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The newspapers were filled with progress and development. It was a confident age, but midway through the month a jarring note burst upon the world. It has remained seared in our collective memory to this day.
The R.M.S. Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912.
As radio-telegraph was in its infancy, for days only a confusing stream of news trickled in from rescue vessels.
“All women on Titanic saved,” said a relayed message from the Carpathia. “Some of the dead are on the US California,” including, it was rumored, John Jacob Astor IV.
“Neither Isidor Strauss nor his wife was on the Carpathia,” read another dispatch.
Another report claims, “Baltic has about 250 Titanic passengers.”
Hospitals in New York stood ready to receive the passengers. Shocked crowds milled around the piers and shipping offices.
When the Titanic hit the iceberg, engineers said the impact was terrific — a collision something like 37 Empire State express trains going at 70 mph — and hitting a wall.
On April 25, 10 days after the event, ships reported numerous bodies in an area extending for miles east and west of the wreck site. Mail ships were advised to give the area a wide berth.
A ship, sent out to recover the dead, issued a daily series of grim reports: “To date the total number of bodies picked up was 205.” “We have brought all the embalming fluid to be had in Halifax — enough for seventy.” “We have been drifting in a dense fog.” “Within a week, we should clean up the relics of the disaster.” “In our opinion, the majority of the bodies will never come to the surface.”
The indelible image of a recovery vessel, bound by dense fog and picking up hundreds of victims, was copied in the movie “Titanic.”
Medical opinion held that when the victims went down with the ship, death was practically instantaneous. Ultimately, some debris drifted as far as Bermuda.
Although no one from Queens died in the disaster, local waters, as if in spite, claimed its due.
The Hell Gate received a fatality when a barge captain’s wife fell from her husband’s boat. The vessel, moored to the pier on Franklin Street in Astoria Village, had swung out with the tide and was several feet from the dock.
The captain got a plank, bridged the gap and his wife started across. Although weighing nearly 300 pounds, she was accustomed to walking on planks and thought little of it. But a heavy surge of the Hell Gate waters, perhaps from a passing boat, shook her off, and she fell between the boat and pier.
Her husband threw off his coat, dove into the darkness and caught her by the hair. Although he swam with her to a piling, the wood was slippery. He had great difficulty grasping it.
Despite her weight, he tried to keep her head above water. A half-hour passed before a policeman heard his cries for help.
By then, the woman had lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at St. John’s Hospital. Mrs. O’Neil was 53.
For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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