‘Iceberg’s Death Toll’: Extensive local coverage of Titanic disaster

Photo from the Warren Mail This artist’s rendering of the Titanic disaster was published in the April 25 edition.

Once a generation, there’s a story that dominates the headlines for weeks at a time.

For my generation, that was Sept. 11.

For the generations before me, it was Pearl Harbor, JFK or the Challenger disaster.

In our echo chamber-filled 24/7 news cycle, it’s almost impossible to envision a story dominating the news in our current climate.

But that’s what happened in April 1912 in three straight editions of the Warren Mail.

The incident? The sinking of the TItanic.

I recently watched the CNN special “How It Really Happened,” which provided an interesting, fresh look on the incident and some of the science that went into mapping the site and understanding what happened in the North Atlantic that night.

So, as I’ve done with other events, I wanted to go see what the extent of the local coverage was.

The Warren Mail was published weekly on Thursdays. The Titanic accident occurred on a Sunday.

By the next Thursday, nearly the entirety of the front page was dedicated to coverage of the catastrophe.

Headlines ranged from “ICEBERG’S DEATH TOLL” to “TITANIC, WHICH COLLIDED WITH AN ICEBERG, THE GREATEST SHIP,” “FISHING BOATS AT SCENE” and “NO DETAILS AS YET – Suspense and Uncertainty Increased by Failure to Obtain Number of Living on Carpathia.”

“In the darkness of the night and in water two miles deep the Titanic, newest of the White Star fleet and greatest of all ocean steamships, sank to the bottom of the sea at 20 minutes past 2 o’clock Monday morning,” the Mail’s account detailed.

“Dispatches received from the Cape Race wireless station in Newfoundland and admissions made by the New York officials of the White Star company warrant the fear that of the 2,209 persons who were aboard the great vessel when she received her mortal wound in collision with an iceberg about 1,200 have gone to their death

in the shattered hulk, while 868, most of whom are women and children, have been saved.”

That number was close – 706 people survived the accident.

But at this point only 300 of that total had been named.

There was already mention to the fact that there was an insufficient amount of lifeboats to save everyone.

And reports were able to already put this incident in context ,

“Should these grim figures be verified,” the Mail reported, “the loss of the Titanic – costliest, most powerful, greatest of all the ocean fleet – while speeding westward on her maiden voyage will take rank in maritime history as the most terrible of all recorded disasters of the seas.

“One point Is known from which may be derived a sad satisfaction. In a desperate situation, where the salvation of all was not possible, the women and children were cared for first. These were sent away in the first of the boats launched from the sinking ship, the only boats apparently which did not share the fate of the mammoth vessel.”

Quite a bit of space was included to detail rescue efforts of ships in the area, including the Carpathia.

“The air was crowded with shadowy rumors out of which little satisfaction could be gleaned,” the Mail reported. “There was a story that the Leyland liner Californian, which is due in Boston today, had been cruising about the scene of the disaster and had recovered a number of bodies.”

Two additional ships had gone through the crash site and “found nothing but a sea strewn with wreckage, and reported that no bodies had been seen.

“A faint hope persisted that a few of the Titanic’s people may have been picked up by fishing boats at work south of the Grand Banks, but the probability of that is so slight as to be almost negligible.”

A short story gave a description of the ship, the number of passengers and its dimensions.

Coverage then shifted to “Noted Persons Aboard” and many of the names included are those known by people familiar with the disaster today – Benjamin Guggenheim, Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus, Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor.

The lead story in the next week’s edition of the Warren Mail highlighted testimony before a Congressional committee.

The main conclusion in that story states that “Captain Smith and several of the officers of the Titanic were expecting to encounter ice on their course about 11 o’clock on the fatal Sunday night.

Testimony had been offered by a second officer and quartermaster as well as corporate representatives.

The second officer testified he “had been shown a message by the captain, which gave the latitude and longitude of ice reported by the Titanic by another ship.

“The witnesses made little effort to conceal considerable resentment at the questions of the committee, many of which they appeared to think utterly purposeless and beside the mark.”

Additional testimony centered on a report of “brutality, negligence and failure” for a quartermaster “failing to do all in his power to take into the lifeboat, of which he was in charge, Titanic passengers who were plunged into the water then the liner sank.”

Clearly, there was some attempt at the outset of the investigation to find scapegoats.

The lead story the following week was grisly. – “75 UNCLAIMED DEAD – Will Bury 40 Bodies Tomorrow on Account of Decomposition.”

“The bodies of victims of the Titanic disaster… have not yet been all embalmed but the work had progressed so well that twenty-seven had been shipped to their destination,” the story details.

“A complete description,” the Mail reported, “has been made of the bodies to be buried and where this would be of any value at all photographs have been taken. In some cases disfigurement is so great that photographs would be useless.”

The story outlined what amounted to a custody dispute over the remains of one of the bodies.

From there, the story dropped off the front page.


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