Last of the survivors to leave the sinking Titanic, Col. Archibald Gracie, of Washington, tells a story of horrible hardship in the icy waters after he was swept, clinging to a wooden grating, from the topmost deck when, with a frightful roar, the broken ship plunged beneath the swirling sea, and remained for several hours battling with other humans in a mass of tangled wreckage before he was rescued.
Descriptions given by Colonel Gracie of the terrible scenes following the collision of the Titanic and the iceberg are nearly the same as told by the other survivors, who say the actual account of the awful disaster is beyond the limit of human expression. His rescue, he states, was nothing short of miraculous, as time and again he was washed by the dark waters from his improvised raft. His ability as a strung swimmer aided him materially, he says.
Colonel Gracie says that soon after he was swept into the sea and was struggling to keep above water, he encountered J. B. Thayer, jr., and together they fought for their lives.
Too much praise can not be given to the valor of the men and women who were the actors in the terrible tragedy, as greater deeds of heroism were never done by man," he said. "Only in rare instances was it necessary for the officers to use force to prevent frenzied men from pushing aside women.
No fiction tells of heroines who acted as did the brave women, wives of the men left behind. Officers were compelled to drag many of them away because they refused to leave their loved ones."
The Washingtonian had given up all hope of being saved and was resigned to his fate, he says, when the huge ship sank. He had seen the last lifeboat lowered and was standing on the topmost deck witnessing the wild scenes amid the awful wailing of women and the crying of children when the sinking snip with hardly a moment's warning fairly plunged into the maw of the ocean.
Emotions never before experienced by man thrilled me, as I stood there and felt the great ship trembling, as the mammonth [sic] waves struck her side, and looked down into the black waters at the lifeboats being tossed about with their burden of agonized humanity, narrated Colonel Gracie to a representative of The Washington Times.
Thoughts of being scalded to death possessed me for a few minutes as I heard the engines groaning, and felt the hot steam on my face resulting from the water rushing in below. I expected death, but had a momentary fear of being scalded. I was wavering between a determination to pump [sic] and trust to Providence or remain till the last.
While the combating emotions were seething within me there was a roar and the ship began to disappear. A thousand thoughts flashed through my mind in that moment, and with a grim determination to die bravely I grabbed the brass rail and clung tightly. In a second the great cold waves reached me and I was swept like a chip into the raging sea, going down in the base of a huge funnel in the whirling water. I was spun around and around, and I held my breath with supernatural strength.
It seemed like minutes before I reached the surface and was able to recover sufficiently to make an attempt to swim. Around me was wreckage, and I frantically grabbed at driftwood. Moans rent the air, women and children in the lifeboats being hysterical in their fear and sorrow. Occasionally a man struggled by me, and I think I discerned two or three women half floating on the waves, held up by an improvised life preserver of some sort.
"While in this helpless condition expecting every minute to be washed away from the wooded grating which supported me I encountered J. B. Thayer, jr.
Pulled Aboard Raft
We rescued several half-dead men and held them on the raft until we stood nearly knee deep in the water and there was danger of us going to the bottom, and then we were forced to keep unfortunates away. We warned away quite a number of men who swam or were washed toward us.
The hours we spent on that raft cannot be imagined. Cold and benumbed, we waited for more than two hours before there was the slightest hope of our being rescued. Some prayed. We all thought of home and the anguish and sorrow the disaster would cause. We were prepared to die.
Day never broke on a more desolate scene, half clad men and women, the latter weeping and wailing, being cast about on the limitless water. Those on the big wooden grating---about thirty in number---were standing in water, the stronger supporting the weak and guarding against the tired and exhausted ones falling into a watery grave. Little was said by anyone, groans of agony being about the only human sound.
It was like awakening from a frightful dream, as we recalled the scenes of the past two hours, and remembered how human life had been lost amid acts of bravery never chronicled by pen. We were speechless as we reflected on how the hand of death had been laid on the gayety and pleasure of the floating palace a few hours before, transforming hundred of happy souls into creatures of deepest sorrow or victims of the greatest tragedy of the seas of all time. It did seem as though we had passed through a nightmare, but our cold, water-soaked bodies brought us back to the terrible realization of our fate.
With daylight there was hope, but we had grown used to the expectation of death, and not a trace of joy was discernible on the faces of the survivors on our raft. Dark specks on the rolling waves indicated to us that the lifeboats filled with the women had not yet been sighted, and no doubt would be found before many hours, but we were resigned.
Praise For Heroes
Returning to a description of the scenes immediately after the Titanic crashed into the mammoth iceberg, Colonel Gracie told of the heroic work of Major Butt, John Jacob Astor, Clarence Moore, Jacques F. Futrelle, H. B. Harris, and other men, who stood aside in obedience to the law of the sea that the woman and children might live. None of them, he said, failed to show his manhood. He stated that he aided John Jacob Astor in helping his young wife into a lifeboat, she pleading to be left to die with him.
My last view of Major Butt---one that will live forever in my memory---was with that brave soldier coolly aiding the officers of the boat in directing the disembarkation of the women from that doomed ship. The recollection of him that is seared into my very brain is impressed by his last assertion of that manliness and chivalry so peculiarly his, that stately demeanor so well known to all Washingtonians. He died like the soldier and brave man he was."
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Archibald Willingham Butt
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Archibald Gracie IV
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