A Survivor’s Tale

by M-Gillies

Gracie was so involved with the Titanic events and work he had done on the subject that Gracie's last words were, "We must get them all into the boats."

Colonel Archibald Gracie, IV, woke to a sudden jolt on April 13th, 1912. It was 11:45pm on a moonless, cold night and despite his desire to wake early to begin a fitness regime he couldn’t help shaking the feeling that something was amiss on board the RMS Titanic.

For the next three hours, Gracie, an American writer, amateur historian and real estate investor would journey throughout the ship as news of the Titanic sinking quickly spread amongst her passengers and live to tell the tale of a night that has gone down in history as the most tragic peacetime maritime disaster ever.

It was just after the publication of his book The Truth About Chickamauga – Gracie had spent several years collecting notes, researching and writing his book about the American Civil War, but while he found the experience rewarding, it was also extremely exhausting. Deciding to take a transatlantic trip, Gracie journeyed to Europe before boarding the Titanic back to New York.

Though a man accustomed to transatlantic trips, Gracie had decided that while on his voyage on the Titanic he would break his regular routine of a daily regiment of exercise and take to socializing and befriending many of the passengers and crew. One person in particular was that of Isidor Strauss, the co-owner of Macy’s department store.

For some, their conversations would have earned luke-warm reception from other passengers, but for Gracie it was an opportunity to exchange notes with a man who had a tireless raconteur of inexhaustible stories about the American Civil War. As a keen amateur historian, Gracie long held a fascination with the Battle of Chikamauga, where his father had served and further died, and took upon Strauss with keen interest. However, it was on the 13th of April that Gracie decided to call it an early evening.

With plans of beginning his fitness regimen, he arranged with Charles Cullen, his room steward, to awaken him early the next morning so he could participate in a game of squash. But something happened. It was after being roused by the jolt that Gracie decided to investigate.

Though he couldn’t see any commotion, he noticed that there was no sound of machinery running, and further that he could hear the distinct sound of steam escaping. Determined to figure out what was happening, he made his way to the Boat Deck, only to find a middle aged coupe strolling peacefully along arm-in-arm on the cool moonless night.

Still, Gracie couldn’t settle the impression that something was amiss and continued back to the A-Deck where a group of passengers had gathered. It was there that he ran into a friend of his named Clinch Smith, who handed him a piece of ice.

“Perhaps, you’d like a souvenir,” Smith said as he informed Gracie that the ship had collided with an iceberg and that the mailroom was flooding, forcing the postal clerks to busily move two hundred bags of registered mail.

As the two men spoke, they began noticing that the deck was beginning to tilt. Returning back to his cabin, Gracie put on his life-jacket and made his way back to the deck where he ran into his racquet coach. Jokingly Gracie informed his coach that he would have to cancel his 7:30am lesson scheduled for the following morning. However, as Gracie noted in his book, his coach Fredrick Wright seemed greatly concerned.

Upon boarding the Titanic, Gracie, a man with a gentleman’s chivalry had offered his assistance to chaperoning various unaccompanied women. So, when he ran into the women he pledged to look after, he took it upon himself to escort them to the boat deck and ensure they made it to the lifeboats.

But his heroism didn’t end there. Putting his own life at risk for the sake of others, Gracie began aiding the crew by retrieving blankets for women in the boats and continued to lead women and children to safety.

During the evacuation, Gracie remembered seeing Mr. and Mrs. Strauss. Mrs. Strauss was preparing to board a lifeboat, but upon seeing her husband would not be joining her, rejoined her husband saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.”

In spite of Gracie and other friends’ attempts to persuade Mrs. Strauss, her mind was made up and the two sat together on a pair of deck chairs.

Meanwhile, as the Titanic foundered, Gracie managed to survive the water plunge, clinging to a floating wooden crate until he was pulled onto a collapsible raft.

After two hours of sitting in the icy chill, Gracie and others where rescued by the Carpathia. Having survived the tragedy, Gracie returned home to pen his accounts of that night aboard the Titanic. However, Gracie died on December 4, 1912, having never fully recovered from the trauma of that night and further being unable to finish proofing the manuscript.

However, Gracie’s book has gone through numerous printings, currently released under the title Titanic: A Survivor’s Story, with many modern editions including a short account of the disaster by Jack Thayer, a fellow survivor who had also found safety on the same collapsible raft as Gracie.

Because of the significant role Gracie played in shepherding passengers to safety, he has been featured in many dramatizations of the Titanic sinking, being portrayed by the likes of James Dyrenforth in the 1958 film, A Night to Remember and also by Bernard Fox in the 1997 film Titanic.

Read more:

Colonel Archibald Gracie – Titanic Survivor | Encyclopedia Titanic

 

 

 

 

 

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