Astor's Death - Condition of the Body

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Glenn Miller

Guest
I am very impressed with this site. More information then in any book I have. My question: I have read (and cannot find the original) that JJ Astor was killed while standing in the wing bridge when funnel #1 fell. This was supported by the condition of his body upon recovery but I cannot find any resource to support my rememberence. His story was unfortunantly edited out from Cameron's movie and his depected death was one of only a few technical flaws.
 

George Behe

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Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Glenn!

Not long ago I looked for the original Astor 'crushed body reference' too, but I couldn't find it. However, I did find several other descriptions of Astor's body which made it pretty clear that the body was not crushed and soot-stained when it was recovered. IMO, these reports pretty much discredit the legend that Astor was standing on the bridge and was crushed by a falling funnel.

All my best,

George Behe
 
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Glenn Miller

Guest
Thank you Mr. Behe for the reply to my question. I looked back through my humble library and found the following:

Walter Lord's - 'Night to Remember', Chapter 6 citing Dr Washington Dodge's controvertible testimony - "They (Astor and Butt) went down standing on the bridge, side by side. I could not mistake them."

This embellishment perhaps was the basis for the caption in the 'National Geographic', December 1985, page 712 - "...(JJ) Astor is said to have made his way to the starboard wing bridge... There according to survivors, Astor was standing when the forward funnel smashed acros the bridge. ...No human could have survived... Astor's body was found afloat but horribly mangled..."

Another reference was 'The Titanic' - Wyn Craig Wade p191 c. 1979, 1986 - "Amoung these were the body of (JJ) Astor, crushed to a pulp - the entire corpse begrimed with thick soot."

Also in the New York Hearings section - Smith questioning Lightoller who testified that the water was at the base of the funnel as it fell forward. This would have ment that the entire bridge was underwater. If any element of the original supposition were true (Astor curshed by a funnel whilst standing at the wing bridge) he would have already drownd.

So I conclude, for myself, that Mr. Astor wasn't killed by the funnel but I cannot find anything to dispute the condition of his body. I could imagine him going down with the stern section - why drown at the bridge when you can walk to the stern? If he remained interior to the ship as it sank his body could have been crushed simply by the tumult of the sinking. The soot could be explained by surface debris. The aggregate story could be explained by interpertation and embillshment of those hungered for news of Mr Astor's body. Recall the days before the recovery of his body there were developing plans to raise the ship simply to recover his body. Plans that were scrapped once the news was received.

Mr Behe, in your reply to me you used the innitials 'IMO'. Is this a reference I could trace?
 
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David Matthew Stewart (Titanicus)

Guest
In the ('97, Jim C.)Movie, was the man that you see close up as the Dome to the Grand Staircase implodes, JJ. Astor? Just wondering, because, you know...if it was, it was one of the flaws of the movie.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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David:
You're right that John Jacob Astor was portrayed in the movie as standing near the Dome of the Grand Staircase, when the water broke through. Obviously, this was done for dramatic effect. Many ordinary third class passengers are shown drowning, along with Astor. The message: class distinctions don't float! I'm not sure that Mr. Astor died on the wingbridge (which was flattened when a funnel fell on it). Many vistors to this site dispute that. Further, many other vistors to this site dispute the assertion that Mr. Astor's body (which was recovered by the McKay-Bennett) was crumpled, or covered with soot. I'm not sure whether anyone has seen pictures of Mr. Astor's body. There were pictures taken of Titanic's victims. So, for all we know, the movie may be right. I think the fact that Mr. Astor's body was found at all shows that he was outside, on a deck, when Titanic sank - - not stuck somewhere in the interior of the ship, as the movie suggests.
 

jason

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Sep 8, 2009
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I don't know what the first reference for Astor's crushed body is, but all the evidence I know bearing on the condition of Astor's body is that it was rather damaged. For example, in Gracie's "Truth About the Titanic" I found the following passage in Chapter 2: "From the fact that I never saw Colonel Astor on the Boat Deck later, and also because his body, when found, was crushed (according to the statement of one who saw it at Halifax, Mr. Harry K. White, of Boston, Mr. Edward A. Kent's brother-in-law, my schoolmate and friend from boyhood)...." So I think it is a historical fact that Astor's body was found crushed. But is there any documentation that it was soot-stained?

So far as I know, the last man to see Astor alive was Barber Weikman. Although he thought he left the ship at 1:50 a.m. (that was when his watch stopped after he hit the water) his account indicates he was on board until the time the Titanic's bridge went under. Weikman said he was 10-15 away from the ship when the "explosion" occurred, i.e. the Titanic broke in two. Many people were killed by that, he said.

For Astor's body to be crushed, I think there are only 3 incidents that can account for his death: the falling of the 1st funnel, the 4th funnel, and the ship's breaking in two. It's possible that the 2nd and 3rd funnels also fell on swimmers, but I do not think that has been thoroughly proven. Since Weikman places Astor on the Boat Deck in the ship's last moment, I think that rules out the 4th funnel (which fell aft on the poop deck). So we are left with either the 1st funnel or the breaking-up.

If Astor's body really was soot-stained, I would favor the traditional interpretation that he was killed by the 1st funnel. If he wasn't soot-covered, that would indicate he was killed when the ship broke in two.
 
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Addison Hart

Guest
While looking over some stuff here on Col. Astor, I am vexed by the story of his recovery. Some say that his body was crushed and covered with soot and others say this was not the case at all. There are so many possible situations here that it is impossible to know which one is the truth.

My questions:

1) There is no doubt that the body recovered belonged to J.J.A., as this inscription was found on his collar. However, the handkerchief marked A.V. poses a very odd problem. Who was A.V.? Could it be that the handkerchief was marked A,V, or V.A., and belonged to Vincent Astor, JJ's son, who identified the body?

2) How is it that at first JJ's corpse was reported as crushed and sooty and why do many historians now dispute this idea?

and

3) Like other recovered bodies, was the body of Astor photographed? Is so, where would the photograph be? Such a photograph would must certainly come in handy when piecing together what happened to Astor in his final hours.

Thank you,
God bless,
Addison
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Dec 6, 2000
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I don't have the data handy at the moment, but George Behe dug up an account(s) saying Astor's body was NOT damaged or soot covered, when recovered.
 
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Addison Hart

Guest
Where might I read this account?

God bless, and Thanks,
Addison
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Since George is not on-line at the moment, I'll have to dig up my copy of it. Might take a few days for me to get to it, though.
 
Dec 6, 2000
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Here's what George (via his wife Pat) wrote to the newsgroup in January, 1999 about Col. Astor's body:
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The Philadelphia Inquirer of May 1, 1912 says:

>Crew members of the Mackay-Bennett said that "Col. Astor was found almost erect in his life belt."

The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin of May 2, 1912 says:

>In a money belt which Colonel John Jacob Astor wore was $2000 in gold. Besides he had securities and jewelry which those on the Mackay-Bennett estimated to be worth from $50,000 to $75,000.

>Gerald Ross, electrician on the Mackay Bennett, said: "I saw the recovery of Col. Astor's body. Like the others it was floating buoyed by a lifebelt. Both arms extended upwards. The face was swollen, one jaw was injured. His body was clothed in a business suit and tan shoes. His watch, a costly thing, studded with diamonds, was dangling from his pocket. It had stopped at 3:20. Practically all the other watches on bodies we recovered had stopped at 2:10. His watch chain was of platinum and so were the settings of the rings he wore."

The Buffalo Morning Express of May 1, 1912 says:

>Captain Richard Roberts, the commander of the Astor yacht, was the first to view the body of his employer. The features, he said, were unharmed, the face being only slightly discolored by water. When the body was recovered it was in ordinary garments, on which were Col. Astor's initials, and by this means as well as by certain documents in his pockets he was identified. He also carried considerable cash. Col. Astor was also wearing a belt with a gold buckle that had been in the family for years.

These interviews emphasize how important it is for us to take secondary sources with a grain of salt and instead get as close to the primary sources
as we possibly can. Otherwise, it's possible for us to expend a great deal of time and energy debating the pros and cons of events that never occurred in the first place.
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Jun 18, 2007
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He was probably more focused on keeping Madeleine calm. If he had to cut open a lifejacket just to show her what was inside, thus proving to her that these things could keep a person afloat, then she must have been rather on the jittery side. Handing her his money and other possessions just as she was getting into a boat would not have helped her one bit.

This is only a semi-educated guess, of course.
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
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I fancy he was ever the optimist. While there's life there's hope and all that. Maybe it was all a front for Madeleine's benefit. Anyway, she didn't need the money.

A sadder case was Charlotte Collyer's husband, who went down with all their savings.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I found this tidbit interesting in the above information about Astor:
"His watch, a costly thing, studded with diamonds, was dangling from his pocket. It had stopped at 3:20. Practically all the other watches on bodies we recovered had stopped at 2:10."

Wonder if Astor had found refuge somewhere for a little over an hour?

And I want to believe Kritina, but I think that Dave is probably right. I see Astor as a problem resolution person and optimistic, and while many were leaving their homes with everything they had, I think that most wealthy people who travel for vacations and such do not travel with everything they own. While the money and securities were of great value, I do not think that was close to everything Astor had. In an emergency, I would not think to give my children the money in my pockets...and i think that is how it was for Astor. But then having not been there, what do I know. hehehehehehehe

Maureen.
 
Nov 22, 2000
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Hi Maureen, "I would not think to give my children the money in my pockets" Oh come on Mo,
our kids would have emptied our pockets for us well before there was any real danger!!

Geoff
 

Mary Hamric

Member
Apr 10, 2001
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Perhaps he neglected to change the time on his watch. Seeing as Titanic went down around 2:20...his watch may have been an hour off.