A Tribute to the Dogs of the Titanic

A Tribute to the Dogs of the Titanic

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One hundred years ago, at 2:20 a.m., the RMS Titanic sank in the north Atlantic after hitting an iceberg.

Of the 2,224 people on board, 1,514 died. The scale of the disaster is almost impossible to imagine. The Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time. Its sinking remains one of the deadliest, peacetime maritime disasters in history.

This anniversary post focuses on the 11 dogs aboard and their owners.

The Airedale Kitty and John J. Astor V

Astors dogs of the Titanic
The Astors and Kitty

Astor, 47, rankled society when he divorced his first wife Ava in 1909 and married 19-year-old Madeline Force in 1912. To escape public attention, the Astors took an extended honeymoon to Paris and Egypt with Kitty in tow.

When Mrs. Astor became pregnant, they decided to return to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The Astors were among the wealthiest of the Titanic passengers.  Their $50,000 stateroom included working fireplaces and adjoining servants quarters.

Astor initially downplayed the collision with the iceberg to his wife.  When the first class passengers began gathering on the boat deck, the Astors put on life jackets. They waited on mechanical horses in the gym with other passengers.

Astor still believed that the Titanic couldn’t sink. By 1:45 a.m., however, it was clear it not only could, but would.

To get on to a life boat, a passenger had to climb over the edge of the ship into the boat, six stories above the icy waters of the Atlantic. The winches lowering the boat into the icy ocean waters didn’t always move smoothly as the lifeboat dropped into the water.

He helped his wife to life boat 4 and asked Second Officer Charles Lightoller if he could go with her because of her delicate condition.  He was calm when Lightoller said no, women and children were to go in the boats first.  He threw his gloves to his wife, stood back and lit a cigarette.  Madeline Astor’s last memory was seeing him on deck with Kitty pacing beside him.

Some credit Astor with opening the kennel doors before the ship sank, but there’s no evidence. Another story is that 11-year-old William Carter gave Astor the Carter family Airedale.  Astor promised he would look after the dog. While Carter, his mother and his sister were on the same lifeboat as Mrs. Astor, there’s no confirmation that one of their two dogs was an Airedale.

A few days later, Astor’s crushed, sooty body was recovered from the open sea.  One of the ship’s smokestacks appeared to have fallen on him. He was identified by the labels in his clothing.  He had $2,500 in his pocket. Madeline Astor survived.  Their son, John Jacob Astor VI, was born Aug. 14, 1912.

Gamin (Gamon) de Pycombe and Robert W. Daniel, 27

Daniel also is sometimes credited with opening up the kennel doors before the ship sank.  He  jumped into the 31 degree water with George and Harry Widener just before the ship went down.

A sudden plunge into icy water causes shock, panic and disorientation.  In some cases, it can cause cardiac arrest.  Within minutes, the cold registers on a body as intense pain. The body starts shutting down the extremities to preserve the core — heart, lungs and brain.  This means a person quickly loses his ability to control her hands or legs.  He can no longer hold on to floating debris, grasp a rope or climb into a boat. A person in water this cold will lose consciousness and drown in as little as 15 minutes.

Daniel and his companions beat the odds.  They were picked up by lifeboat 3. Daniel put in a $750 claim for his champion dog in a lawsuit after the disaster. He eventually became a member of the Virginia State Senate and died in 1940.

Pekingese Sun Yat Sen and Myra and Henry Sleeper Harper, 48

Sun Yat Sen and unknown woman

Henry Harper was the grandson of the founder of Harpers Brothers publishing house. He had taken off time from the family business to tour Europe and Asia with his wife. Ironically, in 1902, he had been on another ship that collided with an iceberg off he Grand Banks. The dog and the Harpers all survived in lifeboat 3.

Frou Frou and Helen and Dickinson H. Bishop

Bishop, 25, a widower, and his young pregnant bride, 19, were returning from a four-month honeymoon trip to Egypt, Italy, France and Algiers.  They delayed their departure to come home on the Titanic. Mrs. Bishop returned Frou Frou to their cabin when it was clear there wasn’t room in the lifeboats.  She recalled the dog grabbing the hem of her dress as if to hold her back.

The sinking of the Titanic was the first of several tragedies for Helen.  The child she was carrying when the ship sank died two days after it was born on Dec. 8, 1912.  Dickinson endured rumors that he had dressed like a woman to get into a lifeboat.  In 1916, the Bishops had a car accident that severely fractured Helen’s skull and changed her personality.  The couple divorced and Helen died that same year.

Ironically, her obituary and the announcement of Dickinson’s third marriage appeared on the same page of the Dowagiac Daily News, where they lived.

Harry Anderson

A Chow and Harry Anderson, 47

Anderson, a stock broker, put in a claim of $50 for the loss of his dog.  He later became commodore of the yacht division of the New York Atlantic Club and still later belonged to the Larchmont Yacht Club where fellow survivor Frederick Hoyt was also a member.

Two Dogs and the Carter Family
William E. Carter, 36, wife Lucile, 36, daughter Lucile, 14 and son William II were traveling with two dogs.  One was a King Charles Spaniel; the second was not identified by breed.  (Some sources say both dogs were King Charles Spaniels; others say one of the dogs was an Airedale.) Mrs. Carter and her children left on lifeboat 4; Mr. Carter left on a collapsible boat (C). The human members of the family survived.  The dogs did not.

Lady, a Pomeranian, and Margaret Hays, 24
Both got on lifeboat 7 and survived. Almost exactly a year after the Titanic sank, Margaret Hays married Dr. Charles Easton. Lady died in 1921, was cremated and interred in an upstate New York pet cemetery. Mrs. Easton died of a heart attack on board a cruise ship in Buenos Aires in 1956.

Dog and William Crothers Dulles, 39
Dulles, an attorney, was traveling alone with the dog, whose breed is not listed.  Both went down with the ship.

Great Dane and Ann Isham, 50

Ann Isham

There is some doubt about whether Ann Isham had a dog on the Titanic and, if she did, what its breed was.  What is known is that her father established a law firm with Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, in Chicago. She moved to Europe in 1903 and spent a good part of that time living with her sister Frances (Mrs Harry Shelton) in Paris.

She boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg to spend the summer with her brother Edward in New York City. She reportedly refused to get into a lifeboat without her dog.  Passengers on the German liner Bremen reported seeing a woman wearing a life jacket floating in the water with her arms around a large dog two days after the sinking. It’s not known how factual this story is.  Ms. Isham’s body was either never recovered or never identified.

Pomeranian and Elizabeth Barrett Rothschild, 54

E. Rothschild

Mrs. Rothschild and her dog were in lifeboat 6 and both survived.  This was the life boat that also carried the “unsinkable” Molly Brown, a Denver millionairess.  Mrs. Rothschild’s husband, Martin, went down with the ship. Her niece, Dorothy Rothschild, was the writer and poet later known as Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). The dog reportedly was attacked and killed by a larger dog within weeks of surviving the Titanic. However, one of Mrs. Rothschild’s descendants said the dog was hit by a streetcar.  Mrs. Rothschild herself died in 1943.