Titanic Survivors: A TITANIC MOMENT FROM BRUCE M. CAPLAN
When the Titanic sank on the morning of April 15, 1912, of the over 2,200 passengers, 705 managed to survive in the rickety lifeboats. Two of the survivors were four year Michel Navratil and his two year old brother Edmond.
The young Titanic passengers did not realize it, but their father Michel Navratil Sr. was illegally transporting them to America to keep them away from their mother who was previously allowed full custody of the children in a pending divorce procedure. The Navratil’s were traveling under the surname of Hoffman.
As the Titanic was going down the children’s father Michel Naratil Sr. made sure that they were secured in a lifeboat. The father went down with the ship and because of his false Jewish surname of Hoffman, when his body was found , he was buried in the Jewish Titanic Cemetery in Halifax.
The two Navatil children were soon reunited with their mother in France. Michel Navatil, married in 1933 and eventually became a college philosophy professor. He lived a long and happy life and in 1987 for the 75th anniversary of the Titanic Tragedy, he returned to America for the ceremonies. He died on January, 30, 2001, the very last male Titanic survivor. He was 92 years old!
New York Herald, April 21, 1912, page 1:
‘Keep Your Mouth Shut; Big Money for You,’ Was Message to Hide News
Hold Story for ‘Four Figures,’ Marconi Official Also Warned the Carpathia Operator, While Anxious World Waited Details of Disaster.
While the world was waiting three days for information concerning the fate of the Titanic, for part of the time at least, details concerning the disaster were being withheld by the wireless operator of the steamship Carpathia under specific orders from T. W. Sammis, chief engineer of the Marconi Wireless Company of America, who had arranged the sale of the story. This was admitted yesterday by Mr. Sammis, who defended his action. He said he was justified for getting for the wireless operators the largest amount he could for the details of the sinking of the ship, the rescue of the passengers and the other information the world had waited for. The first information concerning the loss of the Titanic came Monday evening, and it was known at that time the survivors were on board the Carpathia. About midnight the first of the list of survivors began to come by wireless, and from that time until Thursday night, when the rescue ship arrived in port, the world waited and waited in vain for the details of how the “unsinkable ship” had gone down. Three messages were sent to the Carpathia telling the operator to send out no news concerning the disaster. Two of these were unsigned, and the last one had the signature of Mr. Sammis.
“Keep Mouth Shut; Big Money.”
The first message was unsigned, and it is said it was sent as a list of names of survivors were being forwarded. It read:– “Keep your mouth shut. Hold story. Big money for you.” The messages from the Carpathia to the Marconi office concerning this matter were not available, but there was evidently some communication, for the second unsigned message followed after an interval. This message read:– “If you are wise, hold story. The Marconi company will take care of you.” The third and last message was addressed to “Marconi officer, the Carpathia and the Titanic,” and signed “S. M. Sammis,” chief engineer of the Marconi Company of America. This one read:– “Stop. Say nothing. Hold your story for dollars in four figures. Mr. Marconi agreeing. Will meet you at dock.” Mr. Sammis was at the Waldorf-Astoria yesterday at the hearing before the sub-committee of the United States Senate, and he was asked about the message.
Mr. Sammis Resents Criticism.
“It is reported,” he was told, “that a message was sent by you to the wireless operator on the Carpathia to which you gave the orders or at least said to him not to give out any details of the sinking of the Titanic, as you had arranged for four figures.” “Well?” he said is a defiant way. “Did you send such a message?” “Maybe. What of it?” he replied. “It would be interesting to know if you actually sent such a message.” “Yes, I sent the message, but whose business is it?” Mr. Sammis asked with some heat. “Perhaps it was no one’s business,” he was told, “but it is interesting to know that when the world was horror stricken over the disaster and waiting for the news, that there were persons preparing to capitalize the suspense and had arranged for ‘four figures.’ ” “Do you blame me for this,” retorted Mr. Sammis, as he backed up against the wall. “Do you blame me for getting the highest price I could for the operator for the story he had to tell about the collision and the rescue. I thought I was doing a good turn for him, and I can’t see how it is the business of anyone.” It is not unlikely that the sending of these messages with the apparent result that no details of the disaster came from the relief ship will form part of the inquiry that is being made by a sub-committee of the Senate. Part of this inquiry has been directed as to why a message from President Taft asking for information about Major Archibald W. Butt was unanswered, and it is not unlikely that in view of the message from Mr. Sammis that this will be taken up again.
Navy Likely to Have Records.
While these messages were intercepted by more than one wireless receiving station, there is one place where the Senate Committee could undoubtedly get copies of them. The New York Navy Yard has a powerful receiving station, and has what is known as an “intercepted message” book. These messages are considered confidential and are never given out, but the book would undoubtedly be at the disposal of the investigating committee. Senator Smith said yesterday that the authorities in Washington knew on Thursday long before the Carpathia arrived, that the White Star line was contemplating the return of part of the Titanic crew to England by the steamship Cedric, and this information undoubtedly came from a government station. John W. Griggs, one time Attorney General of the United States and Governor of New Jersey, is president of the Marconi Wireless Company of America. He said last night he had not heard that the chief engineer of the company was marketing the information of the disaster. “This is a matter which will be looked into,” he said. “I know nothing about it, had not heard of it before, and, of course, cannot say what will be done until it is brought to my attention in an official way.”
MILFORD — The story and history about the Titanic tragedy hooked Ken Rossignol as a young boy. Now, decades later, he travels around the world presenting lectures, facts, copies of original newspaper headlines and articles about the iconic ship — one such lecture took place in Milford’s Hotel Fauchere on April 27.
“I first got interested in Titanic at the age 12, when I read Walter Lord’s book ‘A Night to Remember,'” said Rossignol. “To me it was the best book, because he interviewed 50 or 60 survivors who were still alive at the time in the 50s when he wrote his book. The authenticity of this book comes through, because these were the people who were there, they knew what happened, and by that time, almost 50 years later, you could separate the embellishment from the real to a degree.”
Not only was the history interesting to Rossignol, but so was the movie “Titanic” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. “It was also, to me, the best movie too,” Rossignol said. “I was always fascinated by the Titanic, always felt, ‘What if that were me, what would I do?’ Would you jump into a life boat, would you help somebody else in?” he said. Rossignol also liked the love story that the blockbuster movie depicted.
“Their story personifies the stories of dozens of people on that ship,” Rossignol said. “It was a typical, believable human experience. People met, fell in love, and were separated by the disaster. And the important thing is, it’s got a whole new generation interested in not only Titanic, but history itself. That is reading, they are using their computers to find out about it.”
The lecture and slide show — sponsored by the Milford Historical Society and Fauchere — was presented to a packed room in Emerson House followed by a dinner in the Delmonico Room at the Hotel, with a menu using “original recipes from the ship’s various dining salons and its a la carte offerings in the ships ‘The Ritz’ restaurant.”
Rossignol became so fascinated by the largely untold story of what really happened on the fated Titanic’s maiden voyage, that he wrote “Titanic 1912.” The book came out in time for the ship’s centenary year in 2012.
In his presentation, Rossignol discussed many fascinating and unknown facts. For example, the captain had received five to six messages about icebergs ahead, and apparently, did nothing, even though there were lots of things he could have done. There was a fire burning in the bowels of the ship — almost from the start, but again starting exactly when, is unclear. Is it common to have fire in the bowels of a ship? Rossignol asked experts about this, and got a resounding “no.”
He added that post 9/11 world understands the risk of overheated metal — it was weakened when the iceberg hit, and possibly contributed to the ship’s demise. Among other, better known facts are, Titanic didn’t have enough life boats for everyone. Some officers “fell” into one life boat all together, while passengers fought to get in.
The “unsinkable” boat sank rapidly and the wireless operator’s efforts with SOS signals saved many from drowning. The first newspaper reports had headlines declaring “All were saved” as about 250 bodies were taken to Halifax. As a result of the disaster, all boats were required to carry enough life boats.
Lou Bataille from Milford who came to the presentation with his wife Barbara commented, “I thought it was wonderful, and very informative. He’s a very good speaker. We had heard stories and seen movies, but some of what he told us was very interesting, like the coal fire, and the log books.”
Dick Snyder, one of the owners of Fauchere Hotel and Restaurant agreed. “I thought it was very interesting. It fulfilled my expectations,” Snyder said. “It gave a lot of specifics I wasn’t aware of before, and it was presented in a very interesting way.”
For more information on Rossignol visit
Helen Benziger began talking about her great-grandmother, Margaret “The Unsinkable Molly” Brown in 1999. Her family never spoke of Margaret Brown, and the first time she realized that she was connected to her was while watching the movie, The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
On screen “Molly” was dancing on the bar and throwing her skirts up in wild abandon when her mother leaned over and said, “By the way…that’s your great grandmother.” That was the beginning of Helen’s interest in her great grandmother’s life and all things Titanic. Now, she travels the country talking about Margaret and Titanic.
Like her great-grandmother, Helen is active in many areas. Her passion is fighting homelessness and helping abused dogs. Currently, Helen lives in a log cabin in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming along with her husband, David, and their three dogs.
I’ll be speaking at the Orange County Libraries (Orlando, FL) at three Branches.
Downtown Branch, Saturday, April 19 at 11:00 a.m.
Dr. Phillips (Southwest) Branch, Sat. April 26th at 2:30 p.m.
Hunter’s Creek (South Creek) Branch, Sat. May 31 at 2:00 p.m.
Kyrila Scully will also be speaking at the Breakfast for the Rotary Club of Lake Buena Vista, FL at the Wyndham Resort in Downtown Disney on June 5th.
If you want to book a lecture, tea party or banquet, please contact Titanic Speakers Bureau for more information.
From Bruce M. Caplan:
Testimony at British Enquiry—-Charles Hendrickson (I think this is the real reason the iceberg was able to penetrate the steel!)
5232. Do you remember a fire in a coal bunker on board this boat?
5233. Is it a common occurrence for fires to take place on boats?
5234. It is not common?
5235. How long have you been on a White Star boat?
– About five years.
5236. When did you last see a fire in a coal bunker?
– I never saw one before.
5237. It has been suggested that fires in coal bunkers are quite a common occurrence, but you have been five years in the White Star line and have not seen a fire in a coal bunker?
5238. Did you help to get the coal out?
5239. Did you hear when the fire commenced?
– Yes, I heard it commenced at Belfast.
5240. When did you start getting the coal out?
– The first watch we did from Southampton we started to get it out.
5241. How many days would that be after you left Belfast?
– I do not know when she left Belfast to the day.
5242. It would be two or three days, I suppose?
– I should say so.
5243. Did it take much time to get the fire down?
– It took us right up to the Saturday to get it out.
5244. How long did it take to put the fire itself out?
– The fire was not out much before all the coal was out.
5245. The fire was not extinguished until you got the whole of the coal out?
– No. I finished the bunker out myself, me and three or four men that were there. We worked everything out.
5246. The bulkhead forms part of the bunker – the side?
– Yes, you could see where the bulkhead had been red hot.
5247. You looked at the side after the coal had been taken out?
5248. What condition was it in?
– You could see where it had been red hot; all the paint and everything was off. It was dented a bit.
5249. It was damaged, at any rate?
– Yes, warped.
5250. Was much notice taken of it. Was any attempt made to do anything with it?
– I just brushed it off and got some black oil and rubbed over it.
5251. To give it its ordinary appearance?
By Ken Rossignol
Titanic Speakers Bureau
Being at sea with a series of talks about the history, the people, the heroes of the Titanic was not only an exceptional honor and challenge but a thrill to be asked to bring the story alive in a way consistent with history and at the same time, to be meaningful to a modern audience. The huge Independence of The Seas is in many ways, a modern Titanic, with the chief difference being that this ship made it past its maiden voyage, without being on fire or sinking.
The similarities for the passengers is truly in the imagination. Imagining the grand staircase down which Mrs. J.J. Brown, the newly minted millionaire, flowed with her Missourian dignity intact, brings to mind the equally grand appointments of the Independence of the Seas. The three-story dining room with a grand piano to entertain during the evening meal harkens back to the plush dining room that seated hundreds on the Titanic.
The Independence of the Seas voyage had a majority of Brits traveling on their Easter season trip to warmth and sunshine in Spain and the Canaries. The voyage of the Titanic to New York two hundred years earlier certainly lacked any warm weather but it held the promise of reaching a land of opportunity and hope for so many who had sold their last belongings to get a fresh start in America and Canada.
As we traveled to ports in Portugal, Spain and the Canaries as well as Madeira, our sea days were the times in which my enrichment sessions on the Titanic were held. It is quite a challenge to go up against bingo and belly flop contests, which are often the chief entertainment on other ships, but this British crowd were a bit more intense as was the weather. Thus with as many as three hundred and fifty earnest listeners in attendance, I did the best I could to explain how the Titanic had been on fire from the time the ship left Southampton.
There had been a coal strike during the winter of 1911 and 1912 and coal was hoarded for this important maiden voyage. The final preparations of the ship had been delayed in order to provide repairs to the Olympic which had been damaged in a collision with the British cruiser Hawk. Therefore, an important protocol had not been followed, that of keeping the stored coal dampened. When the ship left port, deep down in the bowels of coal bunker number six, the coal self-ignited, as coal can do. Those who have BBQ grill charcoal at home should be cautious to keep their charcoal in a metal can with a lid on it or the same could happen to you. Many a shed fire has likely been blamed on electrical wiring when the truth might be that of spontaneous combustion of a bag of charcoal.
In any event, we know this startling information due to the testimony of the surviving crewmen of the Titanic who told the American and British hearings about what caused the ship had to sink about the fire.
Mr. J. Dilley of the Titanic said at the United States Senate Commerce Committee hearing in New York City, as was reported in the New York World the following day, that a crew of 12 had fought the fire in four hour shifts, around the clock. “We had made no headway,” he said. “We thought when we arrived in New York and got the passengers off, that we would have to bring a fireboat alongside to get the fire out.”
What is the significance of the fire? The fire burned the coal bunker six sidewalls in the same exact place where the ship came into collision with the iceberg and we had a vivid lesson in what heat does to metal when the hijacked airliners flew into the World Trade Center in 2001. More of the fire is covered in Bruce Caplan’s book, The Sinking of the Titanic and in my book, Titanic 1912.
Kyrila Scully shares stories of strength and survival from the Titanic disaster.
By Peter Hawkins, special correspondent
If you’re passing the band shell at Old School Square in Delray Beach one Saturday afternoon in May, you might see a lady wearing an Edwardian long satin dress topped by a wide-brimmed hat set on a rakish angle, describing her miraculous escape from the Titanic.
It’s none other than Kyrila Scully of Boynton Beach, portraying the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, perhaps the most colorful survivor of the mighty liner that sank 90 years ago this month.
Scully is so steeped in the most famous maiden voyage since Noah launched his ark, that school children call her the “Titanic Mom.” She will again impersonate Molly–or Margaret Brown as she was known in her lifetime–May 18 as part of Delray Beach Preservations Week.
Scully, 47, takes her “Titanic Nights”** exhibition to schools, churches, condos and civic events, and writes and performs monologues about the survivors. In addition to playing Molly Brown, she impersonates first-class stewardess Violet Jessop and second-class passenger Lutie Parrish in her best Kentucky accent:
“Thee, lawd! Look at all the people here today!” she exclaims. “Welcome aboard! I’m Mrs. Samuel Parrish, but you can call me Lutie.”
“She’s in total character when she plays these people,” said Sandra LaHair, who runs an Edwardian and Victorian costume business with Scully called Grand Staircase.
Scully is self-publishing TITANIC: THE SURVIVORS–A MANIFEST OF THE LIFEBOATS this month. The book places survivors in lifeboats and traces the stories of their escape from the doomed ship, which started to sink on April 14, 1912, and went down after midnight.
Also this month, Scully and LaHair are leading a party to mark the anniversary of the tragic voyage with special events at the Orlando museum, TITANIC–SHIP OF DREAMS. The lease on the museum, which features a full-scale recreation of the ship’s grand staircase, ends in August, and Scully is campaigning to move it to Palm Beach County. The museum hasn’t found a suitable location yet.
For LaHair, the sinking has a message for today.
“People lost their lives foolishly out of pride,” she said. “It was touted as unsinkable, as if to fly in the face of God. They thought God couldn’t sink her. Well, he could.”
Scully sees the parallel with the events of Sept. 11.
“There are so many correlations with 9-11,” she said. “It says a lot about the arrogance of technology. It’s similar to the Challenger disaster, too. In each case, ice warnings were ignored. Ice brought down the Challenger and ice brought down the Titanic.”
Scully has been interested with the vessel for almost 40 years. Her condo in Boynton Beach is like a shrine to the liner, with a life belt that was a prop for the film, TITANIC, scale models of the ship, and memorabilia that includes two tiny pieces of coal brought up from the seabed of the wreck.
In a curious way, the preoccupation was her lifesaver. At the age of 8, she went through a traumatic experience she still can’t talk about. Two things in 1964 helped her: One was the Beatles. The other was a movie about the disaster, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. She got over the Beatles, but she’s still under the Titanic’s spell.
“It was inspirational,” she said. “I thought, if they could survive that, I could survive what I was going through.”
Through the Titanic, she has helped students see their way through personal crises. Scully answers students’ questions on a Titanic Web site.
“I’ve shown how the Titanic helped me to cope with problems I had growing up by showing them life lessons from the Titanic.”
** (Kyrila’s note: The name TITANIC NIGHTS has been changed to TITANIC IMPACT PERFORMANCE EXHIBITS. Also—not true—I didn’t “get over” the Beatles. I’m still a big fan.)
Photo by Staff Photographer Mark Randall
By Wade Sisson
I’ve spoken about the Titanic at a lot of schools since my book, Racing Through the Night, was published in 2011, and I soon learned that kids always ask the best – and most humorous – questions.
For that reason, it’s been my visits to schools that I’ve enjoyed the most. There’s something about the Titanic story that captures the imaginations of young people. You can see it in their eyes as you start talking about it. When you ask them if they know anything about the Titanic, they all raise their hands.
The questions are usually evenly split between Titanic, the ship and Titanic, the James Cameron movie. Were Jack and Rose real? Why didn’t the ship see the iceberg in time to miss it?
They’re always disappointed to learn that Jack and Rose were fictional characters – but they’re fascinated to learn about the real people who are part of the Titanic story. They always seem especially touched by the story of Millvina Dean, the last of the survivors, who died in 2009.
Most of the schools do an amazing job of preparing the kids in advance. By the time I arrive, they’ve already studied the ship, the passengers and have even dipped their hands in 28-degree water.
That doesn’t mean I don’t the occasional oddball question. Like the time one little fourth-grader asked me, “Did you bring up any gold?” I told him I’d actually never been to the wreck site – and I didn’t have any gold. He didn’t believe me and asked me again several times during the discussion. Then as I was leaving the classroom he stopped me. “Dude, seriously, where’s the gold?”
The children also try to tie the Titanic story in with other lessons they’ve had. During one school visit our discussion got hijacked by a few well-meaning third-graders. It started with one question: “Did the Titanic sink in the Bermuda Triangle?” I assured the class that the Titanic was nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle, but once the thing had been mentioned, it took on a life of its own. Another student said “Maybe the Titanic hit the iceberg because they couldn’t see inside the Bermuda Triangle.” I had to confess I was not a Bermuda Triangle expert and that seemed to satisfy them enough to stop their line of questioning.
There’s always at least one child who reminds me of myself at that age – completely drawn into the Titanic story and eager to learn as much as possible. But it’s all of the children – and their genuine interest in the history – that makes these school visits worthwhile.