Widener A la Carte Dinner


J.P. Wachtel

I have read already many times about the famous dinner party for captain smith the night of the sinkingon the A la Carte restaurant, I am intending on writing a book about titanic and i need some help and information about what happened on the a la carte party held by the widenrs the night of the sinking


Arun Vajpey

One of the interesting events during the Titanic's ill-fated maiden voyage is the dinner party that George and Eleanor Widener threw for Captain Smith in the A La Carte Restaurant on B-deck on the evening of Sunday, April 14th 1912, the night that the Titanic had its fateful encounter with the iceberg.

The Wideners were a very rich and prominent Philadelphia family and had banking interests in the International Mercantile Marine, the conglomerate that owned White Star Line and hence the Titanic. They were ostensibly throwing that dinner party to honour Captain Smith and many other prominent First Class passengers were invited. Among them were the Wideners’ 27-year old bibliophile son Harry, John and Marian Thayer, William and Lucille Carter and Archibald Butt. Some versions claim that George Rosenshine and his mistress Maybelle Thorne were also invitees but it is more likely that they were dining by themselves at a nearby table.

There were other prominent people dining in the A La Carte Restaurant that night, albeit not in the Widener’s party. Bruce Ismay, the Chairman of the White Star Line, was dining with the ship’s doctor Dr O’Loughlin at a nearby table. From where they sat, they could reportedly see some of the guests at the Wideners' party as the long table extended a little beyond the privacy alcove. Also present in the restaurant were Jacques and May Futrelle, who were dining in company with Henry and Irene Harris; Mrs Futrelle later commented about the gaiety at the Widener’s party table. Another group dining within sight of the party at another table were Dr William Minahan and his wife Lillian, along with his younger sister Daisy. There might have been others, like the Duff-Gordons, Mr & Mrs Edgar, Leila Meyer etc.

Most accounts agree that Captain Smith arrived at the Widener’s party around 7:15 pm, Daisy Minahan among the survivors who recalled his arrival. The party atmosphere was reported be gay with a lot of drinking and socialising; comments were made about how ‘famously’ Marian Thayer and Archie Butt were getting along together – they reportedly never left each other’s company during the party. But Saloon Steward Thomas Whiteley who served the party table and Eleanor Widener, both of whom survived the sinking, commented that Captain Smith did not consume a drop of alcohol throughout; he had the meal and smoked 2 cigars. This was corroborated by Maybelle Thorne, who could presumably see the Captain’s seat from her table in the restaurant.

While most accounts agree about the time at which Captain Smith arrived at the Widener’s party table, there are quite a few differences of opinion about when he left it. The official account is that he excused himself at about 8:55 pm but this is based entirely on Lightoller’s later deposition and not corroborated by others at the table or anyone else in the restaurant. There are a few statements suggesting that he stayed till about 10 pm, over an hour more than generally believed. Daisy Minahan, from the adjoining table, recalled that Captain Smith was still sitting at the Widener’s party table when she left the restaurant at around 9:45 pm that night.

According to Lightoller, Captain Smith arrived at the bridge just after he left the party at 8:55 pm, spoke to Lightoller about the flat calm sea, dropping temperature, possibility of icebergs and the difficulty of spotting them on a moonless night like the one they had. Going by Lightoller’s accounts, the Captain remained on the bridge for 25 to 30 minutes in all and then retired to his cabin, telling the Second Officer to let him know if there was any problem. Fourth Officer Boxhall, reportedly emerged from the chart room onto the bridge at some point while the Captain was still with Lightoller but, as we shall see, this does not necessarily prove the timeline given later by Lightoller. Boxhall merely confirmed seeing the Captain on the bridge that night “around 9 pm” but not how long the latter stayed there.

I wonder if it was possible that Captain Smith indeed left the Widener party table at around 8:55 pm and went to the bridge to check conditions with Lightoller, who was the Senior Officer on duty there at the time. While Smith was there, Boxhall could have briefly emerged from the chart room and seen him with the Second Officer; if the Captain had left the bridge soon after Boxhall had returned to the chart room, the Fourth officer could not have known how much time the former had spent there; it is therefore possible that he had remained there for less than 10 minutes and not 25 to 30 minutes as stated later by Lightoller; also, unbeknown to Lightoller, Captain Smith could have returned to the Widener’s party table. As he was away for less than 10 minutes, no one at the party table – at least none of the 4 survivors – took particular notice, presumably assuming that the Captain was checking something or answering a call of nature.

The Minahan family, having finished their dinner at a nearby table, left the a la carte restaurant at around 9:45 pm. Daisy Minahan noticed that Captain Smith was still at the Widener’s party table at that time. Maybelle Thorne seemed to recall that Captain Smith left the party table “around 10 pm” after which the Captain presumably went straight to his cabin. He was resting in his cabin when the Titanic had its encounter with the iceberg at 11:40 pm.

One issue that may be tied up with Captain Smith's visit to the Wideners' party is the fate of the Baltic's (second?) ice warning that was received by the Titanic earlier that afternoon and acknowledged. This has been discussed at some length in Paul Lee's article Failure to Act: The Titanic & Ice Warnings.

Later investigations revealed that the first message from the Baltic was received by the Titanic at 1:57 pm (all times Titanic ship time); it alluded to several icebergs seen in an area that the Titanic would reach later that night. But in the information in that first message was actually sent out by the Greek steamer Athenai and the Baltic was passing it on to Titanic and other ships in the vicinity. It was not acknowledged by the Titanic till an hour later and subsequent investigations suggested (but did not prove) that the Baltic might have sent more than one ice warning message to her bigger sister around that time. At least one of them, most likely the first one, reached Captain Smith but it is uncertain if it was seen by any of the Duty Officers. If it had, it would almost certainly have been Chief Officer Henry T Wilde, who took over from Murdoch at 2 pm. So, (presumably) Bride delivered the Baltic’s ice warning to the bridge where it was seen by Wilde and soon afterwards passed to Captain Smith.

So what did Captain Smith do with Baltic’s ice message? Most accounts say that he handed it to J Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Shipping Line, while the latter was talking to Mr & Mrs Widener and Ismay put it in his pocket. This would very likely be around 2:30 pm. Mrs Widener survived the sinking but as far as is known did not allude to this exchange; Paul Lee believes that this might be due to the fact that her father-in-law was then the on the board of International Mercantile Marine and so talking about it would have been a conflict of interest. A few hours later, around 6pm, Ismay reportedly stopped by Mrs Ryerson and Mrs Thayer as they sat lounging in deck chairs, talked a few pleasantries and then showed them the Baltic Ice warning message. This was witnessed by Grace Bowen, another first class passenger who sat nearby in another deck chair; she reported that she saw Ismay show the other two women a ‘white piece of paper’. Ismay departed soon after wards and as Mrs Ryerson and Mrs Thayer prepared to leave themselves, the former, who knew Grace Bowen, told her about the ice warning message.

About an hour or so later, at about 7:10 pm, Major Arthur Peuchen was going to his cabin to dress for dinner when he passed Captain Smith heading to the First Class Smoking Room. Ismay is supposed to have claimed in one of his later depositions that in the Smoking Room the Captain asked the Chairman to return the Baltic's ice warning, which the latter did. The presumption is that the Captain asked for that message with intention of posting it on the notice board in the Chart Room for the duty officers to see. But the Baltic ice warning never appeared in the chart room and judging by the times involved, Captain Smith did not go to the chart room after taking the message back from Ismay in the Smoking Room but headed to his dinner date with the Wideners in the A La Carte restaurant, where he arrived around 7:15 pm.