Maiden Voyage


Dinnertime. As Bugler Fletcher blew first call, Steward Cunningham laid out Thomas Andrews’ evening clothes … the more worldly passengers assembled in the smoking room for cocktails … and Emil Brandeis, the Omaha department store man, held a small party for the buyers in his deluxe suite on B deck. Brandeis’ accommodations cost $4,350 for the six-day trip. They were the most luxurious lodgings afloat, but the pièce de résistance, his own private promenade deck, couldn’t be used this evening. It was by now much too cold.

Up on the bridge Second Officer Lightoller beat his arms to keep warm. He was due to take thirty minutes off for dinner, but before going, he asked young Sixth Officer Moody to compute when they would be “up to the ice.” Moody scribbled away and came up with “about eleven o’clock.” Lightoller, who had by now worked it out in his head, decided the time would be much sooner—probably around 9:30. Then he went below to eat.

The passengers were moving down to the dining saloon too—the ladies resplendent in silk and lace; the gentlemen mostly in tails, although some had switched to that daring innovation, the tuxedo. As Bruce Ismay emerged from the smoking room, Captain Smith asked him to give back the Baltic ice message. Ismay fished it out of his pocket and gave it to the Captain. Then everyone went down to dinner.

In the First-Class dining saloon the buyers had a friendly meal together. The Canadians on board—Major Arthur Peuchen, the Hudson J. Allisons, Markland Molsom—formed another little knot. The Strauses ate quietly alone at a table for two.

It was much gayer in the à la carte restaurant. The Wideners gave a small dinner for Captain Smith, attended by the Carters, the Thayers and Archie Butt. Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon graced a nearby alcove. Bruce Ismay was dining with 62-year-old Dr. O’Loughlin, the ship’s surgeon and a beloved landmark on White Star liners. Other diners were scattered here and there around the walnut-paneled Louis Seize room. The thick vieux rose carpet, the tapestry-covered chairs, the rose-colored shades on the little table lights made the scene an impressive display of post-Edwardian elegance.

Up on the bridge, Second Officer Lightoller returned from his supper break to find the weather colder than ever. In the half-hour he was gone, the temperature had dropped four degrees, from 43° at 7 o’clock to 39° at 7:30. At the same time, another ice message was picked up. The Leyland liner Californian—position 42° 3′ N, 49° 9′ W—reported “three large bergs five miles to southward of us.” This meant the ice was about 100 miles ahead.

By 8:45 the temperature was down to 33°, and Lightoller decided it was time for some special precautions. He sent word to Carpenter J. Hutchinson to watch his fresh water supply—it might freeze up. And he warned the engine room to keep an eye on the steam winches.

In the tropical warmth of the steam-heated Palm Court, few First-Class passengers thought about the cold. They were enjoying after-dinner coffee and a concert by the ship’s band. Everyone agreed that Leader Wallace Hartley’s men were in fine form. When Dr. Will Minahan suggested going to bed around 9:25, Mrs. Minahan begged to hear one more number. So they stayed on, while the band closed with the Tales of Hoffmann.

In Second Class the Reverend Mr. Carter’s hymnsing got under way in the dining saloon. The numbers were selected by popular choice, and it was surprising how many wanted For Those in Peril of the Sea.

In the Third-Class lounge, a lively session of folk dancing was in full swing. The strolling bagpipe player never sounded better. At one point a rat scurried across the room; the music stopped; the girls squealed with excitement; and the young men gave chase. Then the party was on again.

In the bitter cold of the bridge, Captain Smith and Second Officer Lightoller peered into a black, cloudless night. Smith had excused himself from the Wideners’ dinner around nine o’clock—he wanted to go over the ice problem with Lightoller.

The conversation was pretty laconic. Smith remarked it was cold. Lightoller: “Yes, it is very cold, sir. In fact, it is only one degree above freezing.” And he told the Captain about warning the carpenter and the engine room. Smith got back to the weather: “There is not much wind.”

“No, it is a flat calm, as a matter of fact.”

“A flat calm. Yes, quite flat.”

Lightoller remarked it was rather a pity the breeze didn’t keep up while they were going through the ice area. Icebergs were so much easier to see at night, if the wind whipped up waves to dash against them. But they decided that even if the berg “showed a blue side” they would have enough warning. At 9:25 the subject was exhausted and the Captain turned in: “If it becomes at all doubtful, let me know at once. I’ll be just inside.”

Lightoller resumed studying the empty night. At 9:30 he told Sixth Officer Moody to phone the crow’s-nest to keep a sharp lookout for ice, “particularly small ice and growlers.” Moody phoned but didn’t mention growlers. Lightoller, listening, told him to do it again correctly. Moody did. Lightoller nodded, finally satisfied. He wanted no chance of a slip.