To understand the impact this tragedy had on Halifax, you should know the story of events leading up to and the aftermath of the sinking.
In our last post, I wrote about where the “Titanic” had come from and about some of the people onboard. (Titanic and the Halifax Connection-Part I) I ended the post after the ship had hit the iceberg and had come to a stop.
The damage was surveyed and Captain Smith learned the ship was going to sink.
The next couple of hours, passengers and crews feelings went from annoyance to surprise to shock and then fear.
The ship’s telegraph operators were frantically trying to reach other ship’s to assist them but to no avail.
At ten minutes after two, Captain Smith walked into the telegraph office, saw the two men still working, and said to them, “Gentlemen, you’ve done more than any one person could ask. Please go, and try to save yourselves.”
Harold stood and he made his way to the door, stopped, and looked back and saw Jack Philips, sitting there, still working his telegraph, sending out S.O.S., hoping anybody, who could help them, would hear it. The water was already at his feet.
As Harold stood there and looked, he thought, “I had never been so proud of any one person in my life, nor have I been since.”
Harold went back to his telegraph and resumed tapping messages.
Just a couple minutes later, both telegraphs machines slid off the tables. The water was above their ankles.
They both made their way to the door.
Harold Bride survived that night, Jack Phillips didn’t.
At eighteen minutes after two, all of the lights on the Titanic went out.
At nineteen minutes after two, the hull of the ship split, the bow pulled the stern vertical and then broke off and slid to the ocean floor.
The stern bobbed for a couple of minutes, flooded and at approx. 2:20 a.m., sank, taking with her more than Fifteen Hundred souls.
Many ships heard Titanic’s plea (S.O.S.) but were not close enough to help. The vessel that was the closest was the Cunard ship, Carpathia, still hours away.
After the Titanic sank, it was still unclear to many what had happened and the airwaves were full of the ship to ship messages trying to determine her situation. A young telegraph operator in Halifax was listening to these transmissions.
During the night, a ship called the “Asian”, was towing the disabled tanker “Deutschland” into Halifax. They wired a message to Halifax that said: “Asia towing to Halifax.” At the same time, another message from a ship called the “Baltic” asking if all the “Titanic” passengers are safe?
Both transmissions arrived at the same times and the young telegraph operator misinterpreted the message and thought it read “All Titanic passengers safe. Being towed to Halifax.”
He immediately contacted the proper authorities and Halifax officials began preparing for the largest moving object in the world to arrive at our port. The local newspaper put the word out on the wire and the next morning, in major newspapers all over North America, was the same basic headline. “Titanic hits iceberg, being towed to Halifax.”
Officials in Halifax were excited. The odds of the largest moving object in the world coming into our port were not very likely and even though it was under unpleasant circumstances, it would be impressive to have this great ship in our port.
Hotel rooms were getting fixed up; trains were being dispatched from New York, to bring the passengers back, extra immigration agents were brought in to Halifax to help process the passenger’s quicker.
It was later that afternoon that Halifax officials confirmed the Titanic not only hit the iceberg but sank.
The attitude of the city changed, becoming very dark and dreary, as did the weather.
White Star contacted its agent in Halifax, A.G. Jones, and asked they charter a ship to go out and look for victims.
The Mackay-Bennet, a cable ship, was chosen. A repair ship that used to go out to the North Atlantic and repair the transatlantic cable. The hull was emptied and then it was filled with tons and tons of ice, canvas bags, and lead weights.
Officials asked John Snow, the funeral director of the largest funeral home in Halifax if he would be willing to go out with them. He agreed.
On the evening of April 17, the Mackay-Bennett left Halifax, arriving at the site where the “Titanic” went down on the evening of April 20.
The next morning they began recovering victims.
With the assistance of a few other ships a total, 328 victims were recovered. Many of them were damaged, due to the disaster, or sea life and were mercifully buried at sea. Two hundred and nine victims were brought back to Halifax.
When the victims arrived in Halifax, most were brought to the Mayflower Curling Rink. Others to the John Snows & Co. Funeral Home. The curling ring was used because it was the only place large enough and cool enough to lay out all the victims.
The next couple of weeks were spent trying to identify the bodies.
Fifty-nine victims were claimed by their families leaving one hundred and fifty were to be buried in Halifax.
All the victims were to be buried at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery but while processing was still taking place, a Catholic priest arrived and asked if he would able to bury any of those he could confirm as Catholic in the Catholic Cemetery.
This was approved.
Then a Rabbi arrived with the same request, wishing to bury any of those of Jewish descent in the Jewish cemetery.
This again was approved.
Victims of “Titanic” are buried at three different sites in Halifax. There are 121 victims buried in the , 19 in the Mount Olivet Cemetery and 10 in the Baron de Hirsh Cemetery.
To bring this tragedy even closer to home, two of the passengers aboard the “Titanic” on her maiden voyage had resided in the city. Among the Titanic survivors was Miss Hilda Slayter who was rescued by the Carpathia and brought to New York, before heading to British Columbia to meet her fiancé.
Mr. George Wright, a self-made millionaire was not as fortunate. A very promenade and important fixture in Halifax was one of the many millionaires to perish on the ship.
If you would like more detailed information about the Titanic,White Star, the passengers, the crew and the sinking check out
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