Why did they let people use the elevators during the sinking


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Aug 24, 2005
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Even the Titanic crew had mor common sense to close the elevators when she was sinking. Why did the Lusitania crew let people continue to use the elevators after she started sinking? Stupid move that cost some people their lives.
 

J Kent Layton

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Bradley,

These stories have gone around for a long time, and what actually happened with the lifts seems to be more complicated than foolish crew operation. The lift attendants survived the sinking, which means that *if* the cars were in operation when the power went down, and people were subsequently trapped inside the lifts, then it was not because the lift attendants were foolishly attempting to operate them. Hope this helps a bit; take care!
 

Tom McLeod

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In Dianne Preston's Book about the Lusitania, the elevator problem most reffered to was one that got jammed for below deck seamen and cooking staff. A young kitchen worker relates in her book the graphic screams of hearing all of those men stuck below and not be able to move the elavator. It appears that a lot of electrical devices worked for a short period of time, but in the 17 minutes it took the ship to sink, outages and other problems likely took place faster than many people could deal with. I'm amazed as many people got of the ship as they did and how much the crew albeit not very succesfully snapped into action and tried to get boats away.
 

Jim Kalafus

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The earliest reference to passengers being trapped in an elevator we've found is in the rather flamboyant 1918 testimony of survivor James Leary. His 1915 account, although exactly matching the story outline of his testimony, is considerbly less shrill and does not mention the elevators:

" I didn't realize the danger and went to my stateroom for a life preserver, but couldn't get one in the dark. I searched for two but couldn't find any so got one from a member of the crew. I then found Mr. King, Thos. B. on A deck and said to him that “we'd got it” meaning that we'd been struck by a torpedo. He assented calmly; there seemed to be no excitement. The staff captain announced from the bridge “lower no more boats” and said that he could reach port before the vessel sank. Officers and crew carried the same word to the passengers. In less than 5 minutes there was another explosion. Mr. Alfred Vanderbilt's suite was full of black smoke and wall dust.

"Then the ship took a list and the passengers got excited and not more than two or three minutes afterwards the ship went down. I lost Mr. King.

(1915)

"When I came from this entrance where I went out to look at the hole in the side of the ship, I looked at the ventilators (elevators) and looked up and noticed that they were between the two floors, filled with passengers screaming, and evidently they could not go up or down because the boat was on such a list, and I imagine that is the way they died.

" I started to look in the different rooms for a lifebelt; they were all gone. My room was so far forward and the boat was on such a list that I thought it would be impossible for me to get to it, so as I went along I saw an officer coming along with a lifebelt in his hand…everybody was running around and screaming and looking for a belt; so I saw him I met him in the companion (way) going towards this room and I was trying to get the lifebelt. I had exhausted every place and could not get a belt, and saw him with one in his hand. I asked him for it, and he said “you will have to go and get one for yourself; this is mine.” I said “I thought according to law passengers come first.” He said “Passengers be damned; save yourself first.” I tore it away from him, and I said “you can find one quicker than I can, and if you want this one you will have to kill me to get it.”

(1918) Sure, James, sure.....

We've found....oh....two or three dozen accounts dating to May 8-May 14 1915 in which survivors specifically describe ascending or ascending the main staircase, and not one mentions the jammed elevator. The central motif of the staircase stories is that there was a lot of jostling in the first few minutes but that the crowd thinned out very quickly and that the stairs were soon easily navigated in either direction. The elevator was in an open-cage shaft around which the stairs wrapped, anyone in it would have been plainly visible to anyone who passed up or down, and it is unlikely that every one who survived failed to notice a car with trappped passengers in it.

And, to expand upon Kent's:

>*if* the cars were in operation when the power went down, and people were subsequently trapped inside the lifts, then it was not because the lift attendants were foolishly attempting to operate them.

I don't know if the Lusitania's elevators had safety devices installed to prevent operation by amateurs, but I went to a college that as of the 1980s still had vintage ca. 1916 manual elevators.
In order to make them run, both the outer door and inner cage had to be locked sequentially. There was a lock-release built into the floor which had to be depressed before the outer door or cage could be moved, and which- like a clutch- had to be kept depressed in order to make the up or down lever move.

It was not all that complex, but the thing is it required some training to do. Which, of course, was the entire point. IF such a system was in place on the Lusitania's elevator, then when the attendant abandoned the car it is likely that whoever entered them would have difficulty getting it to move.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>A young kitchen worker relates in her book the graphic screams of hearing all of those men stuck below and not be able to move the elevator.

I don't have the book at hand, but a few questions come to mind, the first of which is, from when does that account date? A lot of people who did NOT mention the elevator horror stories during the 'week of truth' (that is to say, the first week after the disaster in which accounts tended to be factual and consistent with those of other survivors) mentioned them, as 'coloring' in accounts given later in life. In short, they added a detal that readers expected to hear by that point.

A second question is, did this person actually see the jammed elevator, and if not how did he or she know the origin of the screams?

Of course, if this account proves factually accurate in other regards, it leaves open the possibility that the trapped passengers myth had its origins here.
 
May 27, 2007
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Maybe there were screams in the elevator shaft that came from the crew men trapped in the cargo hold which you could only access by using an elevator. Officer Bestic just narrowly escaped such a fate. He had on a new uniform and went to change into his old uniform so he wouldn't get his new one dirty. Thus he was on his way to the cargo hold when the torpedo hit. Folks just assumed they heard screams coming out of a stalled elevator when the screams were in fact coming from the cargo hold where the trapped crew men were. They had become trapped because the power was out and they couldn't use the elevator.
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Jim Kalafus

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>only access by using an elevator

Had they removed the stairs, visible on the deckplans in Kent's book, in the center of the baggage room and leading up as high as the shelter deck, prior to 1915? With four decks to cover, a cargo area with no stairs, entirely dependent on an elevator would seem to be inefficient, with the entire staff trapped in situ for as long as it took the elevator to return.

>Folks just assumed they heard screams coming out of a stalled elevator when the screams were in fact coming from the cargo hold where the trapped crew men were.

None of the third class passengers who were in their cabins that afternoon made mention of that, and they were the only ones in a position to possibly hear it.

I have reservation about that particular Bestic story. From his various accounts, we can ascertain that he DID go to change uniforms, but then went to the officer's smoking room from which he saw the torpedo. He then went to the bridge, and from there to his port side boat station. Unless he had MAJOR, and completely unhinted at, sprinting abilities, there is no way that he could have detoured to anywhere near the baggage room before it submerged. So then, one must ask from where that detail came.

That is why I'd like to find the account Diana Preston used. It could be a factually accurate and theoretically possible stuck elevator story.
 

Tom McLeod

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I'll look that information from Preston's book up right now Jim, it will take a little while, but if it helps clarify anything, it's worth checking out. I will also try to reference my information and questions better, that will be easier for everyone.
 
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That is why I'd like to find the account Diana Preston used. It could be a factually accurate and theoretically possible stuck elevator story.

A lot of her accounts were from Last Voyage Of The Lusitania I believe. I know you've read this book, Jim. I don't think the Bestic account is in there but I know I've read it before. Perhaps in Seven Days To Disaster?

None of the third class passengers who were in their cabins that afternoon made mention of that, and they were the only ones in a position to possibly hear it.

I wonder how chaotic it was in Third Class though Jim, after the torpedo hit. Maybe nobody stopped to listen or wanted to. Of course the Passengers would of remembered screams coming from the cargo or mail hold if they had heard it.

That is why I'd like to find the account Diana Preston used.
How did you know I'd read Preston, Jim? Does it show.
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Of course later on when I joined this site I found out how inaccurate Ms. Preston was on the Passenger's Names and other things.
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Jim Kalafus

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>I will also try to reference my information and questions better, that will be easier for everyone.

No, the question was just fine!

If the detail in Preston is footnoted, that would be great.
 

Tom McLeod

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Jim and George,

I was able to find Preston's passage quite quickly. I refer to page 210 of her hard cover edition of "Lusitania" which came out in 2002:

"The electricity failure had trapped some members of the crew down below. Boatswain's Mate Florence Sikking had jumped into the elevator with four or five other men of the watch the moment they heard an explosion. They were fortunate enough to make it above decks. Just as he was about to go back down and tell the remaining men to come on up the generators failed. The electric elevator was their only means of escape, leaving many trained seamen trapped and helpless below with dire consequences not only for themselves but for the efficient lowering of the lifeboats.
Some butchers, working three decks beneath the galleys, rushed for the elevator used to bring meat up and down, only to be trapped as it jammed between decks. Bellboy (Robert)Clark was horrified: We could hear their screams coming up-they knew they were trapped. Young George Wynn, who had abandoned his asparagus and artichokes, could hear the sickening sound of the butchers hammering and screaming."

Preston goes on to say later on that same page;

"Passenger James Leary, already unnerved by the fact that everybody was running around and screaming and looking for a (life) jacket made a horrible discovery. He realized that the passenger elevators, too were stuck between floors and filled with passengers screaming . . . evidently they could not go up or down, because the boat was on such a list."

So apparently this information came from Bell Boy Robert Clark, Boatswain's Mate Florence Sikking, James Leary and George Wynn; as presented to us via Diane Preston.

I have some ideas about the above, but will leave it in your hands as you requested and we can chat more.

Best-Tom
 

Tom McLeod

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Footnotes:vague

The above came from page 210 of Chapter 15 "Come at Once". The footnotes in the back of the book seem vaque. As mentioned maybe research on the above listed survivors would shed more light into this. I am quickly seeing how this can be such a long standing debate. But at least this is an example of what can fuel it. The only thing that really would make sense to me is if the list of the ship effected the lifts before the power problem did. Also any trapped passengers and crew could have first been tripped up by the list problem as they may already have been in the lifts before the explosion happend and as they dealt with the list problem the power went out? Some ideas anyway.
 

Tom McLeod

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Thanks for your previous kindness Jim but references do help and it was somewhat my bad; nothing that ruffled my feathers and your suggestion was a nice one. I have heard of Turkey Texas by the way!
 
May 27, 2007
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but references do help and it was somewhat my bad
I too thought the crew in the cargo hold had become trapped due to reading Officer Bestic's account in another book. I just can't remember what book it was. James Leary account is fishy because in his 1915 account he said nothing about people trapped in stalled elevators.

Also any trapped passengers and crew could have first been tripped up by the list problem as they may already have been in the lifts before the explosion happened and as they dealt with the list problem the power went out?
Hmm..., that sounds like a good explanation to me. Except was the list serve enough at fist to stall an elevator?

So here's our witnesses

Bell Boy Robert Clark
Boatswain's Mate Florence Sikking
James Leary ????Truthful Account???
Officer Albert Bestic
?Assistant Cook? George Wynn

George Wynn(I remember George Wynn from Ms. Preston's Book in that he had lost his father Joseph Wynn in the sinking because Mr Wynn had gone to get a Life Jacket for his son and never came back. George Wynn didn't have the heart to tell his Mother what had happened. I just don't remember if he was the Assistant Cook or Chef but George definitely works in the kitchen. I remember that much at least.)
 

Tom McLeod

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Hello George,

Yes your above witnesses are part of the information on the Elevators in Diane Preston's book. I'm aware that no book is flawless, so further research on each of those witnesses is likely a good thing. The footnotes aren't great for the incident and seem only to lead to press interviews, which generally can be faulty I've found. But we have at least established one place (Preston's) book where the elevator story appears and the way it is written certainly etches it in my mind. I seem to remember something about the elevators in Colin Simpson's book about the ship; I also know his book sold well, but lacked a lot of fact. I actually have a copy of Simpson's book somewhere and I could see what pages he cites in his book about the topic and if he has any footnotes. Although Simpson's book seems to be full of errors, it did sell well, like Preston's book and could therefore be some of the sources that have planted the ship's elevator problems in the pubic's mind. Jim may have more information on degree of list and how bad it got and at what times. In what reports I've read the lists of the ship were quite pronounced very quickly, but I've never seen a lot of conformation on exact lists and times of such. Jim appears to have a book on the sinking and although I have numerous books on Lusitania, Titanic and other period ships, I don't have his. What I'll try next is looking into the above listed witnesses and also go through the Lusitania inquiry; although inquiries can also be false as well. It's not easy to nail down a lot of these things, but to me it's a fun challenge, I hope you are enjoying the "hunt" for more information as well. If anything, we have some citations of where this elevator story came from, that may be a the first step to prove something or put it to bed some day; so a minor success on the day.
 
May 27, 2007
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Howdy Tom,

You probably have more books then I do. I wish you luck and let me know what you find out. Is Seven Days To Disaster written by Colin Simpson? I don't think so. That's the book where I remember reading Officer Bestic's story of the crew elevators from the Mail or Cargo hold being stalled. If you have Seven Days To Disaster and it isn't written by the aforesaid Mr. Simpson then you might want to check the foot notes. Again Good Luck
 

Tom McLeod

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I don't think Colin's book was titled "Seven days to Disaster"; but that book sounds interesting as well. I believe Colin's book was originally a project with John Light, the diver who had dove on Lusitania for years and wanted to publish information about such dives. I think the two gave up on the project, but Simpson continued with it. I seem to remember Simpson's book was really pushing the muninitions the ship was carrying theory and his facts on some of those subjects seemed pretty out there. I also think historians and other reviewers have since really blasted his work because of such; I may be wrong but that is how I remembered it. Well feel free to keep me posted if you run across anything else. I have a lot of books, but there are many more I'd like to get, budget, time . . . you know how it goes. We do have this web-site, the many informed contributors and there are some other pretty good sites on the web about these things. But like books, finding the most accurate information is something to beware of.
 

J Kent Layton

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Simpson's book was called: "The Lusitania," and you are quite correct in recalling that much of what was contained therein was "out there." The Bailey/Ryan book "The Lusitania Disaster" followed shortly thereafter and had a lot of well-researched detail to counter Simpson's theories.

"Seven Days to Disaster" was an interesting read, but it was at times interspersed with fictionalizations, etc., which can be hard to sort through. At other times, just when you're reading something in that book, you begin to wonder where they got it from, and there are no notes on the point, which can be thoroughly irritating from a researcher's standpoint.

When Jim & Mike graciously decided to pitch in and help me out on my recent Lusitania project, "RMS Lusitania: An Illustrated Biography," they were very helpful in getting things like the elevator stories "back to basics." At this point, from what I have seen, I would say that the evidence brings out a couple of interesting points on this subject:

1. That the lift attendants survived the sinking, so they were certainly not operating them when the power went out.
2. A few accounts do refer to people being trapped in elevators, but these (as has been brought out above) are not always early accounts, and do not always have the "ring of truth" through and through, particularly when compared with earlier accounts by the same people.

At this point, I won't personally rule out 100% that something like this happened, but the evidence to support such an occurrence is not exactly what I would call "bullet-proof," either.

If you gentlemen come up with anything fresh, by all means keep me posted. And, you're quite correct, Tom, in mentioning that finding accurate information is something that has to be done carefully. Even first-hand accounts change over the years...!
 

Jim Kalafus

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The list: Initial strong heel, followed by a recovery and a relatively long period where the ship was more or less upright. A second strong heel, and less pronounced recovery, followed by a recovery strong enough that two port side boats were lowered at perhaps the 15 minute mark one of which, #14, survived despite the constant repetition of the fact that no port boats were successfully lowered. The second boat, apparently #12 or #16 was struck by the Lusitania as she began her final violent heel to starboard.

How violent was the final heel? Of the 85 occupants of boat #15 (including Barbara and Emily Anderson) virtually all of them who granted interviews mentioned that the funnel came directly over the boat and seemed "close enough to touch." Several mentioned covering their eyes so that they would not see the funnel as it came the final few feet down and crushed them. Then, bad disaster film style, the Lusitania began to roll to port again as she sank and the funnel pulled far enough away from them that it did not smash the boat as the liner went down. To answer the "how many people could a lifeboat safely hold?" question that comes up frequently in Titanic discussions~ #15 was lowered with either 83 or 85 people in it. It rolled enough as the ship sank beside it that the occupants were soaked. Later they pulled "A number" "several" "perhaps fifteen" more people in out of the water. So, it could have had as many as 105 occupants but more likely between 90 and 95. This left the lifeboat with "3 inches" "six inches" "five inches" of freeboard. So, theoretically, the 16 Titanic lifeboats COULD have been jammed to the gills but it would have been a bad idea.

Dinner date. Have to leave. Back later to talk about the elevators.
 

Tom McLeod

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Jim and Mr. Layton,

I'm very interested in the work that you both have done concerning the "Lucy". I'm glad my recall on the Simpson book was accurate. I appreciate being part of this discussion and if I find more concrete connections to the information I've thus listed I will pass it along. If anything, there does seem to be some interesting points to mull over. If it results in officially putting the elevator "rumor" to rest or provide information such as riding a "food service lift" to the top deck in vain; then maybe we can explain the confusion. 17 minutes is a short amount of time to piece things together. I stand in great admiration of the work everyone in this thread has gathered to make sense of such a short amount of time. I'm interested in the books you both have worked on together and with others and would like to add them to my collections soon. Thank-you Jim for the references of List, the exact lists and I what times would be of interest, but that would come from wheelhouse staff, QM Johnston and Captain Turner's statements of such may confirm some of the angle's; it otherwise doesn't appear many other crew was on the bridge long or if they were they did not survive. Good luck on the dinner date!

Best to you both and look forward to further responses-Tom
 
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