Survivors' post traumatic stress syndrome/suicides

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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The "Survivors' Suicides" conversation was archived so I'm going to start a new one. Just the other day I received confirmation from another crewman's relative that the crewman would never speak of the disaster, for 30 years, until he died. This brings to about 25 the number of instances which I've uncovered so far (with others' assistance at ET).

This survivor got quite upset when the Titanic disaster was brought up - - stating: "I don't want to be reminded of that - you don't know what it was like."

Our perception of the Titanic disaster is so filtered, how could any of us know what it was like? Would any of us be talking about it on this board if we really could appreciate the experience? Probably not.

I've run into this with war veterans a lot. They don't want to talk about it. They don't even consider themselves heroes. One elderly client recently told me that he gave away his WWII uniform and metals. Then, he told me about a time when his U.S. Navy battle group came across a Japanese fotilla, which was pulling an army of its soldiers on barges. The ships steamed away and left the barges. My client watched while they depth charged the area, sinking and killing the army of men on the barges. It makes you think.
 
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Dec 2, 2000
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Uh, Joe, a little pointer; one doesn't sink barges with depth charges. Those are anti-submarine weapons. Surface craft are dealt with by way of gunfire.

Thought you'd like to know.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I understand that but this veteran definitely stated "depth charges," not torpedoes, or anything else. I assumed that this somehow created a turbulence surrounding the barges that the men jumped off, or some such.
 

Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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Joe,
Did you happen to notice my post a couple of weeks ago about May Elizabeth Howard--she, too, died in a mental institution. And just this week I got a death certificate for a crewmember--Samuel Rule--which gives a contributory cause of death as "religious mania."

I'm sure your list will keep growing as we continue to track down the survivors.

Phil
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Maybe and maybe not on the vet's recollections. Depth charges are designed to be dropped right over the target and a hydrostatic detonator sets it off once it reaches a pre-determined depth. I can't see a destroyer cruising right over a barge. (Might scratch the paint.)

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Phillip Gowan

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Apr 10, 2001
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Hi Peter,
I swear there isn't "a way." There are so many different tactics that can be used to determine at least an approximate date of death for someone--so many different kinds of legal records can be checked, not to mention personal contacts. And you don't have to assume that people have moved around. For instance, John Morgan Davis's niece was responsible for his estate when he died in 1950. And now, 50 years later, she still lives at the same address as she did in 1950. I've also made contact with family members of several crewmembers who are at the same address after more than 40 years. Sometimes, an unusual surname is easier to track than you'd think--I found Lawrence Beesley's stepdaughter in about a one minute search because she had married someone with an unusual name. In other cases I've put advertisements in smalltown newspapers in England--found the daughter-in-law of Annie Margaret Hold that way-and indirectly, that article led to contact with another crewman's family who happened to see the same article. I've been known to write letters to everyone listed in British directories under a certain surname as well. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't-but it did give me the date of death on at least two crewmen.

Of course, things are different in different countries. It is much easier for me to find someone in the United States and Canada. England isn't too tough to search in but is more costly.

And the more money you're willing to spend, the more you'll find, logically. I seldom spend less than $500 a month on Titanic passenger/crew documents and research and some months it goes significantly over that amount. Not many people are going to want to make that kind of investment in this sort of research--but it does produce results. As I recently told Brian Meister, I have so many little projects and requests out there at any given time, that it sort of makes me mad when I have a day when there is nothing new in my mailbox. (With some people its drugs and alcohol--with me its Titanic :).

If I ever find a perfect research formula--I promise to share--er--offer it on e-bay. :)

See you in Southampton-
Phillip
 
Apr 25, 2001
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Dear Phillip, thank you for your advice. I realized there was some sort of search engine on the net, where you could find dates of death for British people, but I never got any 'hits' there, no matter how I tried, which is what I meant above.
Best of luck to you, and hopefully I will see you in Southampton. Have you got an e-mail address? I can't seem to find it anywhere....

Peter
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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Based upon Phil Gowan's information, Mrs. Allen Oliver Becker (Nellie Baumgardner) can be added to the list. In this instance, the survivor developed an "erratic" personality. She cried about the disaster whenever someone brought it up.
 

Tracy Smith

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Apr 20, 2012
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I would think that using the same tactics one would use to do genealogy would work here as well. The only difference is that the people you're tracing are not related to you. There are several excellent books out about how to conduct genealogical research.

There are also several good genealogical sites online as well. My aunt put together a 40th reunion for her high school recently, and Ancestry.com was a big help in finding a lot of "missing" classmates. Ancestry.com also has partial Social Security death records, so this can be useful in finding the death dates for American survivors.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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Here's another possible candidate: Carla Jensen. She appears to have suffered long term effects related to the Titanic disaster. She never traveled again, and was buried in the nightdress that she wore on April 15, 1912.
 
Mar 3, 2001
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I've been doing family genealogy for over 6 years and have traced my family back to 1600. I had never even thought to apply this tactic to researching Titanic passengers, although why I don't konw. Ancestory is DEF a great site. ESP when you have membershp as I do and can get at the files. another excellent page is www.familytreemaker.com and www.rootsweb.com
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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Based upon his recently updated biography on this site, it appears that the name of trimmer George Pelham can be added to this list. He ended up in an institution. (Note that many other names are listed, separately, in the "Survivors Suicide" conversation).
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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Mrs. Winnie Coutts can be added to the list, I think. She never wanted to talk about the disaster --this sort of attitude was something that I've found to be very prevalent among survivors.
 
May 12, 2005
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All,

I think the Duff Gordons ought to be high on the list of people who suffered enormous stress following the disaster. They were luckier than many in not having lost a family member but the abuse to which they were subjected by the press was such that Lucy DG came to detest staying in London and thereafter spent much of the rest of her career in New York and Paris. Laura Francatelli's letter, written to a friend shortly after the sinking, bears out that Lucy was much traumatized both by the ordeal and the ugly treatment dealt her and her husband by the newspapers.

She seems to have bounced back fairly early but being a public person she had more pressure on her to give that impression. Still, I think she was deeply hurt but chose to cover up her feelings.

She gave no further interviews on the Titanic following the "New York American" story (which was considerably trumped up), at least not for some 20 years when she did finally discuss it in her memoirs, serialized in the "London Daily Sketch" and then published in book form later in the year (1932).

Lucy's design assistant Edward Molyneux said she never discussed the disaster (and added that no one dared ask her about it!). Norman Hartnell, another protege (in the early 1920s), never even knew she had been on the Titanic till he read ANTR! Howard Greer, one of her assistants in New York, who was also a travelling companion a la Francatelli, said she mentioned it from time to time but only in passing and then changed the subject.

When journalist R.D. Blumenfeld approached her in 1933 to tell her story for an anniversary piece he was planning, she agreed, then reneged, explaining in a letter to her sister Elinor Glyn, who was urging her to do it...

"...Nel, I have said all I have to say on the dreaded subject. I am quite tired of recalling such an unpleasant time... Why is it, I wonder, that editors are so keen on the Titanic? It is too wounding a thing to keep bringing up... I feel nothing but sadness whenever I hear the haunted name of that poor ship..."

She did, however, submit to one final Titanic interview in 1934 with a correspondent for the "New York Daily News" which, predictably, proved sensationalistic.

Randy
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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Thanks for that, Randy. It's interesting how all of us are so intrigued, and want to learn more about the disaster --yet people such as the Duff-Gordons, and many others, refused to even talk about it. I think that shows how exceedingly distant a perspective we have to the actual event.
 
C

Christophe Damore

Guest
Hello out there in Titanic-Land...

I know this subject has been discussed and dissected in previous threads, but I was hoping some of you, especially the new members, might have information regarding Titanic survivors who committed suicide (Partly do to PTSD) or survivors who suffered from the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after the disaster and/or those who sought therapy (If any).

The suicide which strikes me the most is Jack Thayer's. Slitting one's wrist/throat is not an easy way (and extremely painful way) to die and his "state of amnesia" certainly sounds like a dissociative fugue/traumatic flashback to me.

I also know the Countess (Lucy Noel Martha) suffered from flashbacks whenever she heard particular strains of music that were played during the voyage...and Eleanor Widener strikes me as having suffered from extreme depression after losing her husband and son...(Maybe not quite so unremarkable) I'm looking for incidents akin to those.

Having survived September 11th, (Thank God I wasn't in the Towers...but I was five blocks up) an extremely hot and humid early morning will set me up for a bad and nervous mood all day, as will the smell of demolition and plaster dust.

As an afterthought: Does anyone have any idea where I could obtain a copy of Daisy Spedden's diary? I'm extremely interested in reading about Charlotte Cardeza's Brandy Flash and stepping on Mrs. Cavendish's stomach. I think I would almost be willing to commit murder to get this...:p

Thank you in advance for reading my ramblings and any help/information that you can provide.

Thank you all! Have a lovely day/weekend!!!

-Chris-
 

Karen Fink

Member
May 14, 2004
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Chris,
I think it is entirely possible that those who survived the Titanic would always have painful memories and some form of PTSD from their experience (although I don't believe PTSD was really well-known at the time). As a military veteran, I can sympathize completely with the edgy feeling you have when the weather is a certain way, or someone having flashbacks from hearing music associated with an event. I know the ET sight has a list of what passengers died from, but I'm not sure if there would be any information on whether or not they sought any therapy, or even what drove them to suicide. Good luck with your search for more information.
 
C

Christophe Damore

Guest
Dear Karen,

Thank you for the kind words. It's always nice to know another person is around who knows what PTSD is like, even if via the internet. I was looking through the various "causes of death" on ET, but there seems to be no category for "suicide". Death by "knife wound" or "gun shot wound" seem to be two of the categories I've found some information under. I'm sure PTSD was probably diagnosed as various forms of Hysteria in asylums in the 1910s. I wish they would compile a list of the survivors who committed suicide...seems more accurate than death by gun or death by knife wound.

I also appreciate your comment on Ismay on another post. I'm sure the man was haunted horribly for the rest of his life whenever he thought about the Titanic. But it is truly hard for any of us to make assumptions on how we would react if placed in the same circumstance. I think there is nothing cowardly in wanting to live, even if it did go against the social ideology of the era.