THE TITANIC (1)

New York Times

Col. Gracie’s Account of Last Year’s Sea Tragedy
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THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TITANIC. By Col. Archibald Gracie. Mitchell Kennerly. $1.25
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When the Titanic went to the bottom of the Atlantic now more than a year ago it was a tragedy of such horror, such violence, and of an agony so excruciating that modern pens faltered at the task of description. They had been schooled in the latter-day restraint, trained in presenting the subtler poignancies of clashing characters and conflicting thought. The Titanic disaster was overwhelming.

Some will always wonder what contributions might have been made to the literature of that wreck if among its scant list of survivors had appeared the names of W. T. Stead and Jacques Futrelle. But one man who did go down with the ship and who was rescued later from the ice-strewn Atlantic knew how to handle a pen. This was Col. Archibald Gracie. He was an author. He had written "The Truth About Chickamauga," and when, by a series of almost miraculous circumstances, he came alive from that foundered ship he set himself to the task of writing a book about the Titanic.

He did not seek to relate the Titanic story as a work of art. He did not seek to distill the essence of the tragedy---the crushing ruth [sic] that it need never have been. He did not deal with the causes of it all---the whys and wherefores. He wrote simply "The Truth About the Titanic." Not author fashion. but, rather, man fashion, he tried to tell what happened that night, and particularly what happened to him. It was his own experience that he wrote in those Spring and Summer months which followed. His story is the story of one passenger told artlessly. It is very vivid---perhaps all the more so because around the adventures of Col. Gracie the disaster’s dimensions are not drawn sharply. The whole picture of the wreck is done with an indefiniteness of outline that suggests immensity. There is something effective in the very lack of directness and coherency in the narrative. Again and again Col. Gracie broke in upon the thread of his story to marshal the points of evidence on this or that disputed point. And between the lines there is conveyed to the reader a sense of the restlessness that beset the writer, as though Col. Gracie, while he wrote, had been haunted always by the horror of that night off the Grand Banks, haunted by that terrible chorus of anguish and despair that rose from a thousand throats and came to him as he clung to his bit of wreckage. Surely it was an ineffaceable, torturing memory that he could not even try to escape, for he was writing the truth about the Titanic.

For all the pressure of this memory, it is seldom that he departed from the matter-of-fact, undemonstrative tone of his recital and from a certain old-style formality of expression peculiarly suited to the history of events which even now we find difficulty in attributing to the present day and generation. There are parts of Col. Gracie's story that read like the stories of personal adventure written more than a hundred years ago. Witness this passage:

["]Prayerful thoughts now began to rise in me that my life might be preserved, and I be restored to my loved ones at home. I weighed myself in the balance, doubtful whether I was thus deserving of God's mercy and protection. I questioned myself as to the performance of my religious duties according to the instructions of my earliest Preceptor. • • •["]

Col. Gracie has written of the long swim under water and the prayers that were so fervent. He wanted to convey the news of how he died to his people at home. A story of mental telepathy flashed into his alert mind, and he thought, if he prayed hard enough, that this, his "last wish to communicate with his wife and daughter," might be granted. His narrative of those hours gives way then for a space to Mrs. Gracie. She was visiting in New York at the time and on the night of the fourteenth she could not sleep. She wondered what it was that prevented the customary ease of slumber.

["]"What is the matter?" I uttered. A voice in reply seemed to say, "On your knees and pray." Instantly I literally obeyed with my Prayer Book in my hand, which by chance opened at the prayer, "For Those at Sea." The thought then flashed through my mind, "Archie is praying for me." I continued wide awake until a little before 5 o'clock A. M. At 8 o'clock my sister came softly to the door, newspaper in hand, to gently break the tragic news that the Titanic had sunk and showed me the list of only twenty names saved, but my husband's name was not included.["]

Col. Gracie's story is illumined as was the whole history of the Titanic by the accounts of the hIgh-souled, splendid spirit in which man after man went to his death. One incident in particular deserves notice here. It was just one incident on that crowded, overturned boat, where Col. Gracie and twenty-nine other men were held out of the water until the coming of dawn and the Carpathia. One more man on that frail craft and she would have gone down, yet the sea was full of desperate men:

["]In no instance, I am happy to say, did I hear any word of rebuke uttered by a swimmer because of refusal to grant assistance. There was no case of cruel violence, but there was one transcendent piece of heroism that will remain fixed in my memory as the most sublime and coolest exhibition of courage and cheerful resignation to fate and fearlessness of death. This was when a reluctant refusal of assistance met with the ringing response in the deep, manly voice of a powerful man: "All right, boys; good luck and God bless you." I have often wished that the identity of this hero might be established and an individual tribute to his memory preserved.["]

When his own story was finished Col. Gracie then compiled from the minutes of the British and American inquiries and from his exhaustive correspondence with survivors an ordered account of the history of each lifeboat from the moment it left the side of the lost ship till it reached the side of the Carpathia. Here is system enough. There is something grim in the very orderliness of the compilation. Under the caption "Women and Children First" names and numbers are given for each boat in the summary at the head of each boat's history, and then, in many, as in Boat 4, one comes upon this sort of entry:

["]Bade Good-bye to Wives and Sank with Ship: Messrs. Astor, Clark, Cummings, Ryerson, Thayer, Widener, and his son Harry.["]

At the time of his death, in December of last year, Col. Gracie had not finished his book. He had planned a final chapter to deal with the causes and the lesson taught. It does not matter. Others can do that part as well as he.

Related Biographies:

Archibald Gracie

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