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Authors: Archibald Gracie

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To what extent my prayer was answered let Mrs. Gracie describe in her own written words, as follows: ‘I was in my room at my sister’s house, where I was visiting, in New York. After retiring, being unable to rest I questioned myself several times over, wondering what it was that prevented the customary long and peaceful slumber, lately enjoyed. “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 five o’clock a.m, by the watch that lay beside me. About 7 a.m. I dozed a while and then got up to dress for breakfast. At 8 o’clock my sister, Mrs. Dalliba Dutton, 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, headed with “
Colonel
Archibald Butt” but my husband’s name was not included. My head sank in her protecting arms as I murmured helplessly, “He is all I have in the whole world.” I could only pray for strength, and later in the day, believing myself a widow, I wrote to my daughter, who was in the care of our housekeeper and servants in our Washington home, “Cannot you see your father in his tenderness for women and children, helping them all, and then going down with the ship? If he has gone, I will not live long, but I would not have him take a boat.”’

But let me now resume my personal narrative. With this second wind under water there came to me a new lease of life and strength, until finally I noticed by the increase of light that I was drawing near to the surface. Though it was not daylight, the clear star-lit night made a noticeable difference in the degree of light immediately below the surface of the water. As I was rising, I came in contact with ascending wreckage, but the only thing I struck of material size was a small plank, which I tucked under my right arm. This circumstance brought with it the reflection that it was advisable for me to secure what best I could to keep me afloat on the surface until succor arrived. When my head at last rose above the water, I detected a piece of wreckage like a wooden crate, and I eagery seized it as a nucleus of the projected raft to be constructed from what flotsam and jetsam I might collect. Looking about me, I could see no
Titanic
in sight. She had entirely disappeared beneath the calm surface of the ocean and without a sign of any wave. That the sea had swallowed her up with all her precious belongings was indicated by the slight sound of a gulp behind me as the water closed over her. The length of time that I was under water can be estimated by the fact that I sank with her, and when I came up there was no ship in sight. The accounts of others as to the length of time it took, the
Titanic
to sink afford the best measure of the interval I was below the surface.

What impressed me at the time that my eyes beheld the horrible scene was a thin light-gray smoky vapor that hung like a pall a few feet above the broad expanse of sea that was covered with a mass of tangled wreckage. That it was a tangible vapor, and not a product of imagination, I feel well assured. It may have been caused by smoke or steam rising to the surface around the area where the ship had sunk. At any rate it produced a supernatural effect, and the pictures I had seen by Dante and the description I had read in my Virgil of the infernal regions, of Charon, and the River Lethe, were then uppermost in my thoughts. Add to this, within the area described, which was as far as my eyes could reach, there arose to the sky the most horrible sounds ever heard by mortal man except by those of us who survived this terrible tragedy. The agonizing cries of death from over a thousand throats, the wails and groans of the suffering, the shrieks of the terror-stricken and the awful gaspings for breath of those in the last throes of drowning, none of us will ever forget to our dying day. ‘Help! Help! Boat ahoy! Boat ahoy!’ ‘My God! My God!’ were the heart-rending cries and shrieks of men, which floated to us over the surface of the dark waters continuously for the next hour, but as time went on, growing weaker and weaker until they died out entirely.

As I clung to my wreckage, I noticed just in front of me, a few yards away, a group of three bodies with heads in the water, face downwards, and just behind me to my right another body, all giving unmistakable evidence of being drowned. Possibly these had gone down to the depths as I had done, but did not have the lung power that I had to hold the breath and swim under water, an accomplishment which I had practised from my school days. There was no one alive or struggling in the water or calling for aid within the immediate vicinity of where I arose to the surface. I threw my right leg over the wooden crate in an attempt to straddle and balance myself on top of it, but I turned over in a somersault with it under water, and up to the surface again. What may be of interest is the thought that then occurred to me of the accounts of pictures of a wreck, indelibly impressed upon my memory when a boy, because of my acquaintance with some of the victims, of a frightful disaster of that day, namely the wreck of the
Ville de Havre
in the English Channel in 1873, and I had in mind Mrs. Bulkley’s description, and the picture of her clinging to some wreckage as a rescue boat caught sight of her, bringing the comforting words over the water, ‘We are English sailors coming to save you.’ I looked around, praying for a similar interposition of Fate, but I knew the thought of a rescuing boat was a vain one – for had not all the lifeboats, loaded with women and children, departed from the ship fifteen or twenty minutes before I sank with it? And had I not seen the procession of them on the port side fading away from our sight?

But my prayerful thought and hope were answered in an unexpected direction. I espied to my left, a considerable distance away, a better vehicle of escape than the wooden crate on which my attempt to ride had resulted in a second ducking. What I saw was no less than the same Engelhardt, or ‘surf-boat,’ to whose launching I had lent my efforts, until the water broke upon the ship’s Boat Deck where we were. On top of this upturned boat, half reclining on her bottom, were now more than a dozen men, whom, by their dress, I took to be all members of the crew of the ship. Thank God, I did not hesitate a moment in discarding the friendly crate that had been my first aid. I struck out through the wreckage and after a considerable swim reached the port side amidships of this Engelhardt boat, which with her companions, wherever utilized, did good service in saving the lives of many others. All honor to the Dane, Captain Engelhardt of Copenhagen, who built them. I say ‘port side’ because this boat as it was propelled through the water had Lightoller in the bow and Bride at the stern, and I believe an analysis of the testimony shows that the actual bow of the boat was turned about by the wave that struck it on the Boat Deck and the splash of the funnel thereafter, so that its bow pointed in an opposite direction to that of the ship. There was one member of the crew on this craft at the bow and another at the stern who had ‘pieces of boarding,’ improvised paddles, which were used effectually for propulsion.

When I reached the side of the boat I met with a doubtful reception, and, as no extending hand was held out to me, I grabbed, by the muscle of the left arm, a young member of the crew nearest and facing me. At the same time I threw my right leg over the boat astraddle, pulling myself aboard, with a friendly lift to my foot given by someone astern as I assumed a reclining position with them on the bottom of the capsized boat. Then after me came a dozen other swimmers who clambered around and whom we helped aboard. Among them was one completely exhausted, who came on the same port side as myself. I pulled him in and he lay face downward in front of me for several hours, until just before dawn he was able to stand up with the rest of us. The journey of our craft from the scene of the disaster will be described in the following chapter. The moment of getting aboard this upturned boat was one of supreme mental relief, more so than any other until I reached the deck of the hospitable
Carpathia
on the next morning. I now felt for the first time after the lifeboats left us aboard ship that I had some chance of escape from the horrible fate of drowning in the icy waters of the middle Atlantic. Every moment of time during the many experiences of that night, it seemed as if I had all the God-given physical strength and courage needed for each emergency, and never suffered an instant from any exhaustion, or required the need of a helping hand. The only time of any stress whatever was during the swim, just described, under water, at the moment when I gained my second wind which brought me to the surface gasping somewhat, but full of vigor. I was all the time on the lookout for the next danger that was to be overcome. I kept my presence of mind and courage throughout it all. Had I lost either for one moment, I never could have escaped to tell the tale. This is in answer to many questions as to my personal sensations during these scenes and the successive dangers which I encountered. From a psychological view-point also, it may be a study of interest illustrating the power of mind over matter. The sensation of fear has a visible effect upon one. It palsies one’s thoughts and actions. One becomes thereby short of breath; the heart actually beats quicker and as one loses one’s head one grows desperate and is gone. I have questioned those who have been near drowning and who know this statement to be a fact. It is the same in other emergencies, and the lesson to be learned is that we should–

‘Let courage rise with danger,
And strength to strength oppose.’

To attain this courage in the hour of danger is very much a matter of physical, mental and religious training. But courage and strength would have availed me little had I not providentially escaped from being knocked senseless, or maimed, as so many other strong swimmers undoubtedly were. The narrow escapes that I had from being thus knocked unconscious could be recapitulated, and I still bear the scars on my body of wounds received at the moment, or moments, when I was struck by some undefined object. I received a blow on the top of my head, but I did not notice it or the other wounds until I arrived on board the
Carpathia
, when I found inflamed cuts on both my legs and bruises on my knees, which soon became black and blue, and I was sore to the touch all over my body for several days.

It is necessary for me to turn to the accounts of others for a description of what happened during the interval that I was under water. My information about it is derived from many sources and includes various points of general interest, showing how the
Titanic
looked when she foundered, the undisputed facts that there was very little suction and that the forward funnel broke from the ship, falling on the starboard side into the sea. Various points of personal interest are also derived from the same source which the reader can analyze, for estimating the interval that I was below the surface of the ocean and the distance covered in my swim under water; for after I rose to the surface it appears that I had passed under both the falling funnel and then under the upturned boat, and a considerable distance beyond. Had I gone but a short distance under water and arisen straight up, I should have met the horrible fate of being struck by the falling funnel which, according to the evidence submitted, must have killed or drowned a number of unfortunates struggling in the water. I select these accounts of my shipwrecked companions, which supplement my personal experience, particularly the accounts of the same reliable and authoritative witnesses already cited, and from those who were rescued, as I was, on the bottom of the upset Engelhardt boat.

The following is from the account of Mr. Beesley: ‘The water was by now up to the last row of portholes. We were about two miles from her, and the crew insisted that such a tremendous wave would be formed by suction as she went down, that we ought to get as far as possible away. The “Captain” (as he calls Stoker Fred Barrett), and all, lay on their oars. Presently, about 2 a.m. (2.15 a.m. per book account), as near as I can remember, we observed her settling very rapidly, with the bow and bridge completely under water, and concluded it was now only a question of minutes before she went; and so it proved. She slowly tilted, straight on end, with the stern vertically upward…. To our amazement, she remained in that upright position for a time which I estimate as five minutes.’ On a previous page of my narrative, I have already quoted from his book account how ‘the stern and some 150 feet of the ship stood outlined against the star-specked sky, looming black in the darkness, and in this position she continued for some minutes – I think as much as five minutes, but it may have been less.’ Now, when I disappeared under the sea, sinking with the ship, there is nothing more surely established in my testimony than that about nine-sixteenths of the
Titanic
was still out of the water, and when my head reached the surface she had entirely disappeared.

The
New York Times
, of April 19, 1912, contained the story of Mr. and Mrs. D.H. Bishop, first cabin passengers from Dowagiac, Michigan. Their short account is one of the best I have read. As they wrote it independently of Beesley’s account, and from a different point of view, being in another lifeboat (No. 7, the first to leave the ship), the following corroborative testimony, taken from their story, helps to establish the truth:

‘We did not begin to understand the situation till we were perhaps a mile away from the
Titanic
. Then we could see the row of lights along the deck begin to slant gradually upward from the bow. Very slowly the lines of light began to point downward at a greater and greater angle. The sinking was so slow that you could not perceive the lights of the deck changing their position. The slant seemed to be greater about every quarter of an hour. That was the only difference.

BOOK: Titanic: A Survivor's Story
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