My mother's brush with Titanic disaster

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 13, 2012

By Victor S. Farrah

My mother, whom I considered one of the most wonderful and lovely women in the world, was a ticketed passenger on the Titanic. But at the last minute, she sailed on the sister liner, the Olympic.
My mother lived in Lebanon, and in that day, the citizens of Lebanon were under the government control of France. In order to sail on the Titanic, my mother traveled to Cherbourg, France, where White Star Lines maintained ship piers. In those days many Lebanese students wanted to get to America to seek employment. They sailed the White Star liners as steerage passengers. The steerage was way below the water line of the ship and usually was very crowded. There were 70 first class passengers, about 200 in second class, and more than 250 in steerage, a very cramped area. White Star planned construction of three of the largest ships in the world that were to be built by Harland and Wolfe: The Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic.
While in Cherbourg, my mother met her childhood friend Selma Nomi, who was ticketed on the Olympic. My mother said, “Let’s change your ticket, and you can go with me to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.”
They met with the ticket agent and asked him to exchange Selma’s ticket from the Olympic to the Titanic. The ticket agent stated that the Titanic was completely full and suggested that my mother exchange her Titanic ticket for one on the Olympic so the young ladies could sail together.
It was the best decision that my sweet mother ever made because she would have certainly gone down with the Titanic, since most of the steerage passengers went down with the ship. Although 705 people were saved, 1,517 lives were lost. How sad!
Since that time, the Titanic has inspired numerous books and movies.
The following paragraphs are taken from Walter Lord’s 1955 book about the Titanic, “A Night to Remember.”
“… It all began on an evening in 1907 when Mr. and Mrs. J. Bruce Ismay dined with Lord and Lady Pirrie at Devonshire House, the Pirrie residence in Belgrave Square in London. Ismay was Managing Director of one of Britain’s greatest steamship companies, The White Star line: Lord Pirrie was Chairman of Harland & Wolfe of Belfast, which had always built the White Star ships. After dinner, almost casually, they drew up the plans for three great transatlantic liners, far larger than any that had ever been built. They would not be the fastest, but they would certainly be the most spacious and luxurious liners afloat. …” The designer of all this magnificence was the Rt. Hon. Alexander Carlisle. He later recalled a conference where decorations were discussed for four or five hours, lifeboat capacity for ‘five or 10 minutes.’ ” (Note: This is curious because of the known fact that there were not enough life vests or lifeboat capacity for all the passengers, as the Titanic was thought to be ‘unsinkable’.)
Lord’s extensively researched work also cites the uncanny similarities between the sinking of the Titanic and the plot of an earlier novel by Morgan Robertson.
“… In 1898, a struggling author named Morgan Robertson concocted a novel about a fabulous Atlantic liner, far larger than any that had ever been built. Robertson loaded his ship with rich and complacent people and then wrecked it one cold April, the book was called” Futility” when it appeared that year, published by the firm of M.F. Mansfield. Fourteen years later a British shipping company named White Star Line built a steamer remarkably like the one in Robertson’s novel. The new liner was 66,000 tons displacement; Robertson’s was 70,000 tons. The real ship was 882.5 feet long; the fictional one was 800 feet. Both vessels were triple screw and could make 24-5 knots. Both could carry about 3,000 people, and both had enough life boats for only a fraction of that number. But, then this didn’t seem to matter because both were labeled ‘unsinkable’. On 10 April 1912 the real ship left Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. Her Cargo included a priceless copy of “The Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam and a list of passengers collectively worth 250 million dollars. On Her way over she too stuck an iceberg and went down on a cold April night. Robertson called his ship the Titan; the White Star line called its ship the Titanic.”

Victor S. Farrah lives in Salisbury.