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Seattle got the Titanic story wrong

Published by Steve Campion. Category: History

No list today; just a curious find in the archives of the Northwest.  As you may know, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic 100 years ago tonight.  It was a tragedy of historic proportions and the ship has become a metaphor for disaster, hubris, and inadequate safety precautions.  Most passengers and crew perished that night.  The lifeboats onboard, even if filled to capacity, could not have saved everyone, and some boats weren’t even half full when lowered to the sea.

This evening I was reading a book which included several contemporary newspaper clippings about the Titanic from London and New York.  That made me wonder what headline the Seattle Times published the first day after the fateful event.  I found the headline and front page story from the Seattle Daily Times (as it was known then) 6pm edition on April 15, 1912, but it was as if I had stepped into an alternate universe.

TITANIC SINKING; PASSENGERS SAVED!

Some passengers had been saved, of course — about 700 of them, in fact — but not all of them.  The headline was a bit ambiguous, so I read the story.  It had two short reports.  The first was a dispatch from Halifax, Nova Scotia that claimed steamships were in the process of towing the limping Titanic to shallow water in hopes of beaching her.  That agreed with a smaller headline on the page that said the ship was merely “damaged.”  The second report was from New York and it ended with this remarkable, unambiguous statement:

“This morning all the passengers on the Titanic, 1,470 in number,
were taken on board the Carpathia, a Cunard vessel.”

Yes, you read that correctly.  The Times article said all passengers were taken aboard the rescue ship!  In truth, the Titanic sank beneath the waves two hours before any ship reached the scene — let alone tried to tow her — and 1,514 people died. Rumors were flying in the hours after the sinking, though.  Reports from amateur wireless operators with falsified attributions filled the air in contrast to the virtual silence from authorities, including those of the White Star Line which owned Titanic.  The Times was probably a victim of those misleading early wireless and telegraph accounts and published them in the face of deadlines.

The Seattle Daily Times got the story right the next day, April 16, with article after article recounting the tragic loss of life — including that of a Seattle woman’s brother returning to the United States after vacationing in Europe.  But that was much different than the remarkable story of an all-passenger rescue and (with our hindsight) alternate history that the newspaper had printed when the story first came off its presses.

Oh, if only the printed word had been true!

RELATED LIST: Washingtonians on the Titanic

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