White Star denies withholding news of Titanic wreck

By   |   April 16, 1912

NEW YORK, April 16, 1912 (UP) -- A crowd of men, many of them on the verge of tears, and a very few women crowded into the office of the White Star liner today and remained there, hoping against hope that some word would come that would lighten the gloom resulting from the disaster to the Titanic.

So dense was the crowd, both in the building and on the street, that police reserves were hard put to it to keep a passage open for traffic.

By order of the commissioner the police handled the grief-frenzied multitudes as tenderly as possible, but people whose only motive was morbid curiosity were quickly hustled from the vicinity.

The line offices are on lower Broadway with rooms devoted to first, second and third class passengers. An augmented force of clerks was on hand with the latest revised lists of the known survivors and where a person asked for was known to have been saved the glad news was quickly given.

Where there was no record this information was given as gently as possible, coupled with the belief that there was still a bare chance that the company did not have all the names of the saved as yet.

A typical case was that of City Magistrate Robert C. Cornell, whose wife and two sisters, Mrs. J. Murray Brown of Boston and Mrs. E. D. Appleton of Mayshore, L. I., were passengers. The wireless told of the saving of Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Appleton, but contained no word of Mrs. Cornell's fate. When Magistrate Cornell realized that his wife was probably drowned, he collapsed and had to be assisted into the private office.

The few women who came to the offices were nearly hysterical and did not remain long. The men continued to importune the clerks for some word that would relieve not alone their own suspense, but that of their relatives waiting at home, but the company could not or would not make public any information.

This attitude on the part of the officials of the company was bitterly resented by the public. It was accepted as a fact that the company had withheld information from the start, and it was known that all of the wireless information that was coming into the offices of the big wireless company was being transmitted only to the White Star company and carefully guarded against leaks.

Vice President Franklin insisted that he was making public all the information he could. It was plain that the directors here of the line who had been in almost constant executive session since 11 p. m. Monday, were using Franklin as a buffer, and that he would give out only the information they wanted to reach the public.

The futility of money in the face of appalling tragedy that had overtaken the victims of the wreck was exemplified in the case of Mrs. Benjamin Guggenheim whose millionaire husband was one of the missing. She importuned everyone she could reach, semi hysterically demanding that something be done.

"For God's sake, do something," she demanded of Vice President Franklin, "If there is any chance do not let expense count. Can't you hire steamboats and rush them to the scene? There may be men and women clinging to the wreckage."

She was assured that word had been sent to every steamer in the vicinity to comb the seas and see what they could do.

It was hard to realize that the latest creation of marine architecture, the great steamship which only yesterday when news that she had been in collision was received was proudly branded by her owners as "unsinkable," now lay below the waters of the Atlantic off the banks of Newfoundland, and had carried with her much of the flower of American and British manhood.

Not since the ill-fated French liner Bourgoyne was rammed and sent to the bottom with all of her company by the great iron freighter Cromartyshire, on July 2, 1898, have such scenes been witnessed as were enacted in the offices of the White Star line, on lower Broadway, throughout the night and today.

To relatives of noted passengers an audience was granted, and it was quietly whispered that the outlook was most serious. But even they did not get all of the facts which the company had in its possession.

For some inexplicable reason the White Star line has steadily refrained from making public facts in its possession, and apparently it was able to muzzle the wireless, as messages sent direct to ships on the scene were held up, while not a single word was permitted to penetrate from the fog-bound banks of Newfoundland where the worst tragedy of recent years was being enacted.

Charges were frequently made by relatives of the missing that the company not alone withheld news of the disaster, but that it was responsible for the messages of comfort received yesterday saying all of the passengers had been rescued and the disabled liner was being towed to port.

But the officials refused explanation. They admitted they had known for some hours before they made public announcements that the Titanic had foundered, but they defended their action by saying that until Capt. Haddock of the Olympic confirmed the reports they had not felt justified in alarming the nation.

When the first announcement was made last night that the Titanic had sunk and there "was probable loss of life," the offices of the line were immediately besieged by anxious men and women, all waiting for a word of assurance. To all the statement was made that the Titanic had foundered, and that there was loss of life, but that no names were available.

The words reached many while they were in the theaters and the restaurants and soon great automobiles and vehicles of all descriptions were rolling up to the offices and discharging their freight of anxious humanity. Soon the offices were crowded and the line had extended far out into the street.

Among the first to reach the offices of the lines was Vincent Astor, only son of Col. John Jacob Astor. He was worried, but hopeful, when he arrived, and was admitted to the office of Vice President Franklin. He was accompanied by A. J. Biddle and the representative of the Astor estate. Half an hour later the young man emerged weeping bitterly, was assisted into his auto and taken home.

Sylvester Byrnes, private secretary of Isador Straus, another victim, remained at the offices of the line all night hoping against hope that Straus might have been saved. He went home at 8:30, saying that there was no doubt that his employer and all of the other noted men had perished.

Relatives of the missing continued to arrive, and all were told that the list of survivors would be made public as soon as possible.

This came to the White Star line by wireless, but the work of compiling it was slow, as it had to be sent from the Carpathia to the Olympic and by it relayed to another ship, which sent it into the wireless station at Siasconsett, Mass., and from there it came into this city over land lines. But before they would give the list out the line officials verified it.

It was seen at once that there had been no class distinction, but that the women of steerage had been cared for in the same manner as their more fortunate sisters of the first and second class. The women had been taken off, and the men remained to die, and even in their deep sorrow it was plain that most of those that heard the sad news were proud to know this fact.

The officers of the line were seemingly stupefied by the news. Only once did Vice-President Franklin flash and flare up, and that was when he was told that it was reported the company had withheld news of the disaster and muzzled the wireless so that reinsurance might be secured. He said, "That is an absolute lie, and those that make the statement know they lie. We did not admit the Titanic was sunk until we were absolutely assured that it was a fact. We are now doing all we can to find out who were saved and who were lost."

When Franklin was asked why the company gave out the wireless which it said that it had received from the Olympic yesterday saying that all the Titanic's passengers were safely on board the Carpathia, he failed to reply.

Besides the personal appeals for news, the offices were deluged with frantic appeals by long distance telephone and telegraph. To all the same reply was made that as soon as the actual facts were known the news would be made public.

It was accepted everywhere from the start that Capt. E. J. Smith, admiral of the White Star fleet, went down with his ship. For 40 years he had been a navigator, and for more than 20 years a master of ocean ships.

His first accident came last fall when as master of the Olympic he was on the bridge when that sister ship of the Titanic was smashed by the British cruiser Hawke.

Then at the outset of his work as commander of the Titanic he had encountered an accident when he just missed destroying the steamer New York by failing to shut off his engines when passing her berth at the Southampton docks.

His friends said there could be nothing for the veteran to live for after losing the Titanic. The very fact that he had failed to "sense" the icebergs would have already been held against him, and the men who knew him said he would hardly have lived to come to port, even though he had saved his passengers.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt, at first supposed to have been lost, cabled his relatives here that he did not sail.