“And as the smart ship grew,
In stature, grace and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the iceberg too . . . “
- Thomas Hardy, THE CONVERGENCE OF THE TWAIN
EDITH (Rosenbaum) RUSSELL occupied cabin A-11 on the Promenade Deck (just forward of the first smokestack) and was able to afford an additional first class cabin (E-63, behind the third smoke stack) solely for storage of the clothing she was bringing home from Paris.
Reproduced here is Edith Russell’s 1934 account, along with news reports describing her unfortunate crossing of paths with thieves aboard the Carpathia.
“This was written only 22 years after it happened, and I think it is her best account,” wrote Walter Lord, in the February 1987 letter that accompanied a copy of the manuscript. “She sort of trails off toward the end, and I’ve put a few guidelines in red to help you follow the script.” Also included: “An account of the swindlers on the Titanic and how they went back to work even before the Carpathia reached New York. Edith Russell’s innocent involvement comes out in the course of the story: also her final exoneration.”
Edith’s Marconigram from the Carpathia began with a draft that read, “Lost all.” But she changed her mind as she scrawled the message for transmission, perhaps realizing that she was aboard a ship full of widows. She crossed out “Lost all,” in favor of, “Safe. Carpathia. Notify Mother.”
April 1 1934
For the past 22 years, every time anyone meets me, hearing that I am a survivor of the Titanic, the majority question me, “Were you saved?” “Yes, I was saved, like everyone else on the Carpathia.” And then, “Would you mind telling the story?”
Were I of a superstitious nature, or given to following my instincts which are very strong, I should never have taken my trip on the Titanic, leaving Cherbourg for New York on April 10, 1912. In the month of January, when in Biskra, Africa, an Arab fortune-teller predicting my fortunes in the sand, held up his hands in amazement saying, “Madame will be in a very grave accident at sea.” I naturally discredited this, but for months afterward felt an impeding sense of calamity.
Returning to Paris, I booked on the George Washington, which was to have left on April 7th, but when I found that this wonderful new boat, the Titanic, leaving on the 10th, would give me the opportunity of reporting (as I was the correspondent of “Women’s Wear”) the Easter fashions at the Races, and arrive at New York the same time, I naturally cancelled my passage and decided to sail on the largest, most wonderful unsinkable boat!!!
We were a very merry party on the boat train. Everyone anticipated seeing the monster boat. Arriving in Cherbourg, my premonition of ill was so strong, that again I was tempted not to take the trip, and even telegraphed my secretary, expressing my fears.
We waited aboard the tender for about 3 hours. I sat next to Colonel Astor with whom I had crossed in the spring of the year. Finally, a murmur went over the tender, “Titanic sighted” and then from the huge tender (that had been constructed especially for the Titanic and the Olympic as the draught of these boats was so strong that a special tender had to be constructed.) I sighted what appeared to me a six-story house! I have a very strong recollection of a very unusual occurrence – as we approached the ship, although the sea was perfectly calm, the tender began rocking in the most violent and inconceivable manner, throwing the passengers completely off their feet. I remember remarking, “Well a boat that will produce this uncanny upheaval, in this kind of a calm sea, is dangerous. I wish I were not going.” I have often wondered since; perhaps foolishly, if the powerful draught of the Titanic, creating such an upheaval in a calm sea, as witnessed by her preceding [near] collision [with the [with the New York] in Southampton harbor, and then again this uncanny upheaval in Cherbourg, did not possibly have the same effect on the iceberg, attracting same with a sort of magnetic force underwater. We drew alongside the Titanic, the tender pounding against her sides with such a force that I feared she would break in half.
The gangplank was held down by ten men on either side, as it shook and swayed in every direction. I was the last one to leave the tender, hating the idea of crossing that gang plank, and no sooner had I boarded the ship, than I went below to find out if there was not a possibility of locating my luggage, as I wished to turn back.
I was told that I could leave, if I so desired, but my luggage would have to go on to New York. I roused Mr. Nicholas [illegible]. . . of the White Star Line and told him of my fears. He said, “All right. Take another boat but your baggage must remain.” When I asked him about insurance on my baggage he answered, “Ridiculous, this boat is unsinkable.”
As this was my first trip to America in many years, and all of my most precious belongings were in my trunks, I laughingly answered the baggage master, “My luggage is worth more to me that I am, so I better remain with it,” and then stood to one side and watched crowds of cooks, bakers and stewards, carrying huge wooden boxes aboard. I asked a steward what they were, and was told that they contained tinned vegetables and provisions of all sorts for the trip over and return. He added, “We have a pretty good crowd going over, but it is nothing to what we shall have coming back, as I understand we are booked full.” This process of transferring food supplies lasted fully two hours.
I then mounted to “A deck” where my room was located, and found that a very luxurious cabin had been assigned to me, and a vacant cabin opposite for my luggage [an additional luggage room E 63, was purchased from Mr. McGee, who evidently upgraded to an outboard stateroom]. After the usual bustle, we weighed anchor at possibly 8:30 PM. Going down to the dining-room for dinner, I was amazed at the size of the boat. Who can describe it? Words are inadequate. It was not a ship—A floating city, could be a more adequate description. In these later days we have become accustomed to the luxury of our modern liners, but going back 22 years, the effect it had on me can be seen from a letter I wrote back to my secretary in Paris, Mr. H. J. Shaw, as follows:
“My dear Mr. Shaw: -
This is the most wonderful boat you can think of. In length it would reach from the corner of the Rue de la Paix to about the Rue de Rivoli. Everything imaginable; swimming pool, Turkish bath, gymnasium, squash courts, cafes, tea gardens, smoking rooms, a lounge room bigger than the Grand Hotel Lounge, huge drawing-rooms, and bed rooms larger than in the average Paris hotel. It is a monster, and I can’t say I like it, as I feel as though I were in a big hotel, instead of on a cozy ship; everyone is so stiff and formal. There are hundreds of help, bell-boys, stewards, stewardesses and lifts. To say that it is wonderful, is unquestionable, but not the cozy ship-board feeling of former years. We are now off Queenstown. I just hate to leave Paris and will be jolly glad to get back again. Am going to take my very much needed rest on this trip, but I cannot get over my feeling of depression and premonition of trouble. How I wish it were over!”
The original of this letter, posted in Queenstown, written on Titanic note paper is in the possession of Mr. Horace Shaw, in Paris.
The first few days of the trip were uneventful, marked by the usual making of acquaintances, promenades on deck, dinners in the Ritz, tea in the Winter Gardens, etc. As a matter of fact, it was only by looking out at sea; that one realized that one was on the ocean.
Sunday, April 14, the weather was brilliantly fine, but icily cold. Remarking on the cold to my steward, he explained that it was due to the proximity to ice fields. It seemed to me that the only warm place on the boat was in bed, so I remained there until 4 o’clock. Then, going out on deck, I noticed quite a group of men gathered at the side of the boat, admiring the reflection of the sunset on the water thrown from the side of the propeller, a sort of miniature water fall, and strangely enough, this red setting sun reflected a wide blood red band from the ship’s side to the horizon. How little that admiring group realized this red glow was a forerunner of the tragedy of a few hours later. None of this little group were saved.
Most of us looked forward to arriving in New York on Tuesday, as we were told that the boat was making a record trip. The sea was perfectly calm, with scarcely a wave, and there seemed no reason why we should not make headway, particularly in view of the splendid weather. Sunday night, the night of the wreck, there was a gala dinner. The lounge presented a very beautiful spectacle; everyone in evening clothes and the orchestra playing sacred as well as other music. The sight of this gaily-dressed crowd contrasted vividly with the pathos of the following night aboard the Carpathia. At 9:30 I went to the drawing-room and started to write letters. At 11:30, the steward, as was the custom on English boats, called out, “Lights out, it is 11:30”, so I handed a number of letters to the library steward, telling him that I would pay him for the postage stamps the next morning, and took two books from the library to read. We all filed out of the drawing-room, and went to our respective rooms. I walked down to the end of A deck which was on the same deck as the library, entered my room, turned on the electric light, and was preparing to retire, when I felt a slight jar. Then a second one, quickly following, a little stronger, and ten a third, a sort of Bang! violent enough to make it necessary for me to cling to the bed post. My heart felt as if it were sinking, and I noticed the floor of my room had listed almost immediately; it was on a decided slant, and the boat had come to a full stop. Thrusting my head out of my stateroom window, (my room, as l mentioned before, was on the upper deck), I noticed a large white mass drifting by. Slipping into my fur coat, I went around to a friend’s room, saying, “come along, let’s see what has happened.” There were only 5 people on the huge deck when we arrived, and with the two of us, making 7 in all. We were quickly joined by several others in various stages of undress, and we all looked at this drifting mass. Someone said, “That is an iceberg.” [Very shortly thereafter, the ship started moving forward again, “for a little while,” and the iceberg went out of view.] Frankly, I was overjoyed. I had always wanted to see an iceberg, from the time of my geographical school days; not realizing the danger of the encounter. I remember one man commenting that if icebergs were supposed to be two-thirds below water, and one- third above, “this must be a corker.” We all regarded it as a joke, and ran to the forward part of the deck, picking up bits of ice scattered about. Someone suggested a snow-ball fight.
Looking down towards the second class, we noticed a number of sailors walking on the lower deck. We heard a crunching sound. I remember remarking they were walking on a ground of ice. Nobody had any thought or fear of danger. A perfectly calm sea and brilliant starry night completely reassured us. The only hideous feature was the intense cold, which I can describe by saying that if you were to go inside of your Frigidaire, or hold your hand over a solid block of ice, you would get an idea of the temperature. The cold cramped one’s face and hands. It was an icy coldness. We walked about the deck and I questioned several officers. They said we had struck an iceberg, but there was absolutely no need to worry. The best thing for us to do would be to go back to bed, so after ¾ of an hour, I decided to do so, had started to undress, and had nearly retired when a strange man came to my door, saying an order had been given out that all passengers were to put on life belts. I questioned, “What for?” and he replied, “That is an order.” I do not ever remember seeing this man again. He was lost.
Quickly slipping on a dress, seizing anything that came to hand, I put on a long fur coat and rushed out into the lounge. But before doing so, did a most extraordinary thing, when I regard it in calmer moments: I took everything I had in the room, in the way of jewelry and dresses, and threw then into my trunks, shutting the trunks and locking them, and closing my stateroom windows and shutters and locking my trunks. [To Walter Lord: “I even paused to tidy up – to make sure the room looked . . . presentable.]
In going to the lounge, I saw the open door of a friend’s room and passed the message on to him. This friend had just purchased a beautiful bull dog in France, and it was whining and crying. I remember taking it and tucking it under the bed covers, and patting its head. Then we went on to A deck. I was met by my room steward, Wareham, fully dressed in overcoat and derby hat. I asked, “Wareham, do you think there is any danger, or is it simply the rule that all passengers should put on life belts?” He answered, “It is a rule of the Board of Trade that all passengers must put on life belts and that women and children are put aboard the lifeboats. Now I do not think that the boat can sink. In all probabilities we shall tow her on to Halifax.” So I said, “If you have any idea of going to Halifax, here are my trunk keys, and you better clear my trunks at the customs.” I remember now, but did not at the time appreciate the significance of his reply, “Well, if I were you, I would kiss those trunks good-bye.” “In that case, Wareham, do you think the boat is going to sink,” I asked him, to which he replied, “No one thinks anything, we hope.”
I had been given a musical toy pig, a mascot by my mother. A pig is a symbol of luck in France. Having just escaped from an almost fatal motor accident, my mother told me to keep this mascot with me always. So I said, “Wareham don’t you think it would be a good idea to fetch my mascot.” He answered, “Certainly.” As he ran down the corridor I remarked it was decidedly aslant. My room was up in the front of the boat. I afterwards found that it was directly underneath my room. A11, that the boat had been pierced. When Wareham brought the pig to me, the people about more or less smiled. I only tell you this to show you how little we sensed danger. I remember Wareham saying, “I hope we get out of this all right, as I have a wife and 5 kiddies at home.”
There was no panic, no excitement. Everything was calm and orderly. After about 10 minutes, an order was given out, “Women on this deck kindly go the boat deck, women only.” I went up to the boat deck and remember seeing lines of men standing around. Another order was then issued, “Women will please return to A. Deck.” I returned to A. deck. Finally another order, “Women will go back again to boat deck.” Frankly, I was confused and tired, so I went down to the lounge and sat down in an arm chair. There were 4 or 5 gentlemen seated there, and one of them said to me, “I understand they have already launched 5 life boats.” “Surely there is no danger,” I replied. “No,” he said, “but the English are a great people for rules and regulations; they are the greatest sticklers for that sort of thing. They very likely will take the women and children off, and return them for breakfast.” To this I replied, “Well if it is a question of rules and regulations, I am not going out on the deck, or get in a life boat and freeze to death.”
Just then, spying an officer, I said. “Mr. Officer, should I go in one of the life boats, is there any danger?” And he replied, “I do not think there is any immediate danger, Madam, but this boat is damaged. Very likely she will be towed to Halifax. We are expecting the Olympic alongside in the next two or three hours, when she will transfer the passengers and proceed with them. So there is no immediate danger or hurry, as this is an unsinkable boat. You had better use your own judgment in the matter.”
Again an order was issued. “All women immediately go back to boat deck.” And as I did so, I noticed coming upstairs, what seemed to me to about 50 white clad bakers with loaves of bread as big as a man. I remember remarking laughingly, that it resembled a carnival procession at Nice.
A young man threw a life belt over my shoulders, untied, just hanging loosely. I had searched my room for one, but was too unnerved to find it. If I would have had to put the life belt to practical use, it would have been of no avail, as the thing was just flung on, not even tied. I then went out on the boat deck and stood in a direct line of light with Mr. Bruce Ismay. I remember him with a white night shirt, open at the neck, no hat, and a pair of trousers. He called out, “What are you doing on this boat? I thought all women had already left, “ and he cried out, “If there are any women around cove over to this stair case at once.” I walked over to Mr. Ismay who pushed me swiftly down the narrow iron staircase which leads between boat deck and A. deck. When I got to A. deck, there was a narrow cleared passage made by the sailors, through which I passed. Two burly sailors caught hold of me and attempted to throw me head first into the life boat. But when I saw how far the life boat swung from the deck, I may say I was terrified, gazing down at the water far below. My feet seemed rigid and my slippers dropped off. I screamed, “Don’t push me, you frighten me.” And they answered, “if you don’t want to go, then stay.” I spent fully 5 minutes looking around for my slippers [which would later be willed to Walter Lord, their diamond-studded buckles hinting to him why Edith had wasted precious minutes in the search], and came back again to gaze over the side to the life boat which was completely filled up. One of the sailors, grabbed my toy pig mascot from under my arm, and, throwing it into the life boat said, “Well, at least we will save your baby,” mistaking my toy pig [wrapped in a blanket] for a baby. I felt that I had to follow my mascot, as my mother told me never to be without it, and I turned helplessly to a man who stood beside me. He said “Madam, if you will put one foot on my knee, and your arm around my neck, I will lift you to the rail, and from there you can jump into the lifeboat with less danger, and you will be less frightened.” The queerest part of this is, that this gentleman was the one to whom I had remarked in the tender, that I was afraid to sail on the ship. Jumping from a boat rail in those days of hobble skirt fashions of 1912, was pretty difficult. The gentleman helped me, immediately following; both of us falling into the bottom of the life boat. I remember groping about, hunting for my little pig which I eventually found.
The boat was slowly lowered, in utter silence, (with the exception of hoarse cries of, “shove her off! We shall be sucked in.”) It was heavily laden and tipped way over to one side. The ropes were cut loose with knives. As we struck out, we looked up from the water. The Titanic seemed the biggest thing in the whole world. All was calm and still, the reflection of the lights on the water, passengers leaning over the rails, strains of music filling the air: Nothing to indicate the horror of the coming hours.
A great deal has been said about the screams of the passengers. Personally, I heard none. [Not at this time.]
In our life boat, the first thought was to look for a lantern, as we feared collision with another life boat. Luckily we had one mate and 3 cabin stewards in our life boat, but mostly there were third-class women passengers and 7 babies, the Turkish bath stewardess, and my room stewardess, and 6 first class passengers in all. There were 68 of us in our life boat. Some of the people were very sea sick, and the babies were perpetually crying. I played my little musical pig to amuse them.
Our boat [Boat 11, the sixth boat lowered on the starboard side, approximately 1:25 am] was one of the few fully filled, the other ones having gone on half empty, many passengers preferring the warmth and comfort of the Titanic, to risking a life boat.
With all of us seated to one side, it was rather difficult to manipulate the three oars, all we had, so the stewards just paddled. I was seated on the gunwale, between 2 oarsmen, and caught the stroke of the oar either on the chest or on the back, alternating with each stroke, the search for the lantern continued during the better part of the night, but was not found. Our boat was # 11. Some claimed it was the 9 th to be launched; others claimed it was the 16 th. I remember we kept our eyes focused on the bow light of the Titanic which shone bright green on the starboard side. This light seemed to dip nearer and nearer to the water’s edge.
We left the steamer at about 1:45 A.M. At 2 o’clock, one of the stewards rowing, made this remark, “she can’t hold out much longer.” I did not quite realize his meaning, but heard him say, quickening his strokes, “Get away as quickly as possible, or she may suck us in.” Gradually the green starboard light hit the water’s edge, and it seemed to me that the boat stood on end. At 2:10, green rockets were fired from the upper deck [apparently green Roman Candles of the kind that 4 th Officer Boxhall would later be lighting in Boat 2, guiding the Carpathia in]: this was the last call for help and mercy. At 2:20 I saw the green light disappear entirely. The boat fully lighted up, suggesting one of our skyscrapers. It stood on end and then seemed to shoot or dive; went down by her nose with such speed, that I seemed to think it would come up again in some other part of the ocean. There was a very heavy explosion under water, a second and then a third. We were surprised that instead of sucking us in, the effect was to the contrary, it pushed us out and onward. Perfect silence! [Immediately] Preceding the sinking of the boat, there was a loud cry, as if emanating from one throat. [Walter Lord: “Charles Lightoller, before he was carried under the water, heard voices crying out. He heard them crying, I love you, to each other. He said he would never forget those cries.”]
The men in our boat asked the women to cheer, saying “Those cheers that you hear on the big boat mean they have all gotten into life boats and are saved.” And do you know, that we actually cheered, believing that the big shout was one of thanks giving. I was able to keep an accurate account of the time, wearing a bracelet watch.
The mate in our boat found a bit of rope. This he would light for a few minutes and then . . . extinguish. His idea was, that by flashing this light, it would possibly attract the attention of some other life boat, letting them know that we were near, and keep them from running us down. In spite of the starry night, it was inky black, and you could see no distance ahead. We kept rowing to a light which seemed stationery, on the horizon; the more we rowed, the further it seemed. Finally, the intense cold which precedes dawn settled upon the water. Those of you who have had night watches can realize the peculiarly penetrating chilliness of that half hour dividing night from morning. We were absolutely freezing. Just before dawn I noticed a very bright light on the horizon, and called the mate’s attention to it. He answered, “Don’t be imaginative, Madame, there is no light; there won’t be any light, and there is no use looking for good things when none are coming.” I again reassured him. And several of the passengers also remarked that I was right, and it was a red and yellow light looming up over the horizon. We imagined it was the Olympic. The stewards recalling the draught of the Titanic, feared the Olympic might draw us in with her suction. In the darkness, we struck out with our equipment of 3 oars, for the sky line. At sunrise, which was beautifully clear, we were horrified to find ourselves surrounded by icebergs. We had the additional horror of fearing that they would bear down upon us before rescue could be possible. The hours from dawn until 8 o’clock, when we got alongside of the Carpathia seemed more like a bad dream. No one talked. Our eyes were focused on what we found out later to be the Carpathia.
As we approached the Carpathia, I noticed that the flag was at half mast, giving me the first indication that there had been loss of life. I also noticed other life boats, coming from all directions. Getting alongside, 5 empty boats were drifting about. We were the sixth to arrive.
They threw us ropes to steady our boat. Just then the collapsible raft, in which Mr. Bruce Ismay sat [Boat C], came along and almost collided with out boat. The unusual stillness of the sea up to now, had been almost supernatural, but at the moment of rescue, white caps dotted the sea and tossed our life boats perilously.
The first persons allowed to leave our life boat were the babies. Potato sacks were thrown over with ropes. The babies were then put in the potato sacks and hoisted gently. Afterwards, we women were placed on a small slab of wood, like a little bench; the rope tied to this seat was knotted above our heads; we were told to sit tightly on this swing, putting one hand above the other on the rope over our heads, and to hold on tightly. This we did, and were pulled up with incredible rapidity into the side of the Carpathia, bumping and scraping the side of the boat. Loving hands were there to receive us. Officers removed the life belts which up to now most of us had been wearing. A roll call was made soon after we steamed, to ascertain the names of the survivors.
Aboard the Carpathia, we stood about, waiting for the other life boats. By 9 o’clock, 16 had arrived, and we proceeded on. We were surrounded by ice fields, and it was best to go on and not jeopardize the lives of the rest of the passengers. The Californian, which stood alongside, was asked to remain about the scene of the wreck and pick up whatever passengers it could. We were under the impression that the Californian had saved many lives. However, we afterwards found out that not only did it save no one, but made no effort to do so, and her captain lost his ship. The only rescue boat was the Carpathia.
There was nothing to indicate the horror of the preceding night, with the exception of a slight discoloration in the water, which looked like a brown stream. Bits of straw and wood were floating around. Icebergs around as far as the eye could reach. The day was brilliantly sunny, but intensely cold. After we had been under way for about an hour, the ship slowed down and a Catholic priest aboard the Carpathia prayed while the bodies of 6 sailors who died from exposure were buried at sea. I remember that all of our group were on the side of the boat. It seemed to me that the Carpathia would turn turtle. For the next few days here and there, little groups collected, wondering which one of their loved ones had been saved, but all buoyed up by the hope that perhaps the men had been saved, by fishing vessels, or some way or other. The few rooms on the Carpathia were given over to the Titanic passengers, but most of us were glad to sleep on the dining room tables where blankets had been placed. This for many of us was our bed.
One thing was startling in its peculiarity: that on Monday night, April 15th, two of the brightest flashes of lightning I have ever seen seemed to rip the sky, followed by two thunder claps that shook the boat. We survivors rushed on the deck wondering if we escaped from one death for perhaps a worse. We found however, that it was the beginning of a storm and we were fog bound until we reached New York on Thursday, April 18th.
Gradually, coming up New York Harbor, the fog lifted. The tolling of bells, and the booming of cannon was our first realization that we had passed through a dreadful history-making disaster. Certainly very few of us had any idea of the danger.
What thrilling deeds of heroism! Bruce Ismay certainly saved my life, and I don’t doubt that he saved many more. This is simply a condensed chronicle of events of one survivor. There are many more details I could give you, but my time is limited. I do not care to describe the pathetic side of this dreadful calamity, with which many of you are already familiar.
When you think, that poorly equipped as we were, some of the boats manned by women of feeble strength, we were able to survive this night, due only to the fact that the sea was without a ripple. It suggests the all-powerful hand of God spared 711 out of over 2600 who boarded the Titanic.
It was a never to be forgotten experience.
One Boat 11 account from the American Inquiry into the loss of the Titanic recalls Edith Russell’s escape – from, as it were, a different cameral angle:
By 1:10 am, the afterpart of the Promenade Deck has become a swarm of people jostling shoulder-to-shoulder near Boat 11. From the Boat Deck above, steward Edward Wheelton received First Officer Murdoch’s instruction “Women and Children first.” Wheelton told his American examiners that he also saw Ismay, about this time: “He helped the women and children into the boat, Sir, and told the men to make way. They were all standing round in a circle and a lady would come on deck and [Ismay} meant to make a gap so that she could come through . . . The only trouble we had was with one lady who would not get into the boat [Edith Russell, to a near certainty]. We attempted twice to get her in, and the last time I said to my friend helping me, “Pull her in,” and we pulled her in.”
After the women and children were in, Murdoch ordered Wheelton and two sailors to crew the boat. The last Wheelton saw of Murdoch, he was standing with Ismay at the davits to Boat 11, and Ismay was holding the line at the davit bit, helping to lower away.
About 1968, still several years shy of her death at nearly one hundred, Edith Russell recalled for Walter Lord that the sinking of the Titanic had done more that just give her an appreciation for the precariousness of human existence; it had made her “an action-adventure junkie.” But the time World War 1 seemed destined to erupt, the former fashion reporter simply knew, inwardly and urgently, that she had to report from the trenches. Had to. She would manage, if requisite, by developing a taste for rugged living, and a talent for deepening her tone, cursing and wearing men’s clothing in a manner that looked just right.
Even aboard the Carpathia, Edith began preparing herself for a departure from fashion reporting into a new kind of journalism. She gathered other survivors’ accounts in her head, eagerly making new acquaintances while collecting business cards and addresses – which, as always throughout Edith’s life, mushroomed into another great blip on what some historians would come to call ‘the Edith Russell weirdness field.”
Innocently striking up conversations and collecting cards, she became associated in some survivors’ minds with the not-so-innocent card sharps from the Titanic, who were behaving in an almost identical manner, but for different reasons. As the sharps saw it, the voyage from boat’s 7 and 13 to the Carpathia had turned into pay dirt –crowded together, as they were, with so many widows and millionaires, all of them distraught, and confused, and in no shape to be making sensible financial decisions.
And so, almost inevitably . . .
Published in The New York Sun, June 28, 1912:
SWINDLERS AT WORK IN TITANIC LIFEBOATS
Mr. Stengel thinks they were on the job before reaching the Carpathia.
ONE OF THEM A WOMAN
Met afterward as survivors, and they tried to bleed him in a racetrack game.
A story of how three swindlers rescued from the Titanic and aware that the Federal authorities were on their trail changed their names and tried to make victims of wealthy persons with whom they were saved was disclosed in Newark yesterday. Among the intended victims of the trio was Henry C. E. Stengel, a leather manufacturer of that city, who with Mrs. Stengel was taken from the Titanic in a lifeboat. Mr. Stengel supplied the information that the three, one of whom is under arrest in Columbus, Ohio, were members of the same gang who duped William Mason of Norfolk, Va., out of $20,000 through the old wire tapping game in New York City about ten days ago. Mr. Stengel said that they tried to work the same scheme on him, but instead of “falling”, he declared, he administered sound beatings to two of them in the Seville Hotel in New York.
The story came to light following the appearance of New York detectives in Newark yesterday. Mr. Stengel believes that his knowledge of the confidence men dates from the time when the rescued passengers of the Titanic were being taken aboard the Carpathia. A young woman who said she was Miss Edith Rosenbaum of Far Rockaway introduced herself and Mr. Stengel gave her his card. She was accompanied by a young man who said his name was Smith. The latter is said to be under arrest in Columbus.
Miss Rosenbaum was seen on the Carpathia making acquaintances with many persons, and in most cases she received the card of the person she talked with. On the second day after the rescue Mr. Stengel said he saw a man looking downcast and when he asked him what the trouble was his answer was:
“Mr. Stengel, I have lost everything.”
Mr. Stengel was surprised at the man calling him by name, but did not give it any further thought. Now the Newarker believes that the woman gave him his card. Mr. Stengel said the man told him that he was going to Los Angeles but he did not know how he was going to get there as he had lost all his money. Mr. Stengel advised him to ask the White Star Line to pay his fare. The passenger said he hadn’t thought of that and thanked Mr. Stengel who promised to advance the money if the company refused it.
The man said his name was George A. Brayton. Two days after the Carpathia landed Mr. Stengel was called on the telephone by a man who said he was Brayton. He said the White Star Line had given him his expenses and that he intended to leave for Los Angeles in a few days. Brayton took dinner at Mr. Stengel’s home that night.
In the conversation that took place at the Stengel home Brayton spoke of a big real estate deal he had on in New York in which he expected to clear $85,000. The negotiations were to close about the time his brother-in-law, who he said was an assistant superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company, returned from Mexico.
Mr. Stengel heard nothing more from Brayton until June 3, when he received another telephone call. Brayton told him over the phone that his brother-in-law had returned and was in a position to make some money. He met Mr. Stengel by appointment and the two went to the Western Union Building where Brayton’s relative was supposed to have an office. On reaching the fourth floor a man wearing an eyeshade hurried past them. Brayton hailed the man with “Hello Mac!” and introduced him to Mr. Stengel. The relative made an appointment to meet Brayton with Mr. Stengel at the Hotel Seville at the lunch hour. Mr. Stengel said that he started for the hotel with Brayton, who got a key for a room on the fourth floor. The room was bare of baggage. Brayton told Stengel that he had been staying there for a week.
After they had been in the room for a short time, Mr Stengel said, Brayton told of a scheme his brother-in-law had whereby he expected to make at least $100,000. He didn’t know what it was and they were still talking about it when “Mac” came in. “MacDonald” said he was in charge of the “R.D.” department of the Western Union, which he explained was the racehorse department. He said he could withhold the results of races for at least eight minutes.
Macdonald had a racing chart with him and he pointed out the horses that were expected to win certain races. He said he would put $1000 in the pool and wanted Brayton to subscribe. He also wanted another man to get in on the scheme. As soon as Mr Stengel heard of the plan he sailed into “Mac” and when Brayton pleaded with him not to “squeal” he began to punch him. Mr Stengel left and waited outside for the men; but they did not appear.
Published in The New York Sun, date unavailable (July 1912?):
Miss Rosenbaum wrongly named in article regarding sharpers.
An article in The Sun of June 28 told of how an attempt was made to swindle Henry C.E. Stengel, a leather manufacturer of Newark, who with Mrs. Stengel was a Titanic survivor. According to the story alleged to have been told by Mr. Stengel, a man who was also a Titanic survivor became acquainted with him on the Carpathia and later, in New York, tried to make him a victim of the time honored wiretapping scheme. In this article reference was unfortunately made to Miss Edith Rosenbaum, also a survivor. The article was sent to The Sun by its Newark correspondent after its publication in Newark and was printed by The Sun in good faith as a matter of current news. It gives us pleasure to state after careful inquiry that Miss Rosenbaum’s name should not have been mentioned in connection with the article in any way and any unfavorable inference as to her which might be drawn from the article was an unfortunate error. The Sun regrets that Miss Rosenbaum and her many friends have been subjected to any embarrassment or annoyance in the matter and gladly disclaims any imputation upon her conduct or character.
Forty four years after the card sharps incident, Edith was dismayed to read about herself again – in the first edition of “A Night to Remember.” On April 28th, 1956 she wrote to Walter Lord.
Dear Mr. Lord:
I read your story with mixed emotions, interest , and at the same time with great regret that my story which was originally written for Sir Newman Flower of Cassell’s magazine had been materially worsened by your very successful book. Opera Mundi, my distributors, have sold it to various places in the world in many languages, but you have had a phenomenal success. On page 156 in Reader’s Digest you speak of Robert Daniel. Mr. Daniel and I went on the deck and threw snowballs after the accident. I put his beautiful bulldog to bed and he went back to bed just as I did as we thought there was no danger. And as for my saving a musical toy pig, there has been so much silly-ass talk about that pig that it’s time somebody tells the world what it’s all about. The pig which is a mascot in France was given to me as a mascot after a motor accident in which everybody was killed except me. I promised my mother to keep it as a mascot with me in time of danger. As the Titanic was one of many previous accidents to me, always fatal to others, in this particular instance when the sailors grabbed the pig from under my arm throwing it into the lifeboat, saying “Well if you don’t want to be saved, we will save your child,” I followed the pig, and then was only saved because I was thrown overboard into the lifeboat. All these details are in my own story. But as I am a well known woman professionally, I feel like an ass reading in various languages that I carried a curious object, a musical toy pig. How much better it would be in writing to not glean one’s information entirely from the newspapers published at the time. My story for Cassell’s magazine in 1913, which Sir Newman Flower says is the best of its kind, is accurate, and I would be greatly indebted not to have had this publicity so vastly read, making such a nit-wit of me.
Your story is very interesting and my compliments to you. It’s just unfortunate that I cannot correct this very unpleasant impression of me that in a time of such great danger I would have been so frivolous that that I walk around carrying a musical pig with me. I shall try in every way to correct this impression as it annoys me greatly.
P.S. I recently appeared on TV showing the pig and explaining the reason why, and shall continue with this explanation with every effort.
In time, Edith changed her mind about the pig story, and even posed with the toy for a publicity still, during the filming of A Night to Remember. She, Walter Lord, and Bill Mac Quitty became the best of friends, and upon her death, she willed the pig to Walter Lord. [Who in turn willed it to the British Maritime Museum].
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