|Sympathy: Detail of William Stead Memorial|
The sinking of the Maine in 1898, which began the Spanish-American War, was commemorated in 1913 by an imposing monument. The Titanic, bound for pier 59 in New York City on its maiden voyage, carried seventy-four passengers who resided in New York and a considerable number of immigrants bound for the city. After the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 there were grandiose plans for a public monument: the world’s largest lighthouse, or a large sculpture of the sinking with the iceberg rendered in crystal. The memorial committee disbanded without completing its work, and the public monument dedicated in 1913 atop the Seamen’s Church Institute at South Street was actually a renaming of a lighthouse and beacon already in the building plans. This monument and its beacon once looked out over the New York harbor. It was moved when the Seamen’s Institute building was demolished, and part of it (the upper story of the lighthouse tower and beacon) now stands incongruously at ground level at the entrance to South Street Seaport.
It has been noted that First Class passengers were most likely to survive the sinking, with 64% surviving although First Class only represented 15% of those on board. Monuments to the wealthy victims of the Titanic continue this First Class privilege. The Anna Bliss Titanic Victims Memorial at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is the largest private monument and also serves as Mrs. Bliss’ tomb. Manhattan contains a number of private monuments and sites connected with individuals who died in the sinking. These reflect the varied composition of the city’s wealthy elite: Episcopal descendants of the British colonists, plus more recent Jewish and German immigrants. Some memorials have fallen into decay, some have been restored and others have been lost. Many have no plaque or indication of their connection to the disaster, or have been adapted for other uses: Pier 59, where the Titanic was to dock upon her arrival, is now a driving range for golf. Some are only ruins, such as the remains of Pier 54, where the Carpathia landed with the survivors. Even in their neglect, they evoke memories of the Titanic, its passengers and crew.
This essay will discuss a few of these sites, and suggest a possible itinerary for those wishing to investigate places associated with the Titanic in Manhattan. This will not be a “walking tour” in the traditional sense, in that the sites referenced are concentrated in separate areas of the city: primarily in Battery Park and South Street, Greenwich Village and Chelsea, and the Upper West Side. Still, with the use of public transportation between sites, an individual could visit these sites in a single day.
1. Battery Park and South Street Seaport Area: Wireless Operators’ Memorial, Cunard and White Star Line Offices, Titanic Memorial
Wireless Operators’ Memorial (present location unknown): The Wireless Operators’ Memorial was dedicated to all Wireless (Radio) operators who lost their lives in the line of duty. This included the name John George (“Jack”) Phillips, the wireless operator on the Titanic. Having just turned twenty-five a few days before the sinking, Phillips was very young to be a senior wireless operator. He stayed at his post radioing for help even after Captain Smith released him from his duties and told him to save himself. Although Phillips reached one of the overturned collapsible rafts, he died of exhaustion and exposure before morning. His hometown in England erected the largest Titanic related monument in the world in his memory, but in New York his commemoration was less grand. The Wireless Operators’ Memorial was a simple column with a wreath of marine plants and shells, and a bronze plaque listing the names of operators who lost their lives in the line of duty. Since September 11, 2001 the area has been under renovation, and the present location of this monument is unknown.
|White Star Line offices in 1912 after the sinking|
White Star Line Offices at 9 Broadway: Continuing north up Broadway from Battery Park, you pass a building that recalls the great age of luxury liner travel, though later than the Titanic. Facing the park is the International Mercantile Marine Building (1922, now a Citibank), once the offices of the United States Line. Its façade has mosaics of major ports of call, plus entrances labeled “First Class” and “Cabin Class”; the interior continues the nautical theme. Nine Broadway once housed offices of the White Star Line, the British company that owned the Titanic. Here relatives and friends waited in 1912 for news---among them Vincent Astor, who inquired for news of his father and like many others left the building in tears. Today the building seems an incongruous setting for tragedy—it houses a Radio Shack store and Subway restaurant. At 25 Broadway is the Cunard Lines Building (1921), with impressive ornamentation. Cunard was a rival of the White Star Line, though the two companies merged in 1934.
Titanic Memorial and Park at South Street Seaport: Proceed east down Fulton Street, until you reach the entrance to South Street Seaport at Water Street. Here is the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and Park, the only public memorial to the Titanic in the city. There had been plans for a significant public memorial, but the monument committee disbanded without ever coming to an agreement.
|Titanic Memorial Lighthouse|
The Seamen’s Church Institute had begun construction of its new building a day before the Titanic disaster. Its plans included a Flemish style building (recalling Dutch New York) at South Street surmounted by a lighthouse and beacon. Taking advantage of the publicity from the sinking, the Institute announced that the (already planned) lighthouse would be a memorial to the Titanic. With donations from the public, the building and monument were dedicated a year after the disaster. The ceremony included many friends and relatives of those lost on the ship. David Greer, Episcopal Bishop of New York, said “As its light by night shall guide pilgrims and seafaring men from every clime into this port, so...looking at noon toward this place to note the time of day, may they remember that our days pass as the swift ships, and in view of the shortness and uncertainty of human life, strive to fulfill their duty well...” (NY Times 16 April 1913).
The lighthouse’s green beacon shone over New York harbor, visible as far as Sandy Hook in New Jersey. Atop the lighthouse were a steel pole and a metal ball. The ball was raised every day at five minutes before noon, and slid down to mark the noon hour (the time of the Titanic’s departure) at a telegraphed signal from the National Observatory in Washington, D.C. This remained in operation until 1967, when the Institute relocated and the building was demolished. A salvage company donated the upper story of the lighthouse to South Street Seaport, where it was moved in 1976. The present monument includes a replica of the original ball, and there are plans to restore the beacon. A bronze plaque on the monument has more information about the history of the monument and its various benefactors than about the Titanic it memorializes. From here the #4 or 5 subway from Fulton Street station at Broadway will take you to Union Square and 14th Street. Walk from here to Broadway and 10th Street.
2. Greenwich Village and Chelsea: Edith Corse Evans Memorial; 57-59 East 11th Street; American Seamen’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute; Pier 54 and Pier 59.
Grace Episcopal Church: Edith Corse Evans Memorial: At 802 Broadway and 10th Street is Grace Episcopal Church (1846). Here, through a low door at the left of the lobby, is a stained glass window of angels ascending a ladder to heaven. Below this, within the central arch is a carved rosette and the inscription: “In Gratitude to God for the Memory of EDITH CORSE EVANS Who in the midst of life gave herself for others on the Titanic XV April MCMXII Trusting in Him who hath made the depth of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over. Love Is Strong As Death.”
|Edith C. Evans Memorial|