Morgue Photos from the Lusitania

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lisagay harrod

Guest
To All,

I recently watched a documentary on the Lusitania. The program had ALOT of photos of the dead. It was very sobering indeed. It reminded me of how important it is, in the midst of any disaster, to remember the loss of innocent lives.

Many of the morgue photos that were shown on this program were of children. So little and so fragile...it wrung my heart. I'm curious though...why were there so few morgue photos from Titanic?

I caught the thread about these supposed photos on e-bay. I have no desire to own or see any of them, but it was not unusual during this period of time for people to photograph the deceased. Were there any morgue photos actually taken in Halifax? Or is this another myth? If they do exist, where exactly are they?

I hope this doesn't sound like morbid curiousity on my part, but I'm wondering why one maritime disaster would include such evidence (photos), and another wouldn't, given that they occured during roughly the same era.

Any and all comments welcome...

Lisa Harrod
 
Shelley Dziedzic

Shelley Dziedzic

Member
Just recently spoke to Alan Ruffman about Titanic Halifax photos- I understand there are now seven photos there. I seem to recall that there was a "Book of the Dead" with many more photos years (15) ago in Halifax, and wonder what the story is on that. Haas/Eaton did some work on a book sponsored by Arnie Watson (THS) and went there for research-the book is called Roster of Valor- seems to me they said there were more photos although they did not look at them. I imagine they must have been taken at the curling rink for family members at a distance to identify the body. Maybe the photos were claimed by family later. In any event, you are correct in saying that photographing the dead was a very common practice dating to the Civil War, especially infants. I have a fear that some of the Halifax photos may have "disappeared" in recent years. I too, should like an update.
 
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lisagay harrod

Guest
Shelley,

That's amazing..."Book of the Dead", I had no idea. Is "Roster of Valor" in print? I'd not heard of it either. Thanks for the info. Grist for the mill, and more searching the bookstores.
Thanks again,

Cheers,
Lisa
 
Shelley Dziedzic

Shelley Dziedzic

Member
Two books you will want are TITANIC REMEMBERED by Alan Ruffman- Formac Publishing, Halifax and TITANIC VICTIMS IN HALIFAX GRAVEYARDS by Blair Beed-both have excellent details and photos of the Halifax end of the story. I had never seen Charles Hays' gloves before- and many other photos were new to me. Both are tradepaperback books. The second one gives full descriptions of the bodies recovered and personal effects as well as photographs( in life) of the people and headstones in the Halifax cemeteries. ROSTER OF VALOR used to be sold by THS' 7 C's Press. It was a very limited printed and as far as I know is now out of print. As far as the Book of the Dead is concerned- it is only something I have heard of but cannot vouch that it really contained all the photos of everyone recovered. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has many items from the recovery on display and archived. They also sell these books in the giftshop.
 
Martin Owen Cahill

Martin Owen Cahill

Member
I have seen some of those, the Nat Geo documentary shows Dr Ballard thumbing through a whole folder of them and in some books I own like Paddy O'Sullivan's for instance.

Yes I agree with you about the children. Adults are one thing but 79 children is something quite different. Adults can choose to disagree and wage war children generally can't. If anyone was innocent it was the 79. Most adults knew a war was on and knew there was some danger in crossing to England during the war. This does not exonerate the perpetrators in the least.

Even in 1968 when we had a major ferry disaster (Wahine, NZ) few if any photos were taken of those who died coming ashore. There are only two that I know of.

There is still a taboo about photographing the dead (especially for media photograpers) that only a really bloody war like 14-15 or 39-45 can deaden.

regards

Martin
 
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lisagay harrod

Guest
Shelley & Martin,

Wonderful information...thank you for sharing!

Cheers,
Lisa
 
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Geoff Whitfield

Member
Hi everyone,

Whilst I agree with the sentiments regarding photographing the dead of a calamity such as the Titanic or Lusitania, we must bear in mind that these events happened around ninety years ago, before we had the modern day facilities of scanning photographs or even the simple use of the fax machine.
In the case of the Lusitania, burials and identifications had to be done quickly, both because of the sheer numbers involved and to prevent a serious health risk to the living.
Photographs were taken of each body in an attempt to assist the families of possible victims who were in constant touch with Cunard's offices both in England and America.
It was an incredibly long process involved in identification, Cunard would recieve a letter from a distraught family member who had spotted their relation's name in the newspaper passenger list and wondered if it might in fact be their relative who had sailed (remember also that this was in the days when only businesses and the affluent families had telephones and families could only keep in touch with each other via letter)Cunard would then have to write back to them, asking for some identification details and the liklihood of what they may have been wearing in the way of clothing, jewellry etc. and a physical description. A further day or two would have passed before Cunard received their reply and they would then invite a family member to their offices to look through the photographs of all those who resembled the details that the family had supplied them with. If the family lived too far from either the Liverpool or London offices, a copy would be made of the photograph and posted to them. By the time this process was over with, we can only imagine the state of the deceased had they not already been buried.
So, really, photography was the only way to deal with the problem of identification where there was no definite proof of who the victim was. It assisted Cunard in maintaining their own records and brought what we now term "closure" to the families.
In all, it was a thoroughly unpleasant affair, but one which had to be done for the sake of all concerned.

Geoff
 
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lisagay harrod

Guest
Geoff,

Thanks for explaining the "process" Cunard employed to identify the dead. I hadn't thought it through, ie: mail service, communication, the privileged, etc. It makes sense...the Astors could afford to bring J.J. home, those in steerage were buried in Halifax or at sea.

A random thought here...did those of the Edwardian Era and earlier have a healthier attitude toward death? Think about it, often times, in the old days, when a member of the family died they were brought home, washed and dressed by family, laid out in the parlour, and buried on the family farm.

Death was not the clinical, processed event that it is now. Death was more commonplace then. You touched it, smelled it, photographed it, and dealt with it much more closely than we do today. I wonder if folks back then didn't fear death as much as we do today, simply because they lived in closer quarters to it than we have to nowadays. I wonder if maybe they didn't have a fuller appreciation of life, by living closer to death.

Just a thought...

Lisa Harrod
 
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sue cooper

Guest
Lisa,
I wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote there. Unlike today, people in those days tended to die at home instead of in hospital and so were surrounded by their family. I imagine that most people, even children, had seen the dead body of a relative and such a thing was not an uncommon sight to them. I am sure that seeing these things must have made death less frightening to people of that era. And remember, they were usually very religious too so that would have helped comfort them.

Sue
 
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lisagay harrod

Guest
Sue,
Do you ever wonder if, that as a whole, we're moving backwards rather than forwards? Perhaps that's the impetus for so many of us to explore the past?
Cheers,
Lisa
 
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sue cooper

Guest
Lisa,
Interesting question! Like so many people, I have always been fascinated by the past. The customs, the costumes, the way of life. It seems so much more interesting than our present times. Maybe part of this fascination is that we yearn for days gone by when life moved at a slower more gentle pace and people had time for each other?
Reading about life even 50 years ago one gets a sense of peace and tranquillity, something that is all too rare these days. Maybe that's why we are so drawn to events long past.

Take care, Lisa
Happy

Sue
 
K

Kris Muhvic

Member
Hello!

I believe there is a "Mourning Customs" thread over at the "Gilded Age" that is quite interesting. Yes, I have often thought that a less clinical approach to death can be, however painful it is, a more adaptable method in the grieving process.

Now, not to be "nostalgia-buster" here (Oh, I know...can't stand them myself!); but we do have to remember, or think about that the whole "good ole' days" was usually not. For most people circa 1912, a workday could be upwards 12, 14 hours, including Saturdays, housework was truly a chore with a capital C. Disease was common and either mistreated or untreated. Not to mention the everyday potential disasters; smoke detectors? A good nose! Safe work environment: hurt and can't produce?...you're fired. That charming cookstove? Constanly hot- where's the toddler?!...you get the idea. Heck, give me a Merchant-Ivory film anyday!

No, I don't wan't to say everything was terrible, some things from the past I do wish were still around. I just know that, since I'm here, today, I might as well be glad for the things a few generations back could only hope for.

Take care-
Kris
 
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lisagay harrod

Guest
Kris,

A great observation...the good ol' days were a hard days night more often than not.

I think the point I was trying to make about the simplicity of life back then needs alittle clarification. It was simplier in the fact that often life revolved around the basics...food, shelter, birth and death. There was no need to "find oneself" especially.

You did what you did because you had to...out of neccessity. Roles were pretty clearly defined. There didn't seem to be (at least in my mind's eye) a lot of gray area between right and wrong.

An example of this, for me, was the Civil War. Most of those men volunteered...by the thousands! Because they thought it was the right thing to do. It was simple...the Union must not be dissolved. I find in the men of that era, the ability to make so momentous and unwavering a choice admirable. I can't commit to what I'll be doing next Saturday, ya know?

People of bygone eras possessed a grounding that I think we modern folks lack. I remember seeing it in my Grandfathers' approach to life. Get over it, get on with it kid...ya don't know what a bad day is! He lost family to the Civil War, WWI, the Flu Epidemic of 1918, saw floods, drought, lost the farm to the Dust Bowls, once in the 30's, and again in the 50's, but his attitude toward life never wavered. He loved Kansas and mules. An extrordinary man from extraordinary times.

I'm digressing here, but you get my meaning. Life began and ended for many in those days, in the same room. We have the ability in these technologically advanced times to distance ourselves from both events, if we so choose. They didn't have that option.

Consider being in steerage on the Titanic, crossing an ocean to live in a country where you don't speak the language, where bigotry and poverty await...and this is BETTER than what you were leaving! These were tough people; tougher than I'll ever be. They're to be admired and revered...it's the stock you and I, most Americans are made of. Kinda makes me proud.

I've lectured long enough, here. Sorry...it's the history teacher lurking in me that goes off on these tangents. A great thread with some great thoughts....

Cheers,
Lisa Harrod

ps...I'm leaving the ET boards for a while. I've got finals coming up and I've gotten ahold of some Titanic material that I want to study before I come back to the board. Thanks to all for your posts, and consideration of mine. I'll be lurking...
 
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