by Bob Considine
Tribune Column Of The Day: On The Line
New York – It’s true, what the journalism professor (Dr. Chase of the Washington Star) said to the goons who gathered in his class at the George Washington University. You really do meet such interesting people, and a proportion of them seemed to be named Washington.
Washington Dodge, the distinguished New York broker and financial writer for Time. Inc., for example. Had lunch with him the other day, and with Walter Lord, (“A Night to Remember”) and Col. Ray Houseman, USAF ret., now a consultant to Lockheed.
“I missed the San Francisco earthquake and fire of April 16, 1905,” Mr. Dodge said. I wasn’t born until September 23rd. 1907. My sister made the earthquake, but I made the Titanic.”
Not many persons can make a statement like that, 60 years after the proudest ship in the world struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage and sank with the loss of 1,502 passengers and crew.
Mr. Dodge was not quite five years old when the 882-foot, 4-stacked luxury liner met its terrible doom off the Newfoundland Grand Banks two days before it was due to arrive in New York. What did Mr. Dodge remember of that scarring event of his childhood?
“Well,” he said, sparring with his ham and eggs, “I remember walking the decks of the Titanic during the early part of the voyage. My father and mother had taken me with them on a much needed rest to Switzerland. I don’t remember where we went, but I remember why. My father was a doctor of medicine who had been asked to serve as property tax assessor for the city of San Francisco, part of a reform movement after certain graft disclosures. He worked hard at the job, then took his vacation, and brought along my mother and me.
“As I say, I remember walking the decks because I had a toy animal that rang a bell as I pulled it. My father scolded me. Said I was waking up people trying to take naps.
“Next thing I remembered was one night when I was going to sleep, my father – Mr Washington Dodge – looked out a porthole of our suite and said, “The ship’s going to beat the band!” I said “What band?” and he laughed.
The Titanic wasn’t as fast as history has made her.” Walter Lord, the authority, said. “She wasn’t as fast as the Mauretania, built five years earlier, or the Lusitania. There’s no question that Capt. Edward J. Smith was pushing the Titanic but only to keep her on schedule for the New York landing. It would have been a week’s trip.”
“I don’t know whether it was my mother or father who woke me up when we hit the iceberg.” Mr. Dodge said. “But whoever it was, dressed me and took me out on deck. It was crowded. I wasn’t afraid that the ship was going to sink. What frightened me was the noise of the ship blowing its boilers, letting off steam. The lifeboats were beginning to be lowered. I remember the officer in charge of our station shouting that it would be “women and children first.” I remember he also said that he was going to go below decks and get his gun, if the pushing did not stop.”
“Several shots were fired that night, but only in the air.” Mr. Lord said. “The crew had never had a boat drill; the people didn’t have boat stations assigned to them. Some of the boats were half empty, with men as well as women and children aboard. They were supposed to return and pick up others who would be debarked down gangplanks or through side-doors. Most of them did not.”
“I remember it was a beautiful night, lots of stars out.” Mr. Dodge said. “My mother put me in a boat and down we went to the water. It was calm. We had to leave my father behind. I wasn’t old enough to know what this meant to the two of them, but I remember one of the things my mother said to my father was, “imagine, wouldn’t something like this happen to us when his nanny isn’t with us?”
“She was angry at the crew in the lifeboat, I recall. She kept demanding that they row back to the side of the ship and pick up more people, but they said that if they did we’d all be sucked down when the ship sank. My mother was so mad at them that, when another lifeboat with hardly anybody in it came aside us and asked if some of the people in our boat could transfer to theirs because it was so light the sailors couldn’t reach the water with their oars, she lifted me into the other boat and then jumped in herself. But that crew wouldn’t take us back to the Titanic either. I could hear a lot of people shouting and crying.”
“My father made one of the last lifeboats. Our steward – F. Dent Ray, who’s 91 now and living in England – was responsible for saving my father’s life. He said to the officer in charge of the boat, “Here’s a man who’s a doctor and, besides, he’s big enough to row.”
“On the Carpathia, which rescued most of us, precedence prevailed. No survivor from the Titanic’s second or third class section was permitted in the Carpathia’s first class compartment. I was too small to climb the rope ladder, so a mail sack was lowered and my mother put me in it and I was pulled up to the deck. There was a line of people there, waiting to be served hot coffee. When it came to my time I said, “I’m not permitted to have coffee but I’ll have cocoa.” Someone went and fetched me a cup. When we docked in New York I asked to be lowered to the pier in a mail sack but that was turned down. I felt badly about my teddy bear, which went down with the ship. My mother took me to F.A.O. Schwarz and bought me a new one. It was white instead of brown and I asked her why. She said, “He swam all the way.”
Col. Houseman got in the word for Lockheed. Coast Guard C-130’s locate and mark all icebergs over an ocean area of 33,000 square miles south of Newfoundland. About 7,500 big ones are spotted each chip-off season. On Sunday, the Coast Guard cutter Evergreen will toss a wreath in the cold water that covers the awesome grave of the great ship that was built never to sink.