 6,1912

  • The cable ship Minia returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia with 17 bodies from Titanic . Only 1 had died from drowning and the rest from exposure.
  • The will of John Jacob Astor IV, who died in the Titanic disaster, was probated. His $150,000,000 estate (worth more than $3.3 billion in 2012)[17] was left to his 22-year-old son, Vincent Astor.[18

Today is Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who gave all to serve this country. At national cemeteries and smaller ones around the country, flags and flowers have been placed to remember them. We also remind ourselves that freedom is not easily granted, often requires great sacrifice. President Lincoln made note of this in his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery decorated by U.S. flags on Memorial Day weekend.
Photo:Public domain
Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day, 1924
Photo: U.S. Library of Congress, digital id npcc 11495
Boy Touching Gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery(2012)

Welcome to may

May is the fifth month on both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. May is spring in the Northern Hemisphere but in the Southern autumn. It is also the month that is the transition for many towards summer at the end of the month. Many schools plan graduations during this time and weddings are popular as well. May Day (May 1) was originally a day in old Russia for picnic in the countryside or in a park in the early days of May.

There are many days in May set aside for religious observance on the Christian calendar. Other events include Star Wars Day (4 May), Cinco de Mayo (5 May), Mother’s Day (US) on second Sunday of May, various Liberation Days to celebrate the end of Nazi occupation, and Memorial Day (US) on last Monday of May.

Symbols for May are:

  • Emerald-Love and success (May birthstone)
  • Flowers: Mayflower, Lilly of the Valley, and Hawthorn.
  • Zodiac signs for May are the Taurus (till May 19) and Gemini (May 20 onwards)
China Rose (Rosa chinensis)
Photo: Sakurai Midori(Wikipedia)

Titanic Chronology-April 30,1912:mackay-bennett arrives halifax, nova scotia

CS Mackay Bennett (circa 1884)
Artist Unknown
Public Domain

On April 30. 1912 the cable ship Mackay-Bennett along with RMS Olympic arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia. 200 bodies of people who had died after Titanic sank. Mackay-Bennett recovered 306 bodies but 116 had to be buried at sea due to insufficient embalming fluid. Of those identified included John Astor and Isidor Straus.  Minia, another cable ship, took over the duties of Mackay-Bennett

Most of the bodies were unloaded at the Coal or Flagship Wharf on the waterfront. Horse-drawn carriages brought the victims to the temporary morgue in the Mayflower Curling Rink. 59 bodies were shipped out by train to their families. The remaining bodies were interred in three Halifax cemeteries three Halifax cemeteries between May 3 and June 12. Burial services were conducted at various churches in Nova Scotia. Flowers and wreaths for victims were provided by local people and businesses. Coffins of the unidentified had lilies on them.

White Star Line paid for many of the tombstones in the cemeteries. Many of the plain block granite ones were replaced by family members and friends with more ornate tombstones.

Titanic Grave markers at Fairview Cemetery Halifax N.S
William B. Grice (Wikimedia)

Sources:

Remembering the sultana

"Sultana" at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865. Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)
“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksberg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Titanic chronology: april 24, 1912;Olympic departure halted over lifeboats

March 6, 1912: Titanic (right) had to be moved out of the drydock so her sister Olympic (left), which had lost a propeller, could have it replaced.
Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public domain

RMS Olympic was barred by a shipworkers strike in Southampton, England from departing over insufficient lifeboats.  At issue were 40 collapsible boats that were thought not seaworthy. After a test that showed only one was unsuitable, the workers were offered to return but objected to non union workers brought aboard during this time.  After  54 sailors refused to work and left, the sailing was cancelled. The 54 sailors were arrested and charged with mutiny. They were found guilty but no penalty was imposed due to the circumstances of the case. They were allowed to rejoin the crew and Olympic set sail on 15 May.

RMS Olympic would be refitted in October and would incorporate lessons learned from Titanic. 64 lifeboats were added along with an inner watertight lining for the boiler and engine rooms. The watertight bulkheads were extended and an extra one added for a total of 17 watertight compartments. Olympic returned to service in March, 1913.

Titanic Chronology-U.S. Senate Hearing into Titanic sinking begins

With Titanic’s sinking, U.S. Senator William Alden Smith saw this as an opportunity to investigate marine safety issues. Smith, a Republican Senator from Michigan, had experience in investigating railroad safety issues. Smith believed due to the sensational nature of this disaster that rapid action as needed. Another concern was that many of the witnesses-surviving passengers and crew-would disperse and return home. On 17 April 1912, Smith proposed that a hearing be done to investigate the sinking. President Taft, who lost his friend and military advisor Archibald Butt in the sinking, concurred. A U.S. naval escort was set up for Carpathia to make sure no one left before it docked.

Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan
Unknown date (between 1905 and 1945)
Public Domain

Smith, accompanied by Francis G. Newlands and other officials traveled to New York and were there when Carpathia docked in New York. They boarded the ship and served subpoenas on J.Bruce Ismay and on surviving officers and crew. The hearings began on 19 April 1912 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and later moved to Washington D.C. The hearings, with many recesses in-between, would run for 18 days till May 25, 1912.

April 18, 1906-the day the earth shook and fire sprang forth in san francisco

Northeast View of Post & Grant Avenues, San Francisco, 18 April 1906 Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier: 524396)
Northeast View of Post & Grant Avenues, San Francisco, 18 April 1906
Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier: 524396)

At 5:12 a.m. on 18 April 1906, Northern California was awakened by an earthquake that is now considered one of the most significant of all time. The epicenter was near San Francisco and the shaking lasted between 45-60 seconds. It was so powerful that it was felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. The intensity showed the clear difference between bedrock and sediment (or land filled) geology. Those that got the strongest shaking were in sediment filled areas rather than bedrock. Which explains why in San Francisco the damage was the most severe in those areas. Specifically it is the area called SOMA (South of Market or the old term south of the slot)where the greatest damage resulted. That area used to be part of San Francisco Bay but was filled in for more housing, commercial, and industrial uses. Houses and buildings were damaged or collapsed.

This train was on a siding when the earthquake hit on 18 April 1906 and thrown down. In the far right you can see the ruin of a stone store destroyed by the earthquake. Public Domain (USGS)
This train in Point Reyes was on a siding when the earthquake hit on 18 April 1906 and thrown down. In the far right you can see the ruin of a stone store destroyed by the earthquake.
Public Domain (USGS)

Although San Francisco got a significant amount of damage, other areas were likewise damaged. Cities like Santa Rosa got hit hard(the entire downtown was destroyed) and many in the countryside suffered building or infrastructure damage as well. The magnitude of the quake was originally thought to be around 8.3 on the Richter scale. However others argue it was between 7.7 and 7.9 based on new interpretations of earthquake data. However you measure it, the earthquake was one of the most severe in the modern era. The earthquake not only destroyed buildings, injured scores and killing 3,000 (estimated) but caused the fires that made it much worse with water supply being severely limited by broken pipes. City leaders would claim later, to ensure people would come back to the city, that San Francisco was not destroyed by the earthquake but the fires. The truth was (and later researchers would learn this)how extensive the earthquake had been to San Francisco. The fires were a direct result of the earthquake and made a bad situation that much worse. The Army used dynamite to blow up areas to block fires. This usually is a good tactic to blow up ground to create firebreaks. This made it much worse since no one thought about the possibility of flying embers from blown up buildings causing more fires. Which is what happened and made it that much worse.

Today we look back at the old pictures but not really appreciate the total magnitude of the disaster. San Francisco rebuilt but continued its old ways for a long time. Buildings went up in the very areas worst hit by the earthquake with little attention to earthquake safety. But by the late 20th century that had changed as city leaders realized how damaging another 1906 type of quake would be to a modern city. New ordinances were passed and many of the taller buildings in San Francisco today in the Financial District were constructed to handle earthquakes.

photograph of a collapsed facade of a building near Beach and Divisadero Streets in San Francisco
October 1989
U.S. Geological Survey
Public Domain

I learned this from being in one such building during the Loma Prieta Earthquake (17 Oct 1989 at 5:07pm). That earthquake was centered near Santa Cruz and measured 6.9, much less powerful than 1906. But it caused a lot of damage and some loss of life as well. The building I was in (since it is on landfill) was built to sway with the earthquake rather than remain locked in place. It was a weird experience to feel the building rock as it did but it survived just fine while a building across the street and built long before that standard had its top cave in. That building had to be torn down.

Some things did stay the same as 1906. There was little official guidance, mass transit was down, lots of cars stuck in traffic, and plenty of people milling about trying to figure out how to get home. I was lucky as I took a SamTrans bus to Daly City from the old Transbay Terminal. It was long bus ride that took close to 3 hours but I was grateful that bus was running. Those living in the East Bay would have to wait a good long while for BART to run again. And those that watched the World Series that night saw an earthquake live at old Candlestick Park.

Additional Information

The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (USGS)
San Francisco Earthquake, 1906(National Archives)
New S.F. archive includes stunning photos from 1906 quake(S.F. Chronicle,17 April 2015)
San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 18, 1906 (Library of Congress) 1906 film that shows the damage.
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (Bancroft Library Online Exhibit)

Titanic Chronology:Carpathia Arrives on 18 April 1912

New York Times Front Page 16 April 1912
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

It had been a long three days since Titanic sank when Carpathia arrived bearing Titanic’s survivors. What had been first optimistic news turned grim after the miscommunication had been sorted out. Titanic had sunk and 1500 had perished out in the cold North Atlantic. News as to who exactly had survived was not fully known as Carpathia had kept a media blackout during its journey to New York. There was a reporter on board but had to keep his notes secret in a cigar box lined with champagne corks. He would toss it towards a Hearst editor in a tugboat in New York harbor where it would be raced for a special evening edition of New York World. 50 tugboats full of reporters yelled at the ship through megaphones offering money for eyewitness accounts. Carpathia first stopped at Pier 59, the White Star Line pier and offloaded Titanic’s lifeboats. They were all that were left of the ship aside from the flotsam and jetsam that would be found later in the Atlantic. Then Carpathia proceeded to Pier 54 and the Titanic survivors disembarked. It was only then it was truly known who did survive and who did not.

U.S. Library of Congress,Bain Collection, Control #ggb2004010347
Public Domain

Pier 54 is now part of Chelsea Piers and is located at Little West 12th Street and the Hudson River (in the Meatpacking District and Greenwich Village area). It is now part of the Hudson River Park. It is now used mostly for concerts, exhibits, and free movies. Several television shows have used the Chelsea piers as a backdrop for  television shows (Law & Order, Spin City, The Apprentice). There is a desire to convert it into a nautical museum though that has yet to come to fruition. There is also a plan to redevelop Pier 54’s original style pier for mixed use space.

Pier 54, 2012 where Carpathia docked to unload Titanic survivors,
Photo: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)

Sources:
Books
Eaton, John P.; Haas, Charles A. (1994). Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy. Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens
Lord, Walter (2005) [1955]. A Night to Remember. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin
Lord, Walter (1987). The Night Lives On. London: Penguin Books
Lynch, Donald (1998). Titanic: An Illustrated History. New York: Hyperion

Websites:
Encyclopedia Titanica: Titanic Facts, History and Biography