The Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage took place 100 years ago this month. Many of the doomed ship’s passengers had ties to the Garden State. This is their story.
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When she was young, Emily Badman played a game she called “going to America.” By the time she was 18, her game was about to become a reality. Months of badgering paid off, and her parents agreed to send her across the ocean to New York.
Badman’s older brother brought her from their home in Clevedon, England, to Southampton. Their mother expected Emily to back out, her brother later recalled. After all, the girl had gotten homesick when she went on a camp vacation for a week.
She was a bit scared when she saw the big ocean steamer, but Badman was determined to go. She would be back by Christmas, unless she missed home so much she would have to return sooner.
Badman’s departure date was April 10, 1912, and the big ocean steamer she boarded with a mix of excitement and anxiety was the RMS Titanic.
On this, its maiden voyage, the 882-foot “unsinkable ship” was carrying 46 passengers who were bound for the Garden State, and others, like Badman, who would settle there. Some, like Washington Roebling II, whose wealthy and well-established Trenton-based family had built the Brooklyn Bridge, traveled in first class—where they could enjoy steam baths, the first heated pool on a luxury liner, and a gymnasium. Other passengers, like Emily Badman, could dance and sing late into the evening in the third-class general room.
It was 100 years ago this month that the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and, about 2-½ excruciating hours later, slid beneath the ocean’s surface, as the orchestra’s performance of “Nearer My God to Thee” gave way to the agonized screams of those dying in the frigid water.
A hotel owner in Castle Cary, England, who had fallen on tough times, Samuel Herman was trying to figure out how to support his family. His brother-in-law Arthur Laver was urging them to join him in Bernardsville, where he helped manage the Somerset Country Club. Samuel was concerned that his 24-year-old twin daughters, Alice and Kate, had not yet married and figured they might have more choices in America. At the time, they were two years older than the average bridal age.
Bringing their 14-year-old adopted son, George Sweet, the Hermans traveled in second class. The first few days, the twins explored the ship, had lunch with new friends and played deck games.
Late on April 14, Alice and Kate were on deck when the Titanic suddenly shuddered and ground to a halt. Samuel brought them back to the cabin where their mother, Jane, had been resting. He thought everything probably would be fine but insisted they stay in the cabin until he could investigate.
Samuel soon returned, this time with George, and told them all to get dressed and put on life vests. Jane put on a thin jacket and followed her husband.
When they got on deck, “all was confusion and they were filling the boats. Cries, prayers and lamentations were on every side,” Jane later recalled.
Samuel helped the Herman women onto a lifeboat, then he kissed them from the railing. It was the last Jane saw of her husband or George, who was a year too old to be considered a child and enter a lifeboat.
From the relative safety of their lifeboat, Jane and her daughters watched as the Titanic eased into the water and then, after a few small explosions, broke in half and sank. When a boatmate, the Reverend Sidney Collett of London, complained bitterly that he had lost his sermons aboard the doomed ship, Jane was heard to shout that “she would pay him for his sermons if it meant that her husband and son had been saved.”
After their rescue, the Hermans boarded the Carpathia, which had responded to the Titanic’s distress calls. Among the many other newly widowed women on board was John Jacob Astor’s pregnant teenage wife, Madeleine, who was returning from her honeymoon with the tycoon.
Once in New York, Jane’s brother and a friend of his from Bernardsville, William Cleland, escorted the Herman survivors to New Jersey. Jane would work at Brook Cottage in Far Hills for Max Behr, the brother of Titanic survivor Karl Behr, a tennis player who was a runner-up in Men’s Doubles at Wimbledon in 1907.
A few months after arriving in New Jersey, Alice Herman married Cleland. They bought a 100-acre farm in Bernardsville. Their four children rode in horse shows while Alice raised Great Danes. Her sister, Kate, wed in 1914 and moved to Portland, Oregon.
Washington Roebling II was traveling with a widower friend, Stephen Blackwell. Blackwell’s father, Jonathan, who had become wealthy through his wholesale grocery business, was a former New Jersey state senator and one of the commissioners for the construction of a City Hall in Trenton.
Unlike most of his family, Roebling, 31, was more interested in building cars than bridges. He was the general manager at the Mercer Automobile Company, which produced the Mercer Raceabout—an unusually fast car that didn’t have a windshield or doors and was named after Mercer County. (The Raceabout was destined to become a favorite of vintage-car collectors; they now fetch more than $1 million at auction.) Looking to build the company’s reputation, Roebling himself had raced in one of his company’s cars, placing second in the Vanderbilt Cup in Savannah, Georgia, in 1910.
Before embarking on the Titanic, the two Trenton friends had driven around Italy and France in Roebling’s Fiat. Blackwell wrote home that the journey was the first time he had found peace since his wife had died of typhoid fever five years earlier.
While in Europe, they met Caroline Bonnell, another American, and promised to look out for her aboard the Titanic. When the Titanic started sinking, Roebling insisted Bonnell and several other women board lifeboats.
“You will be back with us on the ship again soon,” Roebling assured Bonnell as the crew lowered lifeboat eight into the water.
Washington Roebling’s family believed he might be alive when one of the names on the list of survivors sent back from the Carpathia included “Mr. Washington.” That turned out to be another passenger, Dr. Washington Dodge.
In fact, Blackwell and Washington Roebling died aboard the Titanic; their bodies were never recovered. Charles Roebling, Washington’s father, had the west wall of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Trenton rebuilt as a memorial to his son.
Despite the late hour, Augustus Weikman—the only American in Titanic’s crew—was still in the first-class barbershop. His barbershop, like those aboard other cruise ships, also sold souvenirs, including penknives, tobacco and hats.
According to his grandson Theophile D’Autrechy, Weikman had a good rapport with his clients, discussing stocks with the likes of George Widener, who was heir to one of the largest fortunes in Philadelphia. Weikman claimed he regularly cut J.P. Morgan’s hair when the financier traveled to Europe.
The 50-year-old Weikman, whose family lived in the Burlington County town of Palmyra, reported that he felt a “slight shock” at the moment of impact. When he went to the gymnasium, he found Astor and Widener watching men hit a punching bag.
“I advised [Mr. Widener] to put on a life belt,” Weikman recalled. “He laughed at me.”
“What sense is there in that?” asked Widener, whose father was on the board of Fidelity Trust, the bank that provided financial backing to International Mercantile Marine, the company that owned the Titanic. “This boat isn’t going to sink.”
Indeed, Widener’s view was prevalent aboard the ship. Many of the passengers could not imagine feeling safer in the small lifeboats than they were on the Titanic which, if stood on end, would have been 182 feet taller than New York’s Met Life building, the tallest building in the world at the time.
Weikman helped the willing climb into the lifeboats. As minutes ticked by, the ship slowly descended. An explosion in one of the boilers threw the bald barber off the Titanic and into the icy ocean.
(In a hearing on the disaster, Second Officer Charles Lightoller described the water as feeling like “a thousand knives being driven into one’s body.” The line was used in the blockbuster 1997 movie.)
Injured and cold, Weikman floated in the 28-degree water on a pile of deck chairs.
“He was bald. This was an advantage,” says D’Autrechy, 80, who grew up in Palmyra. “Two crew members spotted him. They called out, ‘Gus, is that you?’ He [nodded] his head and they were able to paddle over and get him in the boat.”
Weikman was one of approximately 15 people pulled from the frigid waters who survived that night. As it turned out, he would need rescuing again.
Once aboard the Carpathia, the crew offered him some brandy. The combination of his wounds, the alcohol and the cold made him pass out. The crew mistook Weikman for dead, removed his watch, among other things, and dumped him in a bag inside a makeshift morgue. When he awoke, he tried to work his way out of the bag. Someone heard him struggle and came to help.
Weikman was able to recover his watch—which stopped at 1:50 am—because it had his initials on it. His greatgranddaughter still has that memento of the disaster.
In the aftermath of his rescue, Weikman swore off the sea. Four months later, the call of the ocean brought him out of retirement, and he returned to his old job—this time aboard the Lusitania. Returning from Europe, Weikman saw a German submarine stalking the ship, D’Autrechy says. At that point, he decided his days at sea were truly over. Soon after Weikman quit the Lusitania, a German submarine torpedoed it off the coast of Ireland on its way back from Pier 54—the same New York pier where the Carpathia had arrived with the Titanic’s survivors.
A 67-year-old copper miner-turned fisherman from Ireland, Frank Dwan was finally on his way to see his two sons and two daughters. His daughters had moved to America about 20 years earlier and his sons soon followed. They’d started families, and he’d never met a number of his grandchildren.
Dwan’s wife, Bridget, known as Biddy, had crossed the ocean in third class several times on her own, mostly because the couple could not afford to pay for two tickets in the same year.
Biddy insisted it was important for her husband to see his American family. He relented and agreed to go on the Titanic with a friend.
After the ship lifted anchor in Southampton, Frank realized his friend hadn’t made it. He’d had too much to drink and was late to the dock.
The Dwans, including son Michael, who lived in Morristown, didn’t know for sure that Frank Dwan was on the Titanic until close to a week after the ship sank. By then, they realized they had lost the paterfamilias they hadn’t seen in years and the grandfather their children would never meet.
As for Emily Badman, the social life aboard the Titanic encouraged her to set aside the crocheting she’d brought to keep her occupied. On board, she found a group of 10 or 15 people around her age. The group, including Sarah Roth and Edward Lockyer, borrowed a piece of cord from a Titanic crewman and played jump rope on the deck. While she was jumping rope, Badman asked Lockyer if he would hold her glasses. He wrapped them in a handkerchief and put them in his pocket.
When the ship began to sink, Badman was unsure whether to stay aboard the Titanic or enter a lifeboat. She’d seen the lifeboats capsize and thought she might be safer on the Titanic. Lockyer made the decision for her. He lifted the nearly 6-foot-tall young woman into a lifeboat.
After their rescue, the Titanic survivors endured a violent storm while on the Carpathia. Waves “covered the boat,” Badman later wrote in her memoirs.
“We thought the boat would go over or surely sink,” Badman continued. “We were all more scared than the night before” aboard the Titanic.
About a week after the survivors docked in New York, Sarah Roth shared a happy event with the stricken and injured Titanic passengers in St. Vincent’s Hospital: She married her fiancé there. Badman was her bridesmaid.
Grateful to Lockyer, who hadn’t survived the disaster, Badman wrote to his family to let them know he had saved her life. When Lockyer’s mother, Jane, wrote back, she included something Badman never expected to see: her glasses. Jane Lockyer had received the contents of her son’s pockets when his body was discovered in the ocean about a week after the sinking. Even though the lenses were cracked and the earpiece shattered, the glasses remained an important connection to Badman’s survival and her experience aboard the Titanic.
“Poor boy,” Jane wrote, saddened by thoughts of her son’s “last hours of struggle.”
As for Badman’s mother, she refused to believe her daughter had survived until she received a note in Emily’s handwriting. In response, her mother expressed relief and told her never to cross the ocean again or, if she did, not to tell her when she was traveling.
A year after surviving the Titanic, Badman married Michael O’Grady and, after stops in New York and Pennsylvania, settled in Ridgefield, in Bergen County. They raised four children. Badman, who only intended to leave her home in England for eight months, never saw her parents again.
For the rest of her life, Badman, who died at the age of 52 in 1946, said she couldn’t stand to listen to the song “Nearer My God to Thee.” The song, she said, made her “heart whirl around the minute I hear it.”
Daniel Dunaief has been a reporter and editor for Bloomberg News, the New York Daily News, CNBC.com and the American Banker. He lives in Westfield.
Keeping the Memories Alive
For two retired New Jersey history teachers, the Titanic has become a source of endless fascination—and, even a century after its plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic, new information. Charles Haas of Randolph and Robert Bracken of Midland Park, both trustees of the Midland Park-based Titanic International Society, have dedicated more than two decades to studying the disaster.
Haas, who has co-authored five books about the ship, has made the trip to the Titanic’s grave on the ocean floor twice in a submersible and plans to give talks on a cruise this month that will retrace the Titanic’s maiden and only voyage. Bracken, meanwhile, has written extensively about the passengers, journeying to more than 14 countries to find long-forgotten memoirs, mementos and diaries.
“This is something I felt called to do,” Bracken says, seated in his home beneath a rendering of the Titanic by Ken Marshall, signed by survivor Ruth Becker Blanchard. “Memorializing Titanic’s people is fascinating.”
Haas recalls the moment in 1985 when the Titanic was found. He was asked, is this “the end of the Titanic mystique?” His reply: “The mystique is not in the physical hull. It’s in the 2,225 people who found themselves on that ship.”
In connection with the centennial, Haas is giving a talk, Titanic: Story of a Great Ship, at 1 pm on May 5 at the Roebling Museum in the Burlington County town of Roebling. The talk is part of an exhibition that runs through next April. Admission for the talk, which includes entry to the museum, is $5 for seniors and $6 for adults. Check roeblingmuseum.org for details.
Haas especially enjoys the reactions of schoolchildren to the Titanic exhibitions he has witnessed. “When they see eyeglasses or a big piece of the Titanic, the transformation is remarkable,” says Haas. “It’s almost the same reaction as when people walk inside a cathedral. People hush each other. Their whole demeanor changes.”
The Titanic International Society publishes a quarterly journal and holds an annual three-day convention. For information, visit titanicinternationalsociety.org.
Click here to read about a silent film star who survived the Tiantic tragedy.
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