107 #60: Titanic’s distress message was picked up on the roof of a New York Department store

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titanic distress message

FALSE. David Sarnoff, a radio operator who worked for Wanamaker’s in New York, did relay messages from the Olympic and the Carpathia, but this was later on in the day, after Titanic had sunk and when the news had already spread.

Philip Franklin, vice-president of the International Mercantile Marine which owned the White Star Line, was woken by a reporter at 2.30 a.m. New York Time on April 15th, saying that they had received information from the Virginian via Montreal that Titanic had struck an iceberg and was sinking. This was then confirmed by the Associated Press. When Franklin reached the White Star Line office, he found this memorandum:

Titanic. Received from Associated Press from Cape Race 3.05 a.m. Monday, April 15. 10.25 p.m. E. S. T., Titanic called CQD; reported having struck iceberg and required immediate assistance. Half an hour afterwards, reported that they were sinking by the head. Women were being put off in boats and weather calm and clear. Gave position as 41.46 north, 50.14 west. Stop. This station notified Allan liner Virginian, who immediately advised he was proceeding toward scene of disaster. Stop. Virginian at midnight stated was about 170 miles distant from Titanic and expected reach there about 10 a.m. Olympic, at 4.24 p.m. G. M. T. in latitude 40.32 north, longitude 61.18 west, was in direct communication with Titanic and is now making all haste toward her. Baltic, at 1.15 a.m. E. S. T. reported himself as about 200 miles east of Titanic, and was also making toward her. Last signals from Titanic were heard by Virginian at 12.25 a.m. E. S. T. He reported them blurred and ending abruptly.’

The Olympic sent the following message before 2.40am saying:

HADDOCK, Olympic:
‘Thanks, your message. We have received nothing from Titanic but rumored that she proceeding slowly Halifax, but we can not confirm this. We expect Virginian alongside Titanic. Try and communicate her.’

No-one at White Star Line in New York realised the extent of the disaster for most of the day, and nor did many of the newspapers, which mostly carried very cautious headlines saying that there had been an accident and reporting what the White Star Line had heard from the Associated Press via the Virginian and Cape Race. She was thought unsinkable, admitted Franklin, and the White Star Line had therefore not dreamed there was a serious loss of life. A special train had even been laid on by the White Star Line to take relatives to Halifax to meet the ship. The daughter of First Class passengers Isidor and Ida Straus was on this train, knowing nothing of what had really happened, when it was suddenly reversed and she was told that Titanic’s passengers were instead coming to New York. That evening, a delayed message from the Olympic was received which broke the news, as Franklin related:

PAF111: ‘Now, at about 6.20 or 6.30pm, April 15th, the following telegram was handed to me.’

PAF112: ‘By whom, and where were you?’

‘Handed to me by Mr. Toppin at No. 9 Broadway.’

PAF113: ‘Who is he?’

‘Assistant to the vice president.’

The record here shows this was received at 6.16 P.M. This is addressed to Ismay, New York, and is as follows:

Carpathia reached Titanic’s position at daybreak. Found boats and wreckage only. Titanic had foundered about 2.20am in 41.16 north, 50.14 west. All her boats accounted for. About 675 souls saved, crew and passengers, latter nearly all women and children. Leyland Line S. S. Californian remaining and searching position of disaster. Carpathia returning to New York with survivors; please inform Cunard. HADDOCK.’

Ismay had in fact sent the following message from the Carpathia on the morning of the 15th, but it didn’t reach New York until the 17th:

‘Deeply regret advise you Titanic sank this morning after collision iceberg, resulting serious loss life. Full particulars later.’

After he received Olympic’s message, Franklin then invited the waiting press into his office, as he testified at the US enquiry:

PAF114: ‘That is from the captain of the Olympic?’ ‘Of the Olympic.’

PAF115: ‘Addressed to Ismay?’

‘New York; that is our cable address. Immediately that telegram was received by me it was such a terrible shock that it took us a few minutes to get ourselves together. Then at once I telephoned, myself, to two of our directors, Mr. Steele and Mr. Morgan, jr., and at the same time sent downstairs for the reporters. I started to read the message, holding it in my hands, to the reporters. I got off the first line and a half, where it said, “The Titanic sank at 2 o’clock a.m.,” and there was not a reporter left in the room—they were so anxious to get out to telephone the news.’

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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