Monday, April 2, 2012

The story behind the Titanic's luncheon menu

Macomb Daily staff photo by Joe Ballor
Be it old historic photos such as this one on display at The Henry Ford, or Titanic artifacts,
each one has a story to tell.
Over the weekend, Henry Aldridge and Son presented an auction of Titanic collectables to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Royal Mail Steamer Titanic. The sale was held 100 years to the day after the ship was finished by Harland and Wolff. The star of the auction - as many of you have heard -- was a first class menu from the last lunch ever held on-board the Titanic. 

Andrew Aldridge told me on Friday that he expected the artifact to fetch around $100,000.

He was close.

"The menu was sold via direct descent from Washington Dodge," said Aldridge. "(It sold for $120,000) and was purchased by a collector from London."

It was the last luncheon menu offered to guests and it featured the all-important date of April 14, 1912. That made it rare. What makes it interesting is the story behind the menu and how it came to be in the hands of a 21st century auctioneer.

The paper's trail from Belfast to London
As Aldridge explained, the menu was the property of First Class passenger Dr. Washington Dodge. He was a prominent banker from San Francisco, who boarded the Titanic with his wife Ruth and son Washington Junior. The family occupied cabin A-34 and held ticket number 33636. Shortly after arriving in New York aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, the doctor was interviewed and gave this account of his last hours on the ship.
"We had retired to our stateroom, and the noise of the collision was not at all alarming. We had just fallen asleep. My wife awakened me and said that something had happened to the ship. We went on deck and everything seemed quiet and orderly. The orchestra was playing a lively tune. They started to lower the lifeboats after a lapse of some minutes. There was little excitement as the lifeboats were being launched; many of the first-cabin passengers expressed their preference of staying on the ship. The passengers were constantly being assured that there was no danger, but that as a matter of extra precaution the women and children should be placed in the lifeboats. Everything was still quiet and orderly when I placed Mrs. Dodge and the boy in the fourth or fifth boat. I believe there were 20 boats lowered away altogether. I did what I could to help in keeping order, as after the sixth or seventh boat was launched the excitement began. Some of the passengers fought with such desperation to get into the lifeboats that the officers shot them, and their bodies fell into the ocean. It was 10:30 when the collision occurred, and 1:55 o'clock when the ship went down. Major Archibald Butt stood with John Jacob Astor as the water rolled over the Titanic. I saw Colonel Astor, Major Butt and Captain Smith
standing together about 11:30 o'clock. There was absolutely no excitement among them. Captain Smith said there was no danger. The starboard side of the Titanic struck the big berg and the ice was piled up on the deck. None of us had the slightest realization that the ship had received its death wound.
Mrs. (Isidor) Straus showed most admirable heroism. She refused in a very determined manner to leave
her husband, although she was twice entreated to get into the boats. Straus declined... to get in the boat while any women were left. I wish you would say for me that Colonel Astor, Major Butt, Captain Smith and every man in the cabins acted the part of a hero in that awful night. As the excitement began I saw an officer of the Titanic shoot down two steerage passengers who were endeavoring to rush the lifeboats. I have learned since that twelve of the steerage passengers were shot altogether, one officer shooting down six. The first-cabin men and women behaved with great heroism."
One of the stewards of the Titanic, with whom the Dodges had crossed the Atlantic before on the Olympic, knew them well. He recognized Dodge as the thirteenth boat was being filled. The steerage passengers were being shot down and some of the steerage passengers were stabbing right and left in an endeavor to reach the boat. The thirteenth boat was filled on one side with children, fully 20 or 30 of them, and a few women. All in the boat were panic-stricken and screaming.
The steward had been ordered to take charge of the thirteenth, and, seizing Dodge pushed him into the boat, exclaiming that he needed his help in caring for his helpless charges. Dodge said that when the boats were drawing away from the ship they could hear the orchestra playing "Lead, Kindly Light," and rockets were going up from the Titanic in the wonderfully clear night.
"We could see from the distance that two boats were being made ready to be lowered. The panic was in the steerage, and it was that portion of the ship that the shooting was made necessary.
"I will never forget," Mrs. Dodge said, "the awful scene of the great steamer as we drew away. From the upper rails heroic husbands and fathers were waving and throwing kisses to their womenfolk in the receding lifeboats."
The steward that Dr. Dodge referred to in his interview was Frederick Dent Ray. The menu carries a handwritten inscription on its reverse: With compliments and best wishes, from Frederic Dent Ray, 56 Palmer Park, Reading, Berks.
The menu itself is said to have survived the sinking in Mrs. Dodge's purse and has remained with the Dodge family since. 

Never get so fascinated by the extraordinary that you forget the ordinary -- Magdalen Nabb

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