Yes, the Thayer family was represented on the S.S. TITANIC! Last school year my son came home from school and asked if I knew that there was a Thayer on the TITANIC. I had to confess that I was unaware of this. While corresponding with Patricia Thayer Muno this subject came up again. H. Hoffman Dolan of Villanova, PA, had loaned Patricia a copy of the book: “The Sinking of the S.S. TITANIC” written by his uncle John Borland Thayer Jr. who survived the sinking. I was asked to write an article for this newsletter about our cousins on the TITANIC.
John Borland Thayer Jr., the fourth to bear that name, wrote his account of the sinking of the TITANIC in a 30 page booklet that was published in 1940, 28 years after the sinking. “Jack” as he was called, dedicated his book to the memory of his father.
Jack starts his book with a preface explaining the mood of the times in 1912. Jack felt his life was planned out for him, even at his age of 17 years. The world was a known quantity and mankind felt that things were under their control. Jack felt the TITANIC disaster woke up the world to a new reality. Jack admits in the preface that every survivor of such a catastrophe may tell a different story, and only through our collective knowledge may we understand the truth.
In researching this article I corresponded with Mr. Edward S. Kamuda, President of the TITANIC HISTORICAL SOCIETY, who wrote of Jack; “How ironic that his sketch was scoffed at for many years and when Dr. Ballard found the wreck, Mr. Thayer’s sketch suddenly became so real!” It seems that Jack had made sketches of the sinking ship the day of the disaster which show the TITANICbroken in two pieces. It was only with the discovery and photography of the wreck in September of 1985 that we know this to be true. The 1974 publication of Jack Thayer’s book includes these sketches and pictures of Jack and his parents. A copy of this edition and a picture of Jack was given to me by Mr. Edward S. Kamuda.
Jack does not tell us in the book why his family is on the TITANIC, only that he boarded with his family in Southampton. The party consisted of Jack, his father, his mother, Marian Longstreth Morris Thayer, and his mothers maid, Margaret Flemming. Although Jack does not say his family is affluent it appears to be true. John Borland Thayer Sr. is Second Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. On this crossing he secured 2 first-class staterooms for his family. Jack had a stateroom for himself. Jack states that as a lad of 17 he was “all over the ship.”
John Borland Thayer Jr. “Jack”
Jack reports the trip started with a startling incident. As the TITANIC passed the S.S. OCEANIC which was moored to another ship, the suction of the screws of the TITANICbroke the moorings of the OCEANIC. The stern of the OCEANIC swung out into the channel and came within a “yard or two” of striking theTITANIC. Jack remarked; “This narrowly averted collision was considered an ill-omen by all those accustomed to the sea.”
Jack spent several days sailing and dinning in luxury. He mentions the names of several prominent families with whom he and his family conversed. On the night of Sunday, April 14th, Jack dinned alone. He was joined after dinner by Milton C. Long who introduced himself to Jack. They talked for about an hour when Jack decided to turn in for the night. After saying goodnight to his parents Jack dressed for bed and was winding his watch, it was 11:45 PM. Just as Jack was about to step into bed he swayed slightly and realized the ship had swayed to port. The ships engines stopped and voices and running feet could be heard on deck. Jack called to his father that he was going up on deck to see the “fun”. His father replied he would dress and come up also.
Jack was joined on deck by his father. Although no iceberg was visible they were informed the ship had hit one. After some milling about on deck Jack and his father came in from the cold and met Mr. Thomas Andrews, one of the ships designers, who told them he did not give the ship much over a hour to live. Jack remarked of Mr. Andrews; “No one was better qualified to know.”
At 12:15 AM the stewards passed the word for everyone to go below and dress in warm clothing and life preservers. Jack and his father went below to find his Mother and her maid fully dressed. They hurried up to the lounge on “A” deck which was becoming crowded. Jack’s new friend Milton Long appeared and asked to join the Thayers.
At 12:45 AM the noise on deck was terrific. The now idle boilers were blowing off excess steam through relief valves and the crew was launching distress rockets. The word was passed for women and children to board lifeboats on the port side. The Thayer party proceeded to “B” deck on the port side of the ship. Jack and Milton Long were separated from the rest of the party and they moved to the starboard side of the ship to collect themselves and decide what to do.
At 1:45 AM the ship was down at the head and the bow covered with water. Jack and Milton watched as the last boats were loaded. It was a confusing scene and Jack decided against trying for a lifeboat. They witnessed few cowardly and many heroic events. Milton talked Jack out of trying to swim to a half-full lifeboat. Jack later realized the water temperature was 28 degrees and most deaths occurred from the cold and not from drowning.
Jack and Milton did their best to stay away from the crowd of men, hoping to jump clear of the ship and swim away from the suction of the ship sinking. When they finally jumped they were only 12 or 15 feet above the water. Milton was sucked into a deck below, Jack was pushed clear of the sinking ship. Jack’s watch stopped at 2:22 AM.
Jack was struggling and freezing in the water but rather than swim away he turned to watch the ship break up and sink. He saw the second funnel break loose and fall in the water in front of him, sucking him underwater. Jack would later learn that his father was last seen standing under this second funnel. It is speculated that John Borland Thayer Sr. was struck and killed by the second funnel of the ship. When Jack came back to the surface he found himself next to a collapsible lifeboat which was floating upside-down with several men already on board. Jack was assisted on this lifeboat which would eventually hold 28 men until rescued.
Jack tells of a harrowing night spent motionless on that capsized lifeboat, afraid of slipping into the icy cold water. At 6:30 AM daylight allowed the huddled mass on this boat to untangle themselves and assess their situation. With the aid of a whistle they were able to summon other lifeboats to come to their aid. Two lifeboats from the TITANIC took these 28 men off their precarious perch which unquestionably saved their lives. Jack’s own mother was manning an oar in one of these boats.
At 7:30 AM Jack was aboard the CARPATHIA. He met his mother at the top of they ladder. While they both rejoiced at their survival, they grieved the loss of John Borland Thayer Sr. Jack was given a cup of brandy, the first alcohol he had in his life, and after a nap until noon he woke up feeling “fit and well, just as though nothing had happened.”
I have often wondered how I would behave under such life threatening circumstances. Having never been tested I can only hope that I would perform as bravely as the men on the TITANIC who loaded women and children in to lifeboats and remained on board to face the cold sea. We now know that two of our family behaved honorably, one giving his life.
There will never be an end to this story. The sinking of the TITANIC was a disaster that will never be forgotten. As far as our technology takes us there are lessons to be learned from the TITANIC. We only have to think back to 1986 and the space shuttle CHALLENGER to be reminded of the results of our complacence with technology. —-Richard A. Thayer, Editor. © Copyright Thayer Families Association, all rights reserved.
Copies of The Sinking of the Titanic, Model: 1ST04 can be ordered for $14.95, plus shipping, from: The Titanic Historical Society P.O. Box 51053, Indian Orchard, MA 0115-0053. A YouTube video can be found here.