The Sinking of the Titanic: A St. Louis Connection

11, April 2012
 Reproduction of poster announcing <em />Titanic sailing, from exhibition in Memphis in 1997.  Reproduction of poster announcing the Titanic's sailing, from a 1997 exhibit in Memphis. Courtesy of Ellen Thomasson.

Over a hundred years ago, late in the evening of April 14, 1912, the supposedly unsinkable ocean liner known as the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. She sank within a few hours, in the early morning of April 15. St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Carlos F. Hurd and his wife, Katherine, had just embarked on a European vacation aboard the RMS Carpathia, which came to the rescue of the passengers who had safely evacuated the doomed Titanic and were adrift in lifeboats. Hurd recognized that he was about to get the newspaper scoop of his life. But he had to outwit the captain of the Carpathia, who was intent on keeping news of the disaster a secret. Fearing bad publicity for the shipping industry, the captain had refused to allow Hurd to use the ship’s telegraph and confiscated stationery from the ship’s staterooms.

Stationery from the <em />Titanic.Piece of stationery from the Titanic, given to Carlos and Katherine Hurd by rescued passengers. Missouri History Museum.

While aboard the Carpathia, Carlos and Katherine Hurd interviewed Titanic survivors. They used whatever scraps of paper they could find, including toilet paper, to write down their notes. When the rerouted ship approached New York Harbor, Hurd wrapped the manuscript in waterproof paper and champagne corks. Eluding the crew members who tried to restrain him, Hurd tossed the package to someone on a waiting lifeboat. His 5,000-word story, the first complete account of the event, ensured his place in newspaper history. 

Hurd's daughter, Frances Hurd Stadler, a longtime librarian at the Missouri History Museum, donated her collection of Titanic memorabilia to the Museum in 1998. I got to know Frances Stadler after her retirement from the Museum. Our head librarian, Emily Jaycox; our former registrar, Marie Schmitz; and I would get together with Stadler for lunch occasionally and enjoyed exchanging information about the Museum’s past and present. After she suffered a stroke, we brought lunch to her house, continuing the lunch tradition until she passed away in 2000.

—Anne Woodhouse, Curator of Domestic Life

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