12 Titanic Survivors Whose Stories Reveal The Tragedy’s True Scope. From the heroic to the tragic, these stories of Titanic survivors are still haunting more than a century after the ship's sinking. Wikimedia CommonsThe last lifeboat to leave the doomed ship carries Titanic. Of over people that boarded RMS Titanic on that fateful day, sadly only around lived. Read some of the tragic survivor stories from the.
On the morning of 18 September , year-old Jack Thayer left his office at the University of Pennsylvania and drove through the streets of Philadelphia. At the city's trolley loop, near 48th Street and Parkside Avenue, he slowed down, pulled over, then proceeded to slash his wrists and throat. It was terribly sad. At the time, he didn't do it because he was brave, however; he did it because he was desperate. The actress escaped a messy divorce in the States by fleeing to Europe — and ended up in a concentration camp. For a cynical few, the Titanic was nothing more than an experience to be mined, an opportunity to turn dolour into dollars.
Within moments of stepping off the Carpathia, silent-screen star Dorothy Gibson, who survived the Titanic with her mother Pauline, met with her lover — the wealthy, but married film pioneer Jules Brulatour — and hatched a plan to make a film of the disaster starring herself. Shooting began almost immediately at the Fort Lee studio in New Jersey and on location on board a derelict freighter in New York Harbor.
Wearing the same outfit she had worn the night the ship went down — a white silk evening dress, a sweater, overcoat and black pumps — the verisimilitude of the experience was overwhelming.
A reporter also present described how "the cameramen advanced upon her alone on the deck of this supposedly doomed ship", and how they "witnessed a tragic bit of acting that stirred even their hearts, accustomed as they were to weekly scenes of the kind". Yet this wasn't so much acting, in its conventional form at least, as replaying. Gibson drew on her memory and shaped it into a reconstruction, transforming herself in the process, imagining a substitute self that was in many ways more heroic than the real one.
The true reason she broke down on set was the momentary inability to reconcile her lived behaviour with the fantasy she was creating for the cameras. Perhaps she did feel some guilt, a sense of shame that she had survived. She had not only listened to the screams of 1, or so fellow passengers as they struggled in the freezing water, but, while in the lifeboat, she had colluded in the refusal to go back to rescue the dying.
She was indeed "Saved from the Titanic", but, in some ways, she was also damned. After living as a mistress for so long, by the time Gibson walked down the aisle with Brulatour, in July , she felt married life to be nothing but an awful anticlimax. Within a matter of months, both started to seek new partners.
The judge was so appalled by the behaviour of the pair that he went so far as to make a public statement, reprimanding them for their "unprincipled conduct". Therefore I went to Paris to live with my mother. Gibson's new life should have been one of pure hedonism and, at first, she enjoyed her bohemian existence.
In , she said, "I fear it cannot go on like this always. I have had my dream life, and am sure that someday a dark cloud will come and wash it all away. Displaying characteristically poor judgement, she and her mother, believing that Hitler would win the war, aligned themselves with Fascist elements. Her mother, for her part, idolised Mussolini, and chose to base herself in Florence. Unhindered travel suddenly proved more difficult, yet it would still have been possible for the two women to return to America. The reason they didn't? Certainly, their experience on the Titanic was a factor.
In the spring of , while still in Florence with her mother, Gibson was informed by the Italian state police that she would be taken to the German-controlled Fossoli internment centre. She tried to escape, travelling on foot towards the Swiss border, but on 16 April she was arrested in Cannobio and taken to a Nazi concentration camp. After being moved around various camps, she was imprisoned at San Vittore, which she described as a "living death".
It's likely Gibson would have died there had it not been for the machinations of a double agent, Ugo Luca Osteria, as she — together with two men — was smuggled out of the concentration camp under the pretence of being a Nazi sympathiser and spy. For Gibson, this was perhaps one role too many: although the plan worked, and she managed to cross into Switzerland, the experience left her exhausted. After being interrogated in Zurich, she was judged too stupid to have been a genuine spy.
In the words of the vice-consul of the American Consulate General, she "hardly seems bright enough to be useful in such capacity". After the war ended in , Gibson, who suffered from extremely high blood pressure, returned to Paris and enjoyed a few months at the Ritz, where she died in February , probably from a heart attack. No cause of death was cited on her death certificate, but it's tempting to fill the empty space with the word "Survivor".
If she had not travelled on the Titanic, it's unlikely she would ever have made the transition from Brulatour's mistress to wife; neither would she have become so infamous that she felt the need to flee the US for Europe. The guilt that came with surviving the Titanic, and the subsequent exploitation of its memory, lay heavy on her heart until finally it could stand it no longer.
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