Marian Thayer


Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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First of all, I must echo Dr Willingham's and David's thanks to Martin for his invaluable contributions to this board. Martin, your superb research and generous sharing have been gems to those of us interested in the human side of the tragedy.

Regarding Mr Thayer, there are a couple of things that point to his having some sort of depressive or anxiety disorder. There was a fleeting reference in a book ("Last Dinner on the Titanic", maybe?) to his trip abroad having been necessitated by the pressures of his job getting to him. There is also Marian Thayer's own account of her attempt during the voyage to teach Major Butt a nerve-relaxation method that she had learned while abroad. I have always vaguely assumed that this was merely Mrs Thayer's interest in things new-agey (I don't know how else to refer to it) at work. But perhaps she had more practical reasons for seeking out means of treating nerve disorders?

Such a condition on Mr Thayer's part might account for the presence of Jack Thayer on the trip. I have always wondered at the fact that a boy of seventeen was taken abroad in the middle of the school year, and have reasoned that his parents had simply judged the trip a valuable experience for him. Perhaps, though, Mrs Thayer wanted her eldest son's support in coping with her husband?
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Hi Brian

Once again, I thank you for your extremely kind comments. It is always a pleasure to engage in this forum with other individuals who share my deep-seated interest in the human beings - their lives, experiences and personalities - who together make the Titanic story so endlessly compelling. I am fortunate to have a job in which biographical research plays a major part - so it isn't at all difficult, when time permits (and, occasionally, when it doesn't!), to make the detour into Titanic related channels. Once one knows where to look, and the methods to employ there, the rest is easy. My own knowledge has been immeasurably enhanced and enriched by the leads you have yourself supplied and it is gratifying to be able to return the favour.

But enough of the mutual appreciation and back to the Thayers. The more I've turned the subject over in my mind, the likelier it seems to me that John suffered from some form of mental disorder. How severe, we may never know, for these matters are not much discussed nowadays and certainly not back then. My own intuition (for all that is worth, from the distance of nearly a full century) suggests to me that his condition at least partly explains the presence of the family aboard the Titanic in the spring of 1912. I've found only the most fleeting reference in the contemporary press, pre-sinking, to Jack accompanying his parents - the Thayers were on a kind of European 'grand tour' with their teenage son as the ostensible reason for it. By early April, they were certainly in Paris, where Marian did her shopping - on another thread, it was revealed that she patronised the great dress-making firm of Worth, perhaps the most prestigious in the world at that time, and an entirely fitting destination for a woman acclaimed as the most 'splendidly fashionable' in Philadelphia Society. Interestingly, the Thayers chose to cross over to England before they boarded the Titanic on 10th. Perhaps their path intersected with Lucile Carter, who was also in Paris that week on a shopping spree, but who likewise embarked at Southampton.

Although so much of this is mere inference, I like to think I'm not too far off in my perception of Marian Thayer as a kind and compassionate woman who, in spite of her wealth and privilege, had a lot to contend with in her marriage. Indeed, the deeper one delves, the more one appreciates that even the most glamorous first-class passengers were not immune to tragedy and sorrow in the years prior to the sinking. Only think of Ida Hippach, loosing two sons in the horror of the Chicago Iroquois blaze, and Colonel Gracie, loosing a young daughter in a freak elevator accident. What is clear to me is that her difficulties with John in no way limited Marian's sympathy for others. She proved to be a caring friend during the voyage to the bereaved Emily Ryerson. Bruce Ismay was captivated by her and, as I've written above, Marian was still in touch with her rescuer, Arthur Rostron, more than a decade after the sinking.

Oh, and Brian. You mention Mrs Thayer imparting 'new age' mind relaxation techniques to Archibald Butt. How do you know this? Did she leave some first-hand account - however brief - I'm not aware of?

Best wishes to you, as ever

Martin
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Martin - surely you've read Marian's account!?! She left a highly detailed account beginning with dinner that night and continuing on through the sinking. If I recall correctly, it is when she mentions that the Major was a guest at the Wideners' party that she mentions that she wanted to teach him the relaxation method. I know her account is included in the Wyn Craig Wade book, which I've just looked around for and can't find just now. I'll keep looking for it, but I'm sure it's not the only book that includes the account.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Ummmm...nope. I wasn't even aware that she had written an in-depth account (blushes). It has been years since I picked up a book relating exclusively to the Titanic and anything new I learn on the subject has been derived either from contributions to this board or my own research. I suppose, having immersed myself in Lord, Lynch, Eaton and Haas as a boy, I just assumed that I had read everything of significance that had appeared in print about the disaster itself.

Needless to say, I would be fascinated to hear Mrs Thayer's story told in her own words.
 
May 27, 2007
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Hello gents!
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quote:

Needless to say, I would be fascinated to hear Mrs Thayer's story told in her own words.
Add me to that list! I knew Jack Thayer had an account of the sinking but never knew that his mother also wrote an account.​
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Jack Thayer's incredibly lucid and beautifully-written account of the sinking has long been my favorite, rivalling that of Lawrence Beesley and far surpassing, in terms of literary elegance, that of Colonel Gracie. It is a pity that it hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, been re-printed in recent years. It would be fascinating to dove-tail Marian's story with that of first-class sisters Elizabeth Eustis and Martha Stephenson, old friends and neighbours of the Thayer family, who stuck to them closely throughout the sinking and later in Lifeboat No. 4.
 
May 27, 2007
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Hi Martin,

I got to read Thayer's Memoir in a special printed volume that was printed right after Titanic The Movie came out. I too thought it was well written and wish the powers that be would do up a volume of his memoirs and his mother's side by side. I wonder if she writes like he does and he got his writing style from her and how their accounts stack up?
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I agree, George. And, indeed, it would be interesting to know how Marian's relationship with Jack changed after the sinking. She had lost her beloved husband but he not only lost his father but also very nearly died himself, fighting for his life in freezing water, in the pitch dark, and among hundreds of terrified strangers. God only knows what impact this trauma had on him in future years. It must have required considerable courage to re-live the whole hideous ordeal in his writing. Or, possibly, it was simply an act of catharsis.

I've always felt Marian Thayer's simple words to her teenage son - 'where's daddy?' - and his answer - 'I don't know, mother' - when they were re-united aboard the Carpathia to be particularly heart-rending.
 
May 27, 2007
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Yes that must of been terrible for them to get to Carpathia and find out that John Thayer Sr. didn't make it.

Perhaps they wrote there accounts at the same time. One of them either Marion or her son Jack mentioned that they were going to write an account and the other decided to write an account as well. Or they might of wrote their accounts at different times?

I wonder if the accounts echo each others or have totally different experiences. Here you have a 17 year old boy completing to the journey to manhood and you also have a woman entering early middle age. Yet there related and so they might of had similar experiences on Titanic and yet also had very different experiences at the same time. So as I said earlier I wonder how their account of the disaster stack up or compare to each other.
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Hi Martin - it's true that I've also barely flipped open a Titanic book since boyhood (when they were my prized possessions). The Wyn Craig Wade book (including the accounts by Marian and Jack Thayer and Martha Stephenson) was among the first I ever read. Since these accounts were among the first I ever read, I've never considered that they aren't so widely available. So please excuse my incredulousness that you weren't aware of Mrs Thayer's account. I highly recommend ordering the book through your local library, if you can, or seeing if used copies are available on Ebay.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I'm constantly amazed by the sudden appearance of Titanic narratives I've previously been in complete ignorance of. The really wonderful joint testimony of Marian Thayer's friends Martha Stephenson and Elizabeth Eustis would be a perfect case in point. It might not read as elegantly as Jack Thayer's version but it possesses a meticulousness, an attention to detail and immediacy which so many of the 'I woke up/I went outside/I got into a lifeboat/the ship sank/it was cold' passenger accounts lack (with due acknowledgement to Jim Kalafus for that very apt summary of what so many survivors thought fit to record!) Certainly, it enhanced my understanding of the experience of the night's events immeasurably. One only wonders how many more stories there are out there, just waiting to be uncovered.
 

Kas01

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May 24, 2018
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I can't speak to her independent wealth, but she was part of the Morris steel mill family. While her husband John Jr. was also wealthy (he'd taken up cricket and also played lacrosse at UPenn, both of which are about as stereotypically upper class as you can get in the US), he wasn't idly wealthy and had worked his way up through the ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad. I don't know much about salaries at John Thayer's position, unfortunately, because the Pennsy kept its archives at Broad Street station and a large portion of those archives were destroyed in a fire in the early 1920s. But as for Marian, she was definitely old money in contrast to the Thayers.
 

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