Commited Back to the Ocean

lee14k

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Apr 6, 2012
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First off, I'm new here so a big hello to my fellow Titanic enthusiasts and researchers. Today I picked up the new hardcover book put out by Life Magazine and it's an amazing book to have. Pictures I've never seen before. Stories before, during and after the sinking that I've never read before...like I said to me it's an amazing account of what happened.

I know that when the bodies had to be retrieved from the ocean if they were disfigured or "mangled"(that's the wording in the book) it was decided that those bodies would be committed back to the ocean. From what I understand the body was wrapped and weighted and then placed back in the ocean. My main problem with this is some of these people must have suffered horribly in that frigid water. Those that were "mangled" probably had their share of suffering too if not killed immediately. I find it cruel in a sense to place these bodies back into the very ocean that was the cause of their pain, suffering and eventual death. I explained to my husband like this....if I were to die in a fire, would you have me cremated? Unless it was my explicit wish, he said he would never do that. It would just be wrong.

So my point is why couldn't they retrieve all of the dead and either assign them a number like those in the Halifax(?) cemetery OR create a mass grave somewhere in a cemetery and give them a proper burial. The little boy who went without identification was eventually identified in the year 2000. Isn't it possible that those who were buried in the ocean stood the same chance.

It just feels wrong to me to "bury" the bodies at the very spot they suffered and died. I know room was probably limited and coffins were limited a well but I can't stop thinking about this as an injustice to those that died and were "buried" in the exact same spot. There's something sacrilegious about it to me. I'll use the fire example again...if I died in a fire and the house had to be torn down(and if it were even a remote possibility) I would not want to be buried in the very spot I lost my life. It would be disrespectful to me.

I know things were different back then and that the wreckage site is now considered a burial ground but I just can't get past what happened to those who were deemed too disfigured to be properly buried. Has anyone one else thought of this or is of the same train of thought on this topic? They died in the Atlantic and then they were "buried right back in the Atlantic....it really does make me sad to think about this happening.


*If I posted in the wrong area please feel free to move my topic.
 

lee14k

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Apr 6, 2012
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I used "bury" in quotation marks because to me, when you die, to be buried means you are placed in the ground or a crypt or a vault. Just wanted to be clear on that. I'm seeing buried from a standard that I am accustomed to in accordance with my religion(which I currently do no actively participate in). Okay, I'm glad I cleared that up and I hope to get some interesting thoughts on this topic.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Hallo, Lee. Here's a link to a section of the forum that contained a number of threads in which issues like this are explored: Halifax recovery operation burials etc

Briefly, the main reason why bodies were commonly buried at sea even during normal voyages was that health regulations offered no options - unembalmed bodies could not be brought ashore. In the case of the Titanic the first of the recovery vessels sent out to look for bodies found far more than expected and simply didn't have the means to embalm them all so eventually most of them (whatever the condition, whatever their status) were returned to the sea. There was however a public outcry at the time - for the same reasons that you are concerned now - and henceforth every effort was made to bring back all the bodies for conventional burial. For crew members who died there was less concern about burial at sea as this was their expectation and regarded by some as their privilege.

Only a very few (those buried from the Carpathia) were returned to the sea close to the wreck site. Most were re-interred at the point where they were found after ocean currents had carried them hundreds of miles. And they were not of course simply tipped back overboard. The recovery ships carried Ministers of religion as well as undertakers, and all the burials at sea were conducted with respect and due ceremony.
 

lee14k

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Apr 6, 2012
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Thank you for that information. I have so much to learn about Titanic, before, during and after the sinking. Everyone has their "things"...like tics. One of mine is cemeteries. To me, nothing but respect should be paid while visiting or just walking by one. This is someone's final resting place and respect MUST be paid. I've been known to see a piece of litter in a cemetery and go out of my way to pick it up and throw it away. It's a human being's final resting place and as I said in my little world respect MUST be paid.

I feel both sad and a sense of injustice when thinking about these bodies being committed back to the vast ocean that caused them pain and eventually death but I do understand the necessity of doing so. It must have been overwhelming to come upon a scene of what probably seemed like an endless ocean of dead bodies and a decision had to be made because they weren't prepared for this. I'm going to read the thread you included but just out of curiosity, were first class passengers such as John Jacob Astor given "special" treatment and retrieved before the second and third class passengers or was it simply based on is this body viable and worthy of embalming and being returned to the family? I'm sure if his body wasn't returned to his family there would have been an uproar over it. I saw a few pictures from his funeral, mainly the procession and it was nothing short of incredible. The amount of people who lined the streets as his horse drawn carriage with his casket going by was somewhat reminiscent of Princess Diana's procession and the amount of mourners who stood by and watched it go by. He seemed to either be loved by many or it was just out of pure curiosity. Either way it looked like it was a beautiful and respectful "sending off".
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Out of 1500 dead, only 300 people were recovered from the area where Titanic went down. On the morning of Apr 15th, I'm always surprised to read that Carpathia and Californian didn't find any extra bodies, yet it was the Mackay-Bennett who picked up most of the 300 people a week or so later.

We all know about Captain Lord's actions that night, but I think that if he pulled into port with even a few bodies recovered (the ship may or may not have embalming equipment with them), then I think Lord's reputation might have been salvaged somewhat.
 

Bob Godfrey

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The Californian had no facilities for the safe transportation of dead bodies. Neither did the Carpathia and, for that matter, neither did the Titanic. It was an accepted risk of sea travel that if you died in mid-ocean you would be buried at sea. And is not that still the case - if an airliner comes down in the ocean your chances of ending up buried alongside your ancestors in a country churchyard are not good.

The Carpathia of course needed to head for New York without further delay, while the Californian could probably have followed the currents and located bodies without too much difficulty. But what then? If they did catch up with the drift, there would be not a few but hundreds. An impossible situation for a vessel not equipped for a specialised task on that scale.

Lee, I think it's safe to say that the crowds watching Astor's funeral procession were motivated by curiosity rather then affection. Millionaires might be admired, but they are rarely loved! You ask whether the 1st Class bodies received preferential treatment. Initially, yes. All the bodies found were recovered, and in no particular order (there was no way of knowing their status until after recovery). The intention had been to embalm and bring ashore all the bodies (of passengers at least) but there were coffins for 1st Class, while the rest were bagged. As I stated above, at one point when the necessary materials had been exhausted every body was buried at sea, but when more ships and more supplies arrived the policy reverted to embalming for all. When the official recovery operation had ended a few bodies, some after months adrift, were recovered by ships engaged in the normal business of Atlantic crossings. These were always buried at sea as was the normal custom.
 

Jake Peterson

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The Californian had no facilities for the safe transportation of dead bodies. Neither did the Carpathia and, for that matter, neither did the Titanic. It was an accepted risk of sea travel that if you died in mid-ocean you would be buried at sea. And is not that still the case - if an airliner comes down in the ocean your chances of ending up buried alongside your ancestors in a country churchyard are not good.

The Carpathia of course needed to head for New York without further delay, while the Californian could probably have followed the currents and located bodies without too much difficulty. But what then? If they did catch up with the drift, there would be not a few but hundreds. An impossible situation for a vessel not equipped for a specialised task on that scale.
Well, from what I've read, which is mostly Walter Lord and Daniel Butler, is that Capt Lord was supposed to continue looking for bodies while Carpathia made their way to New York. I understand they didn't have the capabilities at that point to recover bodies, but I am aware that the Californian had a few staterooms. I wonder if putting bodies in there and turning the room temperature down to freezing would work?

Not the most sanitary conditions, I know, but I'm just thinking off the top of my head here.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Jake, I have to ask. Why remind me what I've just said before replying? Conversations here flow much better without that cumbersome 'quote' facility. Do switch it off.
 

Jake Peterson

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Sure! I'll make sure to only use it if it's more than 3 posts :) Gosh, I'm kind of embarrassed I came up with that idea. It was sort of stupid, I admit, but I was thinking a worst case scenario.

Well, maybe Lord and his crew would be able to provide location information on where they found the bodies. That might work, but the current might not keep them there for long, so that's going to be a problem. LOL
 

Bob Godfrey

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Well, when the need arises ingenuity can come to the fore. Nelson's body was preserved after the battle of Trafalgar by immersion in a cask of brandy! If I die at sea I hope my friends will do the same for me, but they'd probably just tip me over the side and put the Courvoisier to better use.
 

Bags

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Mar 20, 2012
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I have heard, (and not being a mariner, have never experienced), that in some cases, those who die in transit could be stored up in a meat-locker. I think this is more of a military thing (specifically sub-mariner). However I can't, imagine that being practical on a cruise liner.

Insofar as the original post is concerned, I can understand the lack of comfort with the idea of passengers being buried at sea, however practical it may have been. However, necessity is a harsh taskmaster, and given the alternative, I think it was likely the best choice.

Regards,

Derek G.
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Bags-

That's what I was thinking of when I typed that, but it'd be REALLY unsanitary, so it probably wouldn't have crossed the crew's mind to do that...
 

lee14k

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Apr 6, 2012
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I did some more reading on J.J. Astor and apparently what killed him was a smoke stack falling on him while he was in the ocean. His body was described as being one of the "mangled" ones. So I'm thinking the recovery parties may have in fact given the first class passengers preferential treatment in death as they did while they were alive. To quote the movie Titanic they were "American royalty". To find J.J Astor in any condition and not return his remains to his family surely would have caused an outcry by his rich and probably well connected family. I admit the movie is what sparked my interest and after seeing it I did a little research about the passengers, their stories, life on board the ship for those few days but I never researched the body recovery effort after the sinking. I had always assumed whenever they came across a body, it was brought on board and preserved in some manner so that the families of the deceased could provide a proper burial for their loved ones. I was thinking in terms of 2012 not 1912. When that cruise ship disaster happened in Italy it seemed as though the main concern was retrieving as many bodies as possible and I was thinking in those terms. I know the recovery ships did the best they could with the bodies of those from Titanic but I still find it disturbing that even in death 3rd class was still 3rd class(body bags) and first class was still first class(embalming and coffins and returned to their families). Sorry for the little uproar I caused..lol. My mind can often wander off to the more morbid side of things and stay there for a while. Considering I never contemplated the recovery effort I'm pretty sure I'm going to be stuck on this part of the story for a few days but if I have questions at least I know where to go to get answers. Thank you for all of your answers. As you can tell I'm a novice when it comes to Titanic, it's something I'll start researching when a thought about it crosses my mind. With the 100th anniversary coming up most of my time will probably be spent reading these boards and doing my own searches.I always come back to that one thought in the end.......if only they had enough life boats for everyone aboard, it's the senseless loss of life that gets to me every single time.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Astor's body showed no evidence of being crushed by a falling funnel, and was in good condition apart from the minor damage which many of the bodies received from collisions with floating ice, wreckage and other bodies over a period of several days or weeks. It's likely that the undertakers on the recovery ships did the best job possible in all cases irrespective of status, and certainly all the bodies brought back to Halifax, whether in coffins or bags, were embalmed - as the law required. It was after the bodies were ashore that the advantages of being a 'wealthy corpse' had more affect. Certainly it was much less likely that the family of a 3rd Class passenger could afford the freight charges to have a body returned home. But the greatest suffering, no doubt, was for the families whose loved ones were never recovered at all.
 

Bags

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Good point Bob, I suspect that the people doing the recovery operation did their level best to preserve as many as they could, using burial at sea only when all other options had been exhausted.

Just as a different point of view. Being a coaster, I wouldn't mind the burial at sea so much. Being laid to rest in such company as Capt. Smith, to name one, and the rest of the heroes from WW's etc. Would not perturb me too much at all. (like I said, just a different point of view, ;))

@ lee14k; your comment about lifeboats reminded me of some discussions in other threads, here's a link to one of them. https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/forums/general-titanica/8278-would-enough-lifeboats-have-resulted-significantly-more-lives-saved.html