Hair turning white

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i have read on a few occasions that there were reports of victim's hair turning white .. as in the case of 3rd class passenger Edvard Lindell who suffered a horrifying ordeal, to which witnesses say resulted in his hair turning white in less than an hour...also, Harold Bride's hair supposedly turned completely white about a month after the disaster....obviousl y, fear and perhaps trauma would explain this, but would anyone know the scientific explanation for this ? any other reports ?
Saloon Steward Alexander Littlejohn’s hair apparently turned white in the months following the sinking. I believe Jack Thayer wrote that Ismay’s hair had turned white aboard Carpathia. Photos of Ismay in New York afterwards don’t seem to indicate this, unless perhaps Ismay had a dye-job somewhere in between.
Sounds more like Urban Legend material IMO. Since hair takes a long time to grow out, it would be a very long time befor any of it's colour disappeared.

Michael H. Standart
I have never heard of that before. Sounds a bit suspect to me as well. I think if that really happened to people, we would be seeing a lot more folks with white hair, don't you think? I know I have been frightened enough for it to happen if it could. I think most people have. Just MO

I've heard medical experts state that this sort of thing is not possible, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, as pigmentation of hair occurs below the surface of the scalp and a change such as those claimed by Littlejohn and others would only be seen after hair had time to grow out. In other words, it isn't the same as putting a stalk of celery in colored water and watching that color climb up thru the stalk.

Phil is no doubt right about the phenomenon being physically impossible but the belief is a very old one. It could be that the younger generation have not heard of it, not being great readers of Victorian novels and the like.
Phil Gowan:

Hope all is well in SC. Are you saying that when hair turns gray it starts at the roots and grows out?

I know for a fact that a sudden shock or fear can turn the hair gray. When my father was 39 years old he ruptured a disc in his back and had to have surgery. He was so afraid of going under the knife that the morning of his surgery, he awoke with a gray streak about 2 inches wide in
the front of his hairline. He was teased about this all his life because people thought he put it there with peroxide!

He is now 79 and totally gray, but that spot is
a different shade of gray than the rest of his head that turned normally over the years.

Rosanne MacIntyre
Phil, Roseanne, et al.
It never ceases to amaze me the areas of expertise that this study of the Titanic seems to take us. It just proves the lengths we all go to to be completely accurate.

I've got a copy of the book "Titanic - Waiting For Orders" which shows the black and white of Alexander Littlejohn's hair. His grandson Phillip says the toehead version picture was taken in October 1912. Another picture taken aboard the Carpathia shows it being very dark. Six months seems awfully fast to go from black to white. But his grandson also writes the following about when Littlejohn went back to sea on October 23rd, 1912:

"Alexander received a new Continuous Certificate of Discharge Book to replace the one lost on the Titanic. This clearly showed the effect the sinking had made on him. His hair which six months before had been dark was now recorded as white."

Of course, he was 40 years old when the Titanic went down. Maybe he had dyed his hair up to that point and then never used Grecian Formula or Just For Men, or whatever they used in 1912, the rest of his life after that, and it grew out white.

Think I'll make a quick perusal of medical websites, but for now, the pictures seem to tell the story.

Mike Herbold
SLOWLY Graying in California
Hey Mike/Roseanne,
I claim no expertise on the subject but I've asked the question of several who are experts and read several articles that all seem to agree that the "turning gray overnight" syndrome is an impossibility. I've seen the photos of Littlejohn also and it makes for a good story--but one also has to remember that sometimes in later years, in order to make a good story--the Lily Tomlin/Edith Ann principle of "you can make up the truth if you know how" comes into play.

Phil G.
RAPIDLY Graying in South Carolina
You are too rapid for me. Here's something I found at a Proctor & Gamble website:

Rapid graying
You have probably heard stories about people who are supposed to have 'gone white overnight' following some terrible shock or grief. Treat these tales with caution! A black hair cannot of itself suddenly turn white. Hairs grow for years with pigment inside them, and since they are 'dead' there is no process by which the melanin throughout a hair can be naturally destroyed rapidly (although it may be bleached by sunlight over many years).
Apparent rapid greying may be due to a selective shedding of pigmented hair in a person who has some gray hairs which are retained. Shedding of this kind usually takes several months, but can happen within a few days. If it does take place quickly the effects can be dramatic, since the person's grey hairs may not have been at all obvious until the darker hairs were lost.
Whether stress or shock can cause this kind of hair loss (known as alopecia areata) is unknown.

Here's the whole site: Gray Hairs - Greying Hair

Mike Herbold
Possibly Only Bleaching In California
Have no fear, Roseanne. There may be hope for your father yet. Here's another offering from the Florida Medical Network:

Sudden White Hair Onset
There are many folk tales from different parts of the world about people going white overnight, particularly after having a sudden and extreme shock. Frequently quoted examples of famous people going white or gray overnight include Sir Thomas More and Marie Antoinette. There may be some question as to the historical accuracy in the recording of these events, but people's hair can apparently go white overnight.

However, it's a visual trick! Going white overnight usually happens in those who have salt and pepper hair - that is a mixture of pigmented and white hair. The pigmented hair is selectively shed while the white hair survives. The hair that is perceived as suddenly whitening was already white, but the visual illusion makes it look as though the person has gone white overnight. This sudden white hair development is most likely due to alopecia areata which can sometimes selectively target pigmented hair fiber containing hair follicles. Alopecia areata onset can sometimes be induced by sudden shock.

Here's the webpage:
http://www.keratin.c om/as/as017.shtml

I'm signing off this topic for now and am off to the drugstore for some Just For Men.

Mike Herbold
Soon To Be Darker in California

Robert M. Himmelsbach

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether or not hair can turn white overnight, I wouldn't necessarily put great credance in photos of the period as evidence one way or another.
There were several types of film available on the market in those days and "most" of them (I don't know exact brands or numbers)tended to make light coloured hair and eyes come out dark.
In the early days of silent film, they had to resort to all sorts of cosmetic effect to get actresses like Dorothy Gish, Blanche Sweet or Mary Pickford to appear blond. Other film types made blue eyes come out a sort of ghastly white, and Cameraman James Wong Howe (yes, a Chinese immigrant who was highly successful in the business!) made his career by perfecting a filming technique that made the light-eyed actually look light-eyed, rather than like a vampire in period schmatas!
So a news photo of Ismay looking dark-haired may have been a trick of the film (or, of course, a good dye job!).

John Meeks

I would just like to reinforce Robert's comment's with regard to early photographic film. It's very true that "appearances can be very deceptive" in this regard!

As an aviation historian - it's frequently something that must be taken into account when examining early photographs for information on color and markings. "Orthochromatic" film - common up to and just after WWII, for instance, will depict (in B+W photographs) all 'yellow' as almost a 'black' when juxtaposed with the lighter 'greys' of 'red' and 'blue'!

The camera has never done anything but lie....

John M
Well... Look at Phil Hind's picture. I know that it didn't happen overnight, but see what the stress of the message board has done for him???

Thankfully not quite "Bride of Frankenstein."

Richard Coplen

I fully believe that some people's hair may have turned white due to shock or trauma. My grandmother was brought up in the east end of London. During the Second World War, when the Blitz was at it's height, a bomb landed just behind the apartments where my gran lived. To this day she maintains that her mother's (my great-grandmother's) hair went completely white overnight following the horrific shock of the bomb landing so close. I've seen photos of my great-grandmother during the war and have seen the proof that in a very short space of time her hair had changed from dark brown to complete white. This is all the science I need to convince me that it is possible for hair to go white with shock.

Karin Kasper

It's a bit of an off-topic story, but there is a story about Russian Empress Alexandra suddenly going grey over a period of days. Her son, heir to the throne Alexei, was injured (because of his hemophilia) and everyone thought the boy was going to die, including his mother, who had a bit of an hysterical temperament, anyway. She never left his side for the ten worst days, until doctors were certain he would live, and when she emerged from the sickroom, or so her ladies-in-waiting tell it, she had gone grey. (Beforehand, she had brown hair, with maybe a few grey hairs.)
yeah it can happen when people are really upset, but its supposed to be only tiny patches of it . . . i read it somewhere in a book.
Mmmmmmmmm...Erin, might want to backtrack a bit to see what the reality is. Hair doesn't just turn white "Overnight", not even n patches. It's physically impossible. Once the colour is in, it *stays* in. It takes a spell for anything else without it to grow out.
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