NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The morning fog on the Hudson River stirs the imagination. A century ago, the Titanic would have sailed up New York Harbor, concluding her maiden transatlantic voyage.
Titanic would have docked at Pier 59 amid celebration. Now it’s the driving range at the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex. But there was a ship that did arrive there 100 years ago.
The Carpathia was the vessel that received Titanic’s distress calls, and 705 passengers and crewmen were plucked from the sea by her crew. The rescue ship pulled up to what should have been the Titanic’s destination.
“The significance of Pier 59 is that this is where the Carpathia landed with the lifeboats from the Titanic,” Chelsea Piers marketing director Dana Thayer told CBS 2’s Rob Morrison. “It was actually the pier that the Titanic was headed to land to.”
The Carpathia arrived with its decks full of survivors. They reached New York City, but not the way they expected.
Philip Littlejohn’s grandfather, Alexander, was a first-class steward who survived the disaster, and he later confirmed to reporters that musicians on-board were actually playing as the ship sank.
“He said, ‘Well, the band was playing, but I don’t know what tune it was,'” Littlejohn recalled his grandfather saying. “He said, ‘All I could hear were the terrible cries for help. They were awful and heartrending.'”
The Hollywood blockbuster rekindled worldwide interest in the Titanic. Alexander Littlejohn would have been serving the equivalent of Kate Winslet in the first-class dining room. When the Titantic hit the iceberg, he was ordered into a lifeboat to help women and children as the ship sank.
He was never the same, his grandson said.
“There is a picture of him on the Carpathia, quite clearly with dark hair and a dark mustache.” Littlejohn said. “Six months later he goes back to work and he’s issued a new discharge book, and in the front of that it says, ‘Color of Hair: White.’ So between April and October he went completely white through the effects of shock.”
One fleeting image of the Titanic being built is the only moving film of the doomed liner. Her sister ship, the Olympic, got all the attention for her maiden voyage in 1911. Alexander Littlejohn was on-board, but it was his experience a year later on Titanic that stayed with him forever, his shock of white hair an enduring reminder of the tragedy he witnessed.
Do you have any relatives that were on-board the Titanic on that fateful day 100 years ago? Share your stories and comments below…