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The Last Moments of the 'Titanic'

Kara Kovalchik
getty images
getty images / getty images
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Millvina Dean, the last surviving Titanic passenger, passed away in 2009—the last link to the tragic shipwreck of April 15, 1912. Dean was only 9 weeks old and headed to the United States with her family when the legendary ocean liner went down. Of course, she remembered nothing of the voyage, but had the Titanic not sunk, she would have been American (her mother returned the family to England after the tragedy). Let's look back at the maiden voyage of a vessel that took 3000 laborers two years to complete, and which was, at the time, the largest human-made moving object in the world.

The 'Titanic' had the legally required number of lifeboats.

The Titanic weighed 66,000 tons and was approximately four city blocks long. Titanic had 20 lifeboats on board, which was four more than were required by law at that time. Since the ship was thought to be virtually unsinkable, executives at the White Star Line didn't worry that there would be lifeboat space available for only half of the ship's passengers on its maiden voyage.

'Titanic' passengers enjoyed their last meals.

A first-class berth aboard the Titanic cost £30 each, or about $4020 in today's dollars, for passage from Southampton, England, to New York. On the night of April 14, 1912, the first-class passengers enjoyed a 10-course dinner that included oysters, cream of barley soup, poached salmon with Mousseline sauce and cucumbers, filet mignon, lamb with mint sauce, roast duckling, sirloin of beef, and multiple desserts. Second-class passengers, who paid £12 ($1645) for their berths, sat down to a menu including consommé, baked haddock, curried chicken and rice, roast turkey with cranberry sauce, plum pudding and “American ice cream.” Third class passengers, who paid between £3 and £8 ($412 to $1097) per ticket, enjoyed the simplest spread, starting out with rice soup, followed by a main course of roast beef with brown gravy and boiled potatoes. On other ocean liners at that time, third-class travelers had to bring their own food.

After dinner, guests relaxed in the 'Titanic'’s reading room and salon.

The smoking lounge was for men only, so many of the ladies gathered in the ship's Georgian-style reading room. George Widener, owner of a streetcar company in Philadelphia, hosted a party on B Deck along with his wife, Eleanor. Some of the ship's most prominent passengers attended, including Captain Edward John Smith. The captain excused himself at 9 p.m., and after checking in at the bridge, retired around 9:30 p.m. About 100 of the Titanic's second-class passengers gathered in the dining salon at the end of the meal service to sing hymns. The folks in steerage held a raucous party that lasted until "lights out" at 10 that evening.

Families got ready for bed in the 'Titanic'’s comfortable staterooms.

Twelve-year-old Ruth Becker, a second-class passenger traveling with her mother, sister, and brother, thought the Titanic was a "floating palace." She enjoyed exploring the ship while pushing her 1-year-old brother around in his stroller. The family was headed home to America from India, where Ruth’s father had worked as a missionary.

Anna Turja was traveling to the United States from Finland. She was bound for Ashtabula, Ohio, where her brother-in-law had offered her a job in his store. He'd purchased a third-class ticket for 18-year-old Anna's passage. Turja recalled the accommodations in steerage were clean and comfortable, with lots of camaraderie among the passengers.

The 'Titanic' collided with an iceberg at 11:40 p.m.—and most passengers didn’t even notice.

Twenty minutes before midnight, the Titanic ran into an iceberg on its starboard side. As the crew tried to turn the ship to avoid damage, the ice gashed the first 300 feet of the hull below the waterline. The impact punctured six of the ship's 16 watertight compartments and water began pouring in. Captain Smith rushed to the bridge and asked, "What have we struck?" Shortly after midnight, Thomas Andrews, the ship's architect, reported to the captain that the Titanic would likely sink in less than two hours.

When a group of men from Widener’s party were advised to put on their life preservers, George Widener replied, "What sense is there in that? This ship isn't going to sink." Meanwhile, passengers sleeping in the forward cabins of steerage were jolted awake. Anna Turja felt her bunk shudder, and then an attendant knocked on her cabin door and instructed her to put on some warm clothing and a life jacket. As water began leaking into several cabins, most of the third-class passengers made their way up to the open deck. The orchestra could still be heard playing in the smoking lounge.

The crew helped passengers into the 'Titanic'’s lifeboats—women and children first.

Ruth Becker's mother awoke when the ship's engines stopped, and a steward told the family to report on deck. The family ascended five flights of stairs, joining scores of frantic people in all states of dress and undress. Ruth's mother sent her back to their cabin to retrieve some blankets. George Widener realized the severity of the situation and began assisting women and children into lifeboats. "What is the outlook?" he asked Captain Smith, who replied that the situation was extremely serious and that they should continue to provide all the assistance they could. Widener’s wife, Eleanor, was one of the last women to board a lifeboat. She protested so strongly that crew members had to lift her up and physically deposit her into the craft. Her husband and son went down with the Titanic.

Anna Turja, like many of the immigrants aboard, didn't quite understand the commotion around her because she didn't speak very much English. Anna was under the impression that the Titanic was unsinkable, so she wasn't frightened. She enjoyed the music still being played, and would have remained on deck listening to the orchestra if a man hadn't forced her into one of the canvas lifeboats. Turja was the second-to-last passenger to leave the ship. When Ruth Becker returned to the deck with blankets, she found that her mother and siblings had been loaded onto a lifeboat that was declared "all full" and was being lowered. Her mother screamed for her. An officer picked up Ruth and literally threw her into lifeboat number 13. She was reunited with her family the next day on board the ship that came to the Titanic’s rescue, the Carpathia.

A version of this story ran in 2009; it has been updated for 2022.

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