12 People Who Missed Their Trip on the Titanic

Family History
16 April 2015

HMS Titanic
[Photo: National Archive]
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic slammed into an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank, sending 1,517 souls into the cold deep. Since that dark night, the legend of the Titanic has only grown, propelled by the glamour of the ship and its first-class passengers, complicated by the immigrant dreams of its steerage travelers, and recharged by a certain 1997 movie that 18 years later remains the second-highest-grossing film of all time.

Visitors to Ancestry can search Titanic’s records and passenger lists for connections to the doomed voyage on the site’s Titanic collection.

Here are eight amazing stories you won’t find in those records — stories of eight lucky individuals who changed their plans to sail on the Titanic, thanks to a frugal editor, a nosy sister-in-law, an ill spouse, or even a coin toss.

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Theodore Dreiser: Dreiser became one of the leading novelists of the early 20th century by writing about how money and wealth were changing America. The author had just spent four months traveling through Europe to write travel pieces and collect material for his memoir, 1913’s A Traveler at Forty.

Dreiser, who had grown up poor in Indiana, was eager to experience the opulence of the Titanic, but his English publisher convinced him to take a cheaper berth on another ship, which set sail from Dover two days before the Titanic sank.

Baron Moritz von Bethmann: In 1912, Baron Moritz von Bethmann, scion of a famous German banking family, was traveling the world with two friends. After arriving in Chicago, he told local newspapers three days after the Titanic’s sinking that he and his traveling companions had considered taking the Titanic but didn’t want to wait for it to sail. Bethmann and his friends settled their disagreement on which ship to take by flipping a coin.

Guglielmo Marconi: After the Titanic hit an iceberg, sealing its fate, the ship’s radio operator still managed to dispatch SOS messages using equipment invented by Italian Guglielmo Marconi.

Marconi nearly was one of the passengers whose life depended on his wireless telegraph equipment. Marconi had been offered free passage on Titanic but had taken the Lusitania three days earlier because he had paperwork to do and preferred the telegraph operator aboard that vessel.

George Washington Vanderbilt II: Vanderbilt was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the Vanderbilt family railroad and industrial fortune. Although Vanderbilt and his wife had booked passage on the Titanic, someone in their family (reportedly his wife’s well-traveled sister) warned them about the unexpected trials that might emerge during a maiden voyage. They cancelled their trip on April 9, a week before the Titanic sank.

Henry Clay Frick, J. P. Morgan, and Horace Harding: In February 1912, Henry Clay Frick, the Pittsburgh steel magnate, booked a suite but cancelled after his wife sprained her ankle. J. P. Morgan, the banking titan whose holding company actually owned the White Star Line, took over the booking but cancelled when business interests lengthened his stay abroad. The booking was then assumed by Horace Harding, a New York financier, but he and his wife were able to get an earlier sailing date aboard a Cunard ship, the Mauretania. The suite ended up going to J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, who survived himself by jumping onto a lifeboat.

Edgar Selwyn: Selwyn was a Broadway and Hollywood producer who founded Goldwyn Pictures in 1916, which eventually became part of MGM Studios. It would have been MM studios if Selwyn hadn’t chosen to stay in England to review an early draft of a friend’s novel. Because the draft wasn’t ready for Selwyn to review until April 19, 1912, Selwyn cancelled his April 10 Titanic departure.

Rev. J. Stuart Holden: The vicar of St. Paul’s Church in Portman Square, London, had booked passage with his wife on the Titanic to speak at the Christian Conservation Congress, a six-day religious meeting at Carnegie Hall scheduled for April 20, 1912.

Before they sailed, however, Rev. Holden’s wife fell ill. On April 9, one day before sailing, Rev. Holden returned his ticket to stay by his wife’s side. He kept the ticket envelope and later framed it with an inscription from the book of Psalms giving thanks for his good luck: “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.”

Norah Callaghan and Annie Jordan: In 1912, Addergoole, County Mayo, Ireland, was a village of 3,400 still struggling to recover from the Great Famine of the 19th century. Fourteen Addergoole villagers boarded the Titanic at its last port of call in Queenstown, Ireland. Eleven of the villagers died.

Two villagers, however, had even better luck. Norah Callaghan and Annie Jordan had tickets to board the Titanic but did not. Jordan developed a rash that kept her from traveling, and records from another White Star ship, the Celtic, show Callaghan boarding that ship on April 12, 1912, just one day after the Titanic left Queenstown.

—Sandie Angulo Chen

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