Why Do So Few Care

I thought this topic might not be appropriate to comment upon under the announcement of Barbara McDermott's death, and so I begin a new thread where I hope someone has an answer to this question. This is an observation- not a judgement of anyone here or anywhere else. Why is it that the world is completely captivated by Titanic and every single detail surrounding the ship and her people, and so very few take any notice of Lusitania, Empress of Ireland, Morro Castle, etc etc?

On Saturday evening last, Barbara McDermott passed away, the very last person on the planet who had any memory of one of history's most horrific and tragic losses at sea. It was a tragedy with world impact and who knows the full extent even now of the effect that sinking had on the course of WWI? It was a deliberate horror, and a tragedy resulting from a cold, calculating action by another human being- it was not an accident of nature.

In history books of my era, the sinking got one sentence. For so many years, the cemetery for Lusitania's dead was forgotten and overgrown, the name of the ship scrawled sloppily in paint on a rock.

Today there is no obituary in the Hartford Courant, or New York Times about Barbara McDermott although there is a prominent one for a minor cast member on the popular TV show "Monk". Was this information sent- oh yes! The reaction among television reporters, and newsrooms was less than tepid. I hope this is not the case around the world. Why is America so disinterested in anything not popular or glamorous? I wonder if Ireland and the UK take Lusitania more to heart?

I well recall the media frenzy surrounding the death and funeral of Miss Lillian Asplund-every newspaper, radio, television broadcast for several days had something to say. Miss Asplund was a private person, quiet for a lifetime about her own personal tragedy. Perhaps it was this fact which made her even more of a "story" for the media.
Barbara McDermott would often comment how nobody would believe her about her Lusitania experience. In the past few years she welcomed many people into her home and shared her story with so many in Connecticut, and farther afield. She commented numerous times on the fact that at long last somebody stopped to listen to her story, which was heart-rending and filled with history.
Barbara McDermott's life and passing, as others who have endured what she endured, (be it the Eastland, General Slocum, Andrea Doria, or countless other maritime tragedies)is of consequence and worthy of note. Why is Lusitania and her people a ripple on the pond in America, yet Titanic stops the press?
I think it is an exaggeration to suggest that nobody cares about the loss of the Lusitania, but it would probably be true to say that the fate of that vessel has always been overshadowed by the immeasurably greater tragedy of World War I. There has, moreover, been a never-ending stream of what might be described as anti-Lusitania propaganda from Marxist historians and their left/liberal fellow travellers, who have always insisted that the vessel was carrying significant amounts of ammunition and therefore (by implication) deserved to be sunk.

As far as the neglected graves of the Lusitania victims are concerned, I would tentatively suggest that this might have at least something to do with events in the south of Ireland between 1916 and the mid-1920s, which traduced and marginalised the Loyalist/Protestant community in County Cork and had little time for the sacrifices made by Ireland and the Irish in “England’s War” with Germany. In this context, I understand that many of the victims are buried in the Church of Ireland churchyard at Clonmel, which also contains the grave of the Reverend Charles Wolfe, who wrote the patriotic poem The Burial of Sir John Moore. Protestants in a Protestant church yard (so who cares?).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Lusitania incident has not received the tremendous amount of media attention that has surrounded the Titanic disaster and, for this reason, it may appear to have less immediacy than the never-ending story of the Titanic.

I can't understand it either. How can items brought up from the sea bed wreck of the Titanic be so closely guarded - whilst those from the Lusitania (And other ships which involved heavy loss of life) be freely available for sale?

There is still a memorial service in Liverpool on the Sunday nearest 7th May - but every year there are fewer gatherers. There is still a good deal of interest in the South East of Ireland however.

I fail to understand why Lusitania is put very much in second place in America, after all, it was, although I suppose in a fairly minor way, one of the reasons put forward for America entering the Great War.

Lusitania was also a popular ship on the New York waterfront - Titanic never even got there!

Good Question Shelley. I wonder myself. Geoff, your right that the Lusitania was a factor in America's entry into the War. American Dough Boys cried remember the Lusitania as they charged from the trenches. I know in my family certain members thought that the Passengers of the Lusitania knew that the Germans were going to sink 'em so they got what they bargained for. I set that opinion right but it shows your Every man opinion at work. People think oh she was carrying weapons so she got what she deserved or my all time favorite. Those people were warned. Yes they were warned on the day the ship set sail. As for why the ship is largely forgotten well my question is what makes Titanic so special compared to other ships? Why is the Titanic so well remembered when other ships are not? Good advertising on Titanic from Hollywood is what my Mother says.

Paul Rogers

Hi Shelley.

I always thought that the Empress of Ireland was forgotten because her sinking was over-shadowed by the start of WWI, only a few months later.

However, how about this for a theory? Both Empress of Ireland and Lusitania sank quickly. There was no real time for any drama to be played out of the decks; no time for obvious heroism or cowardice; no element of Greek tragedy.

Here's another question: With the exception of Titanic, what other shipwrecks are remembered by the general public?
In history books of my era, the sinking got one sentence.
History books from my school days sometimes even included a picture of her! What I thought was interesting, was that in NO school history book I ever had was there ANY mention of the Titanic. The Lusitania won out. Just my experience.

I agree with Paul's theory about the quick sinking. In addition, at the time, the Lusitania was not new. She was sailing a (relatively) routine schedule whereas the Titanic was on her maiden voyage. It seems that there were also more rich and famous people on the Titanic rather than on the Lusitania, no? Always fodder for the public imagination.
I think you may have something there Paul about the rapidity of the sinking not allowing for any stirring recollections and "The Truth About" sort of thrilling memoirs later. And I do understand that there were horrors non-ending in the trenches of WWI,which may have made the sinking pale for a time- yet, in all the years after, Titanic has garnered the lion's share of attention. I wonder if it will always be so.

Back in the early 1980's, I had contacted Ed Coghlan in Malahide( which I think must be near Dublin) about the Cobh Cemetery which had fallen into such a state of neglect. Cunard had left some monies for the upkeep of this cemetery but eventually, for reasons not entirely known, upkeep was abandonned. Ed did keep at it for many years though, and eventually more became interested in getting something done there. There is a popular site in America called Find -a -Grave, and I note that someone has put a tribute and some photos on the site of Cobh Cemetery.http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=3536
This afternoon I have had an email from the New Haven Register- a city close to Mrs. McDermott's home of Wallingford, and there should be an extensive article in tomorrow's paper.
To answer your question, I expect most Americans could sing a chorus of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Maybe if a soul-stirring song about the Lusitania could be written and recorded by some popular singer of today, there would be a resurgence of interest. Either that or James Cameron making a blockbuster film. I expect if Walter Lord had written a book called 18 Minutes- maybe the film makers might have come calling.
Hey Shelley,

I agree. More people can remember lines from the film "Poseidon Adventure" and what happened to the ship in that movie than can probably tell you what happened to the Lusitania, Empress of Ireland, Andrea Doria etc.

It seems only recent events of this day and age seem to capture the imagination of the media - not an event that shook the world almost a century before. Like we jokingly discussed, the world would rather flock to see the likes of Britney Spears falling down drunk, crashing into parked cars while high on some narcotic, shaving her head....rather than devote a tribute to an historical event or figure. And when the media feels we might have had enough of Britney, they then drudge up her teenage kid sister who managed to get pregnant at age 16.

Sad....very sad.....


Paul Rogers

I don't think many Brits (or Europeans?) would have even heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Shelley. It's interesting: how music can keep a story alive.

In the UK, I would guess that the general public could name some famous warship wrecks: for example, the Mary Rose (Henry VIII's great failure). Then, you'd have those ships lost in WWII, such as HMS Hood, the Admiral Graf Spee, the Bismarck, etc. If really pushed, a few could name some commercial shipping casualties, such as Torrey Canyon and Exxon Valdez.

But passenger ships? Hmmm. With the exception of Titanic, I reckon the most commonly quoted shipwrecks would be the Herald of Free Enterprise (Boz: are you listening out there?) and the Marchioness disaster.
A paradox I suppose, one where Titanic is seen as somehow "sexy" because she went down her first time out, in peacetime, and which became a media event in a way never really seen before or since. I'm far from indifferent to the Lusitania, but that's just me.

Jason D. Tiller

I have to agree, Mike. Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, were as the Lusitania was or perhaps still is, just another wartime casualty. Although I disagree with that view, but I think that's what separates the two.

I'm just as much interested in the Lusitania, as Titanic, but each to their own.
>It seems that there were also more rich and famous people on the Titanic rather than on the Lusitania, no?


In the field of the arts you had Rita Jolivet; Charles Frohman; Charles Klein; J.M. Forman; The Royal Gwent Singers; Elbert Hubbard; the Hicksons; Herbert Light, and about a dozen more B list authors; film makers; actors; singers; songwriters and members of the film industry. When the BEST that a disaster can offer in this field is Dorothy Gibson, you KNOW that you are STARTING at less than B list and percolating downward. I jest, of course, recalling as I do Mr. Futrelle and Mr. Harris and Mr. Stead...

Industry: you had Charles Bowring of the shipbuilding dynasty; Charles Jeffrey, whose automotive dynasty survived until 1987 as AMC; shipbuilder Albert Hopkins and, of course, Mr. Vanderbilt.

In terms of society you had once-notorious playboy George Kessler, whose resolve to make a difference if he survived led to the founding of what is now Helen Keller International; Lady Allan; Lady Mackworth and her father; the Burnsides of Toronto's Eaton department store dynasty; Mary and Ogden Hammond, and VERY few of the tacky arrivistes who make the Titanic passenger list so fun to sneer at. There is George Vernon, en route to an arms-deal meeting with Grand Duke Michael of Russia, arranged by his wife, Inez Jolivet:

Fortune Came After Death
$47 Estate of Lusitania Victim Grows to $310,621.

George Ley Pierce Vernon, a professional musician who turned his attention to obtaining war contracts soon after the European war began because of the acquaintance of his wife, Inez H. Vernon, with influential persons in England, left an estate of only $47 when he perished on the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. At that time he was negotiating a rifle contract with the Russian government and was on his way to complete the details.

His wife carried on his work after his death, and on July 19th of that year committed suicide through grief over her husband’s death. Before she killed herself, the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, largely as the result of her efforts, approved the contract arranged by her husband, and his estate collected $310,621 commissions on the sale of 259, 320 rifles.

~New York Times

and Maurice Medbury with his fortune in diamonds, European antiquities, and two wives.....

I can go on all night.....

What the Titanic had was Walter Lord, who wrote a lyrical, magical, book that spun some fairly mundane accounts into a classic work. The Titanic, by nature of the lethally cold water, spun about 690 identical accounts: "I woke up. I got into a lifeboat. The ship sank. It was cold" differentiated ONLY by how articulate- or inarticulate-the teller was. Only those accounts by the few who sank with the ship and survived break the pattern. But Lord managed to create a transcendent book with this somewhat repetitive material, and everything that has followed rests entirely on his shoulders.

>There was no real time for any drama to be played out of the decks; no time for obvious heroism or cowardice; no element of Greek tragedy.

Oh please. What there was, was quite the opposite of that sentiment:

Q Did you put on your lifebelt then?
A No; my brother-in-law said “Did you bring any others?” and I said ““No,” because I couldn't reach the other. In fact, I didn't know that there were other lifebelts in my room; there were, but I didn't know at the time, in the hurry I just grabbed the first one. Then Mr. Scott went downstairs to deck B and he got up four lifebelts, and gave one to my brother-in-law, and one to Mr. Frohman, and one he kept for himself. And while he was helping Mr. Frohman on with his, and my brother-in-law was helping me with mine, someone stole his (Scott's) lifebelt, and Mr. Scott went down a second time and brought up other lifebelts from deck B, and he gave his away to an old woman. We all offered him ours, and he said no, he could swim better than any of us, and if we had to die we had to die; why worry?

(Rita Jolivet Testimony)

There was no time for the sort of schmaltzy 'feel good about violent death' garbage mythology that marred the Titanic disaster to develop. About 740 articulate, horrified, angry survivors were ashore within 5 hours of the event; granting VERY candid interviews; writing letters; giving depositions, and from the start what the general public got was an endlessly litany of anger and sorrow and horror, and not flag-waving pablum:

"An elderly lady, between 40 and 50, hair turning grey, eyes picked out by birds, face full round and freckled. Fairly stout, about 5 foot three inches, very well dressed and wearing a lot of jewelry, and had a good set of natural teeth. On the third finger of her left hand she wore four gold rings, one jeweled with white stones, the second jeweled with three blue stones and two white; the third with five pearls, and the fourth jeweled with three red and two white stones. On her left wrist was an expanding gold wristlet watch, with initials A.G.S. on the back, and the watch had stopped at 2:30.... (This is probably Anne C. Shimer, of New York~ jk.)

"A second lady, Miss Hickson, was badly mutilated, her eyes being pulled out, probably by birds. She had a bent wrist, but this was the result, apparently, of an old accident…

A fourth lady, also damaged by birds, was well dressed, stout…

(Irish Independent)

This could NOT be spun into a glorious chapter in Anglo-American bravery. It was squalid, and ugly...which, in truth, was true of the Titanic disaster as well... and could not then, and cannot now, be made lyrical:

"Finally, we got them on and hurried up on deck, where we found many people. My husband aided six persons to get into their life preservers properly. One was a woman with a heavy fur coat. “Madam, you must get out of that coat. ” said Mr. Naish. “The fur will sink you.” She took it off, and he tied her life preserver on again for her. Another woman was wearing a long, heavy, wool coat with a large fur collar, her life preserver outside of that and her baby tied to the life preserver on her breast. Mr. Naish told her she must take the coat off and manage differently about the baby, or both would be drowned. A pitifully strange sight was a woman, glassy-eyed, mouth hanging open and emitting queer sounds. She was dragging her life belt. As we tied it on her, another woman came along, her hat tied on with a long motor veil...
(Belle Saunders Naish)

There is no way that a woman rendered insensate by terror; reduced to glassy eyes and queer noises; can be made palatable to seekers of high romance.

Nor, can this:

Female body, washed ashore at Ross, Carrigaholt, July 20th. Body very decomposed, breast bones, legs and arms missing, teeth in upper jaw were
sound and regular, except two molars on left side, which were gold filled. There were three teeth missing in left side, and one on the right side, which had been extracted before death. The two front teeth had been knocked out since death. Besides the body, there was a corset, maker’s No.
6110955 with letters “N.H.” marked on it in ink. Pieces of white silk underclothing were adhering to the body, on one of these was printed “Niagara Maid” probably maker’s trade mark, on another piece the letter “J” and other pieces not decipherable were marked in black thread. Buried Killtrillig Graveyard, July 16th. (Probably 26th)

Mrs. Naish's last words about her husband exceed ANYTHING to come off of the Titanic, simply because no one who sank with the ship with her or his spouse lived to tell about it:

"We had heard the vessel people telling us “She’s alright, she will float for an hour.” I could see the horizon and told Mr. Naish to look ahead at it and the rail and said ‘It is not true, we are sinking rapidly we are turning very fast. It cannot be long.’

"We watched the water, talked to each other; there seemed to be a great rush, a roar and a splintering sound, then the life boat or something swung over our heads. I threw up my left hand to ward off a blow and then the water was up to my waist. I thought about how wondrously beautiful the sunlight and water were from below the surface. I put up my right hand, saw the blue sky and found myself clinging to the bumper of lifeboat 22.

The Lusitania did not lend itself to history-as-romance, and that is why it has not been embraced by pop-culture.
By "rich and famous", what I meant was that perhaps the Titanic has been more popular over the years (besides the Lord book) because there are more memorable characters:

J.J. Astor was a household name. Ok, sure, he is canceled out by Mr. Vanderbilt. BUT Vanderbilt didn't leave a pregnant 'child' bride. Oooo scandal!

EVERYONE knew the "Gibson Girl" who came to typify the era. Rita Jolivet could possibly cancel her out, but she doesn't. Sadly, no one really knows of Rita today like they do the Gibson Girl.

And that brings us to Margaret Brown, a giant in real life as well as in fiction. Some of her sensational life stories (most of them false or greatly twisted) were published before Walter Lord's book. Her actions during, and charity work after the disaster were quite notable, and the media covered her activities heavily ~ making her a state hero in Colorado, and subsequently a very lovable national hero as well during that time and after. Was there such a character for the Lusitania? I honestly don't know.

Just some thoughts.
EVERYONE knew the "Gibson Girl" who came to typify the era...

The Gibson girl was named after Charles Dana Gibson, her creator, not the starlet Dorothy Gibson. The term predated her brief career, and so too did the drawings. Irene Langhorn, Camille Clifford and...maybe Evelyn Nesbit, yes. Dorothy Gibson, no.

>J.J. Astor was a household name. Ok, sure, he is canceled out by Mr. Vanderbilt. BUT Vanderbilt didn't leave a pregnant 'child' bride. Oooo scandal!

The scandal was not that Madeline was a child bride- and she wasn't, by the standards of 1912 or today, for that matter- but the circumstances surrounding the divorce. Vanderbilt had an equally messy divorce, and an infant son....but died under circumstances that could by no means be romaticized and may potentially have ended up:

#19. Male body, recovered at Quilty, Co, Clare, July 23rd. Unrecognizable. Skull and bones of face were bare. Forearms from elbows were missing. 4 teeth in upper jaw gold cased, and 4 gold filled. 4 teeth in lower jaw were gold cased
and 4 gold filled. Part of pair laced shoes and part of socks covered by them on feet, Part of underpants, part of inside undervest, the neckband and a fragment of the shirt were adhering to the body. Neckband and part of
the shirt were of linen with blue stripes, having the following laundry mark in black indelible ink on inside of band (V)X 176. Band was 15 size. Band
was closed in front with dark brown stud, set in plain metal, all of which may have been gold washed when new. Stud at back similar to one in front (set in white ivory). Undervest of pale white color bore laundry mark (V)X. the underpants were similar in texture and color to the undervest, and bore the maker’s name “American Silk Reis, underwear, Pat.V.finish.” Buried Leitrim Cemetery, Doonbeg, July 23rd.

which does not lend itself to comfortable mythmaking, the way that the Prodigal Returns funeral for Astor did. (Vanberbilt, BTW, lived in the Hotel Vanderbilt and was, therefore, probably the only member of his "class" to avail himself of a commercial laundry and not a home laundress. This is one of only a handful of Lusitania victims with first class orthodonture. Most of those recovered who had 'work done' either worse false teeth or were toothless. A person of means, with underwear marked "V" is fairly intriguing....)

What the Titanic had was a setup that was ideal for mythmaking; an attention getting plot device (maiden voyage); and an author who was able to set the story down in a classic manner. What the Lusitania had was all-too-visible ugliness; survivors with immediate access to the press; and one very good and a score of not-so-good books spun out in the wake of ANTR.
Dorothy Gibson, no
Right, and thus my quotation marks ~ meaning she is still associated in many people's minds -even though not correct- as a personification of the "girl". Such is how mythical legends are often created. Rita had no such association to perpetuate her name, however falsely, in the public consciousness.

And I should have been more clear, "child bride" isn't correct for the second Mrs. Astor, but the scandal of Astor's divorce from Ava and his subsequent marriage to a young woman far less than half his age (and still a teenager) was the point I was trying to make. And while common for young men and women to marry quite young back then, it was still quite a sensation for Astor to marry so young. Madeleine was a year younger than his own 19 year old son when they married, and the Astors DID run off to Europe to avoid the media hype and gossip all of this caused.