It’s been 95 years since the RMS Titanic made its maiden voyage, struck an iceberg and plummeted to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. Marjorie Thomas was not alive when her mother and brother survived the demise of the ship the world deemed “unsinkable.”
However, while Thomas, 78, of Cleveland, was growing up, she relived the unimaginable events of that night vicariously through her mother’s stories.
“Every time she wanted to talk, I would listen,” said Thomas. “I was chosen by her to hear the stories.”
Thomas’ tales begin on April 10, 1912, when the Titanic deployed from Southhampton, England, destined for New York.
Aboard were her mother, Thelma, a 16-year-old child-bride and devout Christian from Lebanon, and her 5-month-old brother, Essed.
Thelma was heading to the United States to reunite with her husband, Alexander, a native of Turkey and well-established produce wholesaler, who was already in America starting a life for his family.
Once established, Alexander sent for his wife and child. He asked his brother, Charles, to escort them. Ten other relatives of Thelma’s also set sail.
Thomas’ mother always described the ship as beautiful and elaborate, yet the night the ship sank, the memories turned cold and bleak.
According to the Smithsonian, at 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1912 the Titanic was traveling at approximately 20.5 knots when it struck an iceberg on its starboard bow. According to Thomas, her mother blamed the captain for the collision. The captain took the quickest route he knew, despite warnings of danger, Thomas said.
Below, in their third-class passenger quarters, Charles felt the tremor and went to investigate.
Upon his return, Thelma described him as being as “white as a ghost.”
He told her “Come, Thelma. There’s no time,” then helped her put on a lifejacket and heavy coat.
“He already knew he was going to die,” Thomas explained.
Thelma, the baby and Charles made their way to the deck of the ship, where crewmen were loading women and children into Titanic’s 20 measly lifeboats.
As the fear escalated, crewman rushed passengers about the liner.
In the commotion, Thelma was shoved into a lifeboat and Charles and the baby were lost in the crowd.
Knowing he did not have a chance, Charles looked to those in the lifeboats, yelling, “Will someone take the baby? Please take the baby.”
A woman, who Thomas would later learn was Edwina Troutt, took Essed from Charles, saving his life that fateful night.
Thelma though, was unaware that her child was safe, and would not find out he was alive until the ship Carpathia came to the survivors’ rescue.
“She watched the boat sink before her eyes,” said Thomas. “She heard all these people dying, screaming and saw people jumping off the boat. It was a nightmare.”
“Yet prayer kept her going throughout the entire ordeal,” Thomas added. “She prayed the entire time she was in the lifeboat.”
On board the Carpathia, Thelma reunited with Essed, and was told the name of the woman who saved him. The duo connected with Alexander in New York and went on to make a life for themselves in Pennsylvania.
Charles, along with the 10 other relatives aboard the Titanic, were not as lucky. They perished the night the Titanic sunk.
In 1979, Thomas, marveling at her mother’s tales and her brother’s heroic rescue, located Troutt. After so many years, she wanted to thank the woman who saved Essed that fateful night.
After a series of phone calls, in 1984, Thomas traveled to California to meet with Troutt, then 99 years old.
Embracing for the first time, the women compared stories and shared memories of an event that happened many years before.
“She told me when she held me it was like holding my brother again,” said Thomas.
Thomas listened as the stranger told her the same tale her mother had told her many times growing up.
Thomas met with Troutt twice before the woman she considered a hero died.
Two Titanic survivors remain, neither of which live in the United States.
Today, Thomas visits area schools, libraries and senior centers to keep alive the stories of those who survived the Titanic.
“I believe research cannot compete with first-hand knowledge,” said Thomas. “All the research in the world will never get it right, it’s the first-hand knowledge that is more meaningful.”
“I have my own crusade,” Thomas added. “I don’t want people to forget the ones who were never found and to know that the Titanic was no joke – it was a real disaster.”