Astor's Death - Condition of the Body


Bob Godfrey

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George, thanks for shedding further light. Some of my own thoughts:

1 ... Captain Roberts, who saw the body only after expert attention by the undertaker(s), stated that the features were undamaged. But Ross, who saw it in the water, did mention facial injury.

2 ... Snow, the undertaker, describes the body as being "in an excellent state of preservation", but he could have been referring only to the level of decomposition. Also, as an experienced professional who knew that his real clients were the bereathed rather than the deceased, he may have been holding back on details that the Astor family would prefer not to know, especially as he knew that with further work much of the facial damage (if it existed) could be 'repaired'. (See my earlier posting regarding the body of Sigard Moen). Captain Roberts, who must have known the Astor family well, might have shared this knowledge and this motivation.

4 ... The unclothed trunk of the body was not visible at the time of observation by either Ross or Roberts, who were therefore in no position to describe any injuries it may have sustained.

Bob
(returning, somewhat restored, stage right)
 

Bob Godfrey

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I never could count, so here's an extra thought to make up the 4: I tend to go with you on the soot, George - an embellishment or assumption. It doesn't seem likely to me that a residual covering of grime could survive several days of battering by the waves, but maybe our professional mariners could advise on this? And do we have any forensic experts out there? Physicians? Morticians?
 

Jim Kalafus

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I always thought the soot was an embellishment, mostly because it would have been more in keeping with a body sucked into the funnel (Margaret Gwyer who survived being sucked into one of the Lusitania funnels was quite blackened) than trapped underneath one, where the contact surface would be clean and the time of contact brief. As for the adhering quality of soot, however, the body of Mary Plamondon of the Lusitania was described by two 1915 sources as being "soot stained" so it is possible that if he was NEAR the funnel when it fell or drawn into one of the others as the ship sank he may still have been begrimed when found. My other problem lies in the nature of the evidence presented by Gracie- he was paraphrasing from a letter which does not seem to be preserved so the whole account must be viewed as "grade b" evidence. A question- would the relative of Mr Kent have been permitted to view the Astor body? I'd like to know more about him- was he a social "equal" who might have been permitted to see it by his relation to the Astor family, or was he someone with enough "pull" to persuade the Canadian officials to allow him a viewing? Since nearly eveything else concerning he Astors was handled with such discretion I doubt that he was left on public view, so at what point could the Kent relative have come in contact with "the departed?"
 

Bob Godfrey

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Captain Roberts, who had presumably been sent to formerly identify the body, is most likely to have seen it enshrouded but with the face uncovered. We don't know what Harry White saw. Possibly nothing more than the closed coffin, which could be very loosely described as having 'seen the body', coupled with a hearsay description. I think we still have a long way to go on the 'condition of body' question, but all credit to Mac for spotting the origin of the funnel theory and to George for getting us this far and maybe a lot further - he's probably on the trail of Mr White right now.

Bob
 
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I think the best way to resolve this is to go for the ultimate of primary sources, and that's any data recorded by the undertakers for the coroners records. Is there any such extant?

Bob asked "It doesn't seem likely to me that a residual covering of grime could survive several days of battering by the waves, but maybe our professional mariners could advise on this?"

Bob, I think it would depend a lot on the sort of dirt and grime we're talking about here. If it was something mixed up with grease and oil, I would think that even several days of being licked at by the sea would not be enough to wash it off if at all. Petroleum based anything is not water soluable. However, if it's just ash, I doubt that anything beyond residual traces would remain.

But...I could be wrong about that.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Jim - At the makeshift mortuary in Halifax, bodies on the way from the embalming area to the identification cubicles were taken past a 'viewing area' where a small audience of interested parties (including perhaps Mr White) was assembled. I have no idea to what extent the bodies were uncovered at this point. Once in the cubicles, certainly nobody was allowed to perform an identification without credentials as a family member or legally empowered representative.

Michael - The coroners' records are in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. I don't know if they contain anything more than the brief information listed here at ET, but I would certainly like to know. I do know that very few of the photographs have survived.

Bob
 

Bob Godfrey

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Thanks, Bill. And here's what we get from the death certificate:

Name of deceased -- John Jacob Astor
Sex -- M
Age -- 47
Date of death -- April 15, 1912
Residence, street, etc -- 840 Fifth Av, NYC
Occupation -- Gentleman
Married
Cause -- Accidental drowning SS Titanic at sea
Length of illness -- Suddenly
 
M

Martin Renner

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Well, this certainly was a successful first-ever-thread!
happy.gif


I suppose the original idea of this thread was to ask....... why does a guy with all the money in the world willingly lose his life/wife/fortune........? It makes a little more sense to me now- he thought he had a chance, but was kinda stuck in the superior role of "gentleman" and had to "save face".......etc

Well, that's my take on it.

To reiterate what I said in my original post, I can't imagine ANY of our modern-day rich counterparts "going down like a gentleman" if they were in the same situation.....
 

Bob Godfrey

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A little more info: Harry White (from Boston) was in Halifax to identify and 'collect' the body of his brother-in-law, first class passenger Edward Austin Kent. So he was not a casual observer and would have had access to the identification cubicles as well as the 'viewing area'. Kent was formally identified on May 1, the day after his body arrived, along with Astor's, on the Mackay Bennett.

Bob
 

Bob Godfrey

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Small correction - May 1 was the date on which the body was 'delivered' to Mr White, so the formal id might have taken place on the day before. It does seem possible that the bodies of Astor and Kent were in the id cubicles at the same time.

Bob
 

Bob Godfrey

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In another thread today George has posted further details from a newspaper interview with undertaker John Snow Jr, and these have a bearing on the debate over the condition of Astor's body. Snow's description of the body as being "in an excellent state of preservation" has been taken as an indication that it could not have been physically damaged. In the same interview, however, Snow describes the bodies which were buried at sea as both "well preserved by the cold water and ice" and also as exhibiting post-mortem injuries such as broken arms, legs and skulls.

This suggests that Astor's body could have suffered such damage, for instance a broken jaw (to tie in with the description from a Mackay Bennett crew member) yet still be described as perfectly preserved. I am of the opinion that Snow would not, for ethical reasons, have revealed details of disfigurement (if any) of Astor's body to the Press and certainly not so early as an interview on the 30th April before the body had been returned to the family.

George, many thanks for digging out this extra info. But did the report include any statement that the body was undamaged in addition to being well preserved? If so, we're back to square one! In any case, there's still Captain Roberts' account of unharmed features to explain.

Bob
 

Mick Molloy

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I have been following the Astor discussion with interest. The Mackey-Bennet found 306 bodies, but returned 116 to the sea, even though 56 of this latter number had been identified.Apart from there being insufficient coffins, does anyone know why all remains found where not brought back to Halifax? Does anyone know how many of identified 56 were from 1st, 2nd 3rd Class and Crew?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Mick, go to the thread "How many people went down in the Titanic" in the "Lost & Saved" section of the forum. Check out the latest posts, especially from George Behe - very interesting new information on the burials at sea.
 

George Behe

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Hi, Bob!

>But did the report include any statement that the
>body was undamaged in addition to being well >preserved?

I'm afraid not. Everything that the three eyewitnesses had to say about Col. Astor's body was presented verbatim on my website; although we can always speculate about possible shades of meaning, in the end we're simply stuck with the descriptions themselves (along with a number of unanswered questions.)

Take care, old chap.

All my best,

George
 

malcolm smith

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The MacKay-Bennett arrived on Tuesday, April 30. Capt. Roberts would, it appears, board the MacKay-Bennett and unofficially identify Col. Astor’s body. He was one of about 12 of the claimants on hand at the dock, the rest preferring to wait at the Mayflower Curling Ring. The others waiting were not identified.

“Captain Richard Roberts, the commander of the Astor yacht was the first to view the body of his late employer. He said that there was not the slightest doubt but that the body was that of Col. Astor. The features, he said, were perfect, the face being only slightly discolored, which would be the result of the action of the icy waters of the Atlantic upon a human body. Col. Astor, like all others, was in his underclothing only, his other effects having been laid aside and tagged with a number corresponding to the number which had been attached to the body...his son Vincent did not go to the dockyard nor to the morgue and so far as known he had not seen the dead features of his father till the casket was taken to the car Oceanic to leave by the Boston express in the morning.” (?Halifax Herald, 5/1/12)

“Colonel Astor’s body was brought off the ship shortly before noon and taken with others to the morgue.” (Unknown American newspaper, April 30, 1912. Dateline Halifax, N.S.) Alan Ruffman in his book “Titanic Remembered: The Unsinkable Ship and Halifax” reports that Astor’s body was one of ten taken directly to the Snow funeral home, but the newspapers quoted here tend to contradict that.

Harry White, the claimant and brother-in-law of Edward A. Kent, had opportunity to see the famous Astor’s body, as identification of any body at the morgue was not allowed until all bodies were ready to be viewed.

“As the first rough coffin was carried into the body of the rink and deposited on one of the many white benches waiting to receive them, a hush fell upon all the on-lookers...at first, while the coffins were being unloaded, claimants were allowed to go into the main part of the rink and watch them as they were being brought in, but after a short time orders were given...that even they be excluded until such time as the bodies should be ready for identification.” (Halifax Herald 5/1/12.)

“Sorrowfully the mourners turned away and went back to the waiting room, where they could watch at a distance.” (Halifax Herald 5/1/12.)

“It was nearly four o’clock when a semblance of order had been achieved in the morgue, and then the claimants of bodies began to arrive in twos and threes. Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia who accompanied Vincent Astor here in a private car went alone to identify the colonel’s body and was the first prepared for removal to New York. The body of Isidor Straus a few minutes later was turned over to Maurice Rothschild of New York, and in quick succession, with little or no ceremony, the bodies of Frank D. Millet, the artist, H. J. Allison of Montreal and many otherwise were in charge of friends.” (Boston Evening Transcript, 5/1/12. Dateline Halifax, N.S.)

Apparently, Capt. Roberts confirmed the body was Astor aboard the MacKay Bennett, while Nicholas Biddle, of the Astor Foundation, was the person authorized to make official identification and to take charge of the body and effects, a rule strictly enforced.

“The body of Colonel Astor was forwarded yesterday on a special car. Several reports have been in circulation that favors had been sought by and granted to Vincent Astor.

Mr. Lambkin, of the I. C. R., in talking with The Herald yesterday, said it was only a matter of justice to all concerned that these stories should be denied. He stated that Vincent Astor kept very close to his car while in the city....he received no special favors from the authorities. The question raised as to whether the body identified was Colonel Astor’s or that of his valet was swept aside also by the positive identification of the remains of the colonel by Captain Roberts, of the Astor yacht. The body of Colonel Astor was well preserved and showed no signs of mutilation or decomposition. During the stay of the Astor car in Halifax all arrangements were made by Mr. Bidell {sic}.” Captain Roberts is still in the city and will remain until after the arrival of the Minia, in the hope of discovering the body of Colonel Astor’s valet.” (Halifax Herald 5/1/12)

This information is supplied not to support the claim for or against the condition of Col. Astor’s body; it is presented simply to supplement this interesting, and timeless, debate.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Malcolm, welcome to the forum and thank you for providing this very stimulating and detailed body (no pun intended!) of information. I note this is your first posting. I hope it will be the first of many.

Bob
 

George Behe

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Hi, Malcolm!

Thanks very much for posting this additional information about Col. Astor! Good stuff, and much appreciated.

All my best,

George
 

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