They Missed the Boat (Titanic) Smithsonian Magazine Article

They Missed the Boat by Greg Daugherty (Smithsonian Magazine, March 2012)

The sinking of the Titanic claimed some 1,500 lives, among them a  gallery of early 20th-century A-list celebrities. Captains of industry John  Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim both went down with the ship, as did  Macy’s co-owner Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, who refused to leave his side.  The popular American mystery writer Jacques Futrelle, the American painter and  sculptor Francis Millet, and Maj. Archibald Butt, friend and aide to  then-President William Howard Taft, were lost as well.
But for all the  boldface names among the Titanic’s victims, many more might have been  aboard, but for the vagaries of fate. Among them were:


Theodore Dreiser

The novelist, then 40, considered returning from his first European holiday  aboard the Titanic; an English publisher talked him out of the plan,  persuading the writer that taking another ship would be less  expensive. Dreiser was at sea aboard the liner Kroonland when he  heard the news. He recalled his reaction the following year in his memoir, A  Traveler at Forty: “To think of a ship as immenseas the Titanic, new and  bright, sinking in endless fathoms of water. And the two thousand passengers  routed like rats from their berths only to float helplessly in miles of water,  praying and crying!”

Guglielmo Marconi

The Italian inventor, wireless telegraphy pioneer and winner of the 1909  Nobel Prize in Physics was offered free passage on Titanic but had  taken the Lusitania three days earlier. As his daughter Degna later  explained, he had paperwork to do and preferred the public stenographer aboard  that vessel.  Although Marconi was later grilled by a Senate committee over allegations that his company’s wireless operators had withheld news from the public in order to sell information to the New York Times, he  emerged from the disaster as one of its heroes, his invention credited with  saving more than 700 lives.  Three years later, Marconi would narrowly  escape another famous maritime disaster. He was on board the Lusitania  in April 1915 on the voyage immediately before it was sunk by a German U-boat in  May.

Milton Snavely Hershey

The man behind the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s  Syrup, and the Pennsylvania city that bears his name had spent the winter in  France and planned to sail home on the Titanic. The Hershey Community  Archives has in its collection a $300 check Hershey wrote to the White Star Line  in December 1911, believed to be a 10 percent deposit toward his stateroom,  according to archivist Tammy L. Hamilton. Fortunately for Hershey, business back  home apparently intervened, and he and his wife instead caught a ship that was  sailing earlier, the German liner Amerika. The Amerika would  earn its own footnote in the disaster, as one of several ships to send the Titanic warnings of ice in its path.

J. Perpont Morgan

The legendary 74-year-old financier, nicknamed the “Napoleon of Wall Street,” had helped create General Electric and U.S. Steel and was credited with almost  singlehandedly saving the U.S. banking system during the Panic of 1907.   Among his varied business interests was the International Mercantile  Marine, the shipping combine that controlled Britain’s White Star Line, owner of  the Titanic. Morgan attended the ship’s launching in 1911 and had a  personal suite on board with his own private promenade deck and a bath equipped  with specially designed cigar holders. He was reportedly booked on the maiden  voyage but instead remained at the French resort of Aix to enjoy his morning  massages and sulfur baths.   “Monetary losses amount to nothing in life,” he told a visiting New York Times reporter days after the sinking. “It  is the loss of life that counts. It is that frightful death.”

Henry Clay Frick

The Pittsburgh steel baron was a business associate of fellow non-passenger  J.P. Morgan. He canceled his passage on the Titanic when his wife  sprained her ankle and had to be hospitalized in Italy.

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt

The 34-year-old multimillionaire sportsman, an heir to the Vanderbilt  shipping and railroad empire, was returning from a trip to Europe and canceled  his passage on the Titanic so late that some early newspaper accounts  listed him as being on board. Vanderbilt lived on to become one the most  celebrated casualties of the Lusitania sinking three years later.

John R. Mott

Though perhaps less well known today than the others on our list, Mott was an  influential evangelist and longtime YMCA official, who shared the Nobel Peace  Prize in 1946. He and a colleague were supposedly offered free passage on the Titanic by a White Star Line official interested in their work but  declined and instead took the more humble liner Lapland. According to a  biography by C. Howard Hopkins, when they reached New York and heard about the  disaster, “It is said that the two men looked at each other and one voiced their  common thought: ‘The Good Lord must have more work for us to do.’ ”

Legions more who “just missed” the ship.

Many families on both sides of the Atlantic have stories of relatives who  might have been aboard the Titanic but, fortunately for future  generations, missed the boat. Though only a small percentage of such tales may  have much basis in reality, they are part of a long tradition.   In fact,  within days of the disaster, newspapers were already remarking on the  phenomenon. “ ‘JUST MISSED IT’ CLUB FORMED WITH 6,904 MEMBERS,” Michigan’s  Sault Ste. Marie Evening News headlined an April 20, 1912 story, five days  after the sinking. Later it quoted one Percival Slathersome, a presumably  fictional artist, as saying, “I count it lucky that I didn’t have the price to  go abroad this year. If all of us who ‘just missed it’ had got aboard the Titanic she would have sunk at the Liverpool dock from the  overload.”  By the time Ohio’s Lima Daily News weighed in, on  April 26, the club seems to have grown considerably. “Up to the present time the  count shows that just 118,337 people escaped death because they missed the Titanic or changed their minds a moment before sailing time,” the  newspaper observed.

Famous Passengers Booked for the Ship’s Next Voyage

The Titanic’s return trip to England was scheduled to begin on April  20. Among the more famous names who had apparently booked passage:
• Henry Adams, descendant of two presidents and author of “The Education of Henry  Adams.”
• John Alden Dix, then governor of New York.(above)
• J.  Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line. A survivor of the Titanic disaster, Ismay was portrayed as a villain in many accounts in  part for the ship’s shortage of lifeboats and for getting himself safely into  one.
• Guglielmo Marconi. Having skipped the maiden voyage, Marconi had  apparently made arrangements to take the second.
• Frank Seiberling,  founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber.

Other would-be passengers had booked  even further ahead. For example, J.C. Penney, founder of the department store  chain that still bears his name, was set to sail on the Titanic’s next  crossing from England to the United States.


About historymartinez

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This entry was posted in Gilded Age & Industrial Revolution Era, U.S. History. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to They Missed the Boat (Titanic) Smithsonian Magazine Article

  1. Pingback: Time machine: The Titanic (1912) | Brobrubel's Blog

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