Medieval Execution

 

This has been on my list of possible topics for a while now, and at least three readers have asked me to write a posting about it…so here goes…

In the Medieval period, from 1066-1500s, most countries were ruled by monarchies. Kings, queens and princes. Medieval times were dangerous times to be alive and with religious persecution happening on almost a daily basis, with different kings wanting their religion to be the one which everyone followed, it’s not surprising to know that kings were willing to go to great lengths to see their decrees, commands and orders, carried out. Social discipline in the Medieval period was strict, and any disruption to social order was severely punished, as were any crimes committed against the people or even worse…against the monarchy! What were some of the more infamous forms of punishment, torture and execution that were used throughout the Medieval Period? This article will cover ‘execution’. Subsequent articles will cover torture and punishment.

Execution.

Burning at the Stake.

Popularly associated with the crime of witchcraft, burning at the stake involved strapping the victim (a woman), to a wooden post in a public place (such as a town square), and surrounding that post with logs and faggots. Before you get antsy, a ‘faggot’ is a unit of measure meaning a bunch of sticks. The faggots and logs were then lit and the victim was sent to her fate. How was it done and how did the person die?

Upon being found guilty of witchcraft, the woman would be walked up the pile of wood and would be tied to the stake at the top in such a way that they would not be able to move. The executioner then used a burning torch to light the faggots at the bottom of the pile of wood and then stepped back to watch his handiwork. Despite what you might believe, most victims of burning did not actually die of burning. Most would have died of smoke inhalation long before they actually ever caught fire. However, on some occasions, when smoke inhalation didn’t kill the victim, she would be tied to the stake until her clothes, and later, her flesh, started to burn, literally killing her by burning her alive, at the stake.

Beheading

Beheading, or death by decapitation, was how most noble people were executed if they were found to have committed a crime. Beheading was quick, relatively clean and a great spectator…ehm…event. The job of beheading the victim came to the executioner, in this case, commonly called the ‘headsman’, for obvious reasons. A noble who was accused of treason (crimes against the king or country) was usually executed through beheading. It was done like this:

The condemned man (or woman) was allowed to say a few words before death. He or she would then get on their knees and rest their head on the chopping-block, face down. A priest might say a short prayer, and then the headsman would do the deed. Despite what you may think, it actually takes a considerable amount of strength to decapitate someone. If the headsman was particularly strong or if the axe was very sharp or heavy, he might be able to lob off the head in one, clean blow. However, this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes it could take two, three or even four blows of the axe to decapitate someone and kill them. Even then, if the head didn’t fall right off, you’d have to take out a knife (called a ‘slitting knife’) to cut away the leftover skin and muscle so that the head came away completely. While this was going on, blood would be pumping out of the neck and saturating the execution-platform in blood, making the entire place wet and slippery.

Having decapitated the victim, the executioner then held up the head, and would call out to the crowd: “Behold the head of a traitor!”, as a warning to anyone else who dared to incur the king’s wrath.

Once the head was lobbed off and held up to the crowd, it would then have to be boiled with herbs and spices…not to eat it…but to preserve it! This was because once the head was off, it was shoved onto a spike and propped up on a wall or bridge or some other prominent place, for public display. The headsman certainly didn’t have an easy life. Usually, headsmen were big, beefy fellows with black masks or hoods over their faces. This was to protect their identity from people who might resent having the condemned lose their heads. Once the ordeal was over, however, the headsman did get to keep any clothes that the deceased had. And before the deed was done, he might even get a fat tip from the condemned nobleman, who wanted a quick, clean (so to speak), job.

Hanging.

Although still in common practice today in some countries, hanging was the standard execution for most capital crimes such as murder or rape (then called something pretty and euphamistic like ‘unlawful carnal knowledge’). Hanging involved a scaffold (called a ‘gallows’) and a length of rope, done up in a distinctive ‘noose’ knot. Everyone thinks hanging is simple – you tie a rope around the guy’s neck and let him dangle, but there was actually a fair bit of skill to making someone cark it through hanging. Factors influencing how the hanging was to be done included the weight of the victim, the type of neck he or she had, the type and length of rope and the length of the drop. The ‘drop’ is the distance between the victim and the ground. But casting aside all the technical tiddlybits, this is how it was done:

The noose was put over the victim’s neck and done up nice and tight, with the knot draped over one of his or her shoulders. The victim was allowed to say a few last words, and then a lever was pulled. The lever opened a trapdoor under the victim’s feet. their own body-weight sent them down, the noose tightened…and the job was done. Despite what you might see in movies, the point of hanging was not actually to strangle the victim. If a condemned prisoner was strangled from the hanging, it was considered a botched job. The point of a successful hanging was to actually break the neck. Since it’s harder to break someone’s neck than it is to strangle them, you can now kinda see why it was such a technical job, involving weights, distances, neck-thicknesses, lengths of rope and all that other stuff.

The Brazen Bull

One of the lesser-known methods of execution. And probably just as well. The Brazen Bull was invented in ancient times, and it worked by throwing the victim into a hollow statue of a bull made of brass (hence the name). Once the victim was inside, the door at the top of the bull was locked and a fire was lit under the bull’s belly. The metal absorbed the heat and the inside of the bull soon became absolutely roasting hot. As the victim screamed, his voice would come out of the bull’s mouth, making it sound like a bull’s bellowing. Eventually the heat got so extreme that the victim was literally cooked to death.

Impalement

Impalement is best known today due to the actions of a certain, 15th century nobleman known today by the various names of…Vlad Tepeche…Vlad the Impaler…or…Vlad Dracula. Vlad Tepeche or Vlad Dracula (‘Dracul’ = Dragon. ‘Dracula’ = Son of the Dragon) was a Wallachian nobleman who was infamous for killing anyone and everyone who stood in his way, by his favoured method of execution – impalement, from which he recieved his epithet – Vlad the Impaler.

Impalement was barbaric at the very least, but Vlad didn’t care. He impaled thousands of his own people – Men, women and children, for the pettiest of crimes. Usually, the sharpened, wooden stake was driven through the victim’s abdomen and he or she was then hoisted up and put up in the air, being left to slowly bleed to death. Even worse was that sometimes, the stake was inserted up the anus, to come out the mouth. Either way, it was a very slow way to die. The stakes were cut so that the victim didn’t die immediately from shock. Instead, they’d die from a combination of starvation, blood-loss and exposure in an execution that could take hours…days…even weeks. It’s probably not surprising to know that Vlad Tepeche was universally hated. In the end, he was captured by frustrated Wallachians who had had enough of him, and he was dispatched from our world as he had done with so many others – by impalement.

Hanging, Drawing and Quartering.

The ultimate medieval execution. And for good reason, too, when you find out just what it involves. Hanging, drawing and quartering was the punishment used for those people who had committed the crime of High Treason, meaning a crime against the country, or even worse…against the reigning monarch. Elizabeth I of England wrote down once, specifically what hanging, drawing and quartering meant…those with weak stomachs, or who have just finished a significant meal…click to another web-page now.

The victim was first hung, much like how everyone else was hung (see above), only in this instance, the goal of the hanging was not to break the victim’s neck, but rather to bring on unconsciousness through lack of oxygen. Once this was achieved, the victim was cut down and then came the next stage.

To be drawn. According to historical records, to be ‘drawn’ meant to have your abdomen literally drawn open, like a zip-fastener. The executioner took out a knife and opened you up from the ribcage down to the bellybutton. Your intestines were heaved out and burned on a brazier. Your genitals were removed and also burned. Your heart (still beating), was cut out of your body and held up, and the executioner would say: “Behold the heart of a traitor!”

By this time, you’re probably dead (remember, you’re awake during all this). Once you were dead, your body was quartered.

Quartering meant decapitation, followed by chopping off your limbs (arms and legs), so that you made up four ‘quarters’. These would then be posted around the community so that everyone could see you (or…part of you), and know what you had done.

Despite how horrific hanging, drawing and quartering was, it was an accepted part of life in the United Kingdom for centuries, and at least from the 1500s to the 1700s. Samuel Pepys, the famous 17th century London diarist, wrote of such an execution in his personal diary:

    “I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy.”

Samuel Pepys.
Diary, Saturday, Oct. 13th, 1660.

Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Sealing Wax and other Fancy Stuff

 

I’ll wager most of you have heard of the phrase: ‘Signed, sealed and delivered’, yes? Meaning that something is finished, over and done with and out of your hair? Completed and a load off your chest? The ‘signed’ and ‘delivered’ parts are obvious. A signed document which was delivered safely to its intended location. But what of ‘sealed’?

I wasn’t able to track down the history of this phrase, but I’d guess that it goes back centuries, back to when seals and sealing-wax and sealing-stamps were still mandatory desktop accessories, much like the inkwell, blotting paper or ponce-pot. Seals were common fixtures to documents or parcels from their creation, centuries ago, right up into the 19th century, when they slowly died out.

What is a Seal and why were they used?

A seal is either a mark of authority or, more commonly, a mark of identification and an anti-tampering device. Usually, a seal is your coat of arms or, if you did not have a coat of arms, then your seal was your monogram (initials). The reason seals were created was to protect important documents or packages from being tampered with and to provide evidence to the recipient of said document, if it had. To understand why seals existed, you have to understand that until fairly recently, the modern postal system as we know it, simply did not exist. Back in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, if you had to send a letter or an important document to a friend who lived several miles away, the only way to do it was to entrust your important letter or document to a messenger, who would be paid to deliver the message on horseback.

If the document was very important or private in nature, there might be people out there who would not want the document to reach its intended recipient, or, they might want to find out the contents of the document before the recipient had a chance to open it himself. Another possibility is that the messenger himself might want to know the contents of your document and might ride off with it or deliver it to an anauthorised third party.

Given all these security risks, letter-writers who needed or wanted to keep the contents of their letters and documents secret, and between themselves and their correpondents, would put wax seals on their documents before sending them off to be delivered. The seals were always placed on the document in such a manner that it would be impossible to read the document, without first breaking the seal. Usually, the seal was done on a fold in the paper, on the flap of an envelope or over a bow or ribbon tied around a package. Traditional sealing-wax is very dry and brittle. Once the seal is made and set hard, it cannot be removed without breaking it to pieces. Recieving a letter or other document with the seal broken would mean that someone had read the contents before you had.

Simply gluing or licking an envelope-flap shut was not considered security enough back in the 16 and 1700s. Envelope-flaps can be eased open with a bit of hot steam from a boiling kettle and the document can be opened and then just as easily, reglued shut again, and the recipient would be none the wiser. And you can steam an envelope open – I’ve done it myself – and when you see how easy it is to do, you’ll understand why people used seals instead.

How a Seal is Made

Seals are pretty things, aren’t they? Well…they are, if you know how to make one properly. It can be a bit tricky, as it involves molten wax, an open flame and a sealing-device. The last thing you want is your precious will, house-deed or letter containing your secret plans, to go up in flames! So, how is it done?

Well first, with great care.

1. Having finished writing and signing your document, you folded it up in such a way that once folded, a central flap was created in the middle of the folded piece of paper, for example, by folding the bottom of the letter up 1/3 of the way and folding the top of the letter down 1/3 of the way, so that they met neatly in the middle of the sheet.

2. Once the paper is folded and you’re satisfied it’s not going to move, you got out a stick of sealing-wax, of a colour of your choice. Stereotypically, sealing-wax is always red, but any number of colours can be used. You hold the stick of wax over the centre of your document, where the two edges of the paper meet and then you start to melt the wax.

3. Melting the wax is a tricky process that requires some practice. Using either a candle, a cigarette lighter or matches (at least six), you apply an open flame to the tip of the wax-stick so that the wax heats up until it’s in a liquid state. The wax will now drip onto the paper. Since sealing-wax is rather dry, this can take a while to happen…be patient. Some sticks of wax come with a wick inside them, like a candle. If that’s the case, you can just light the stick like an ordinary candle and tip it upside down to let the wax drip onto the paper.


Sticks of sealing-wax with a pair of stamps and seals.

4. Once a suitable amount of wax has dripped onto the paper, roll the stick of wax around in your fingers (to prevent any stray drippings of wax from falling onto the paper), blow out, or put away your flame and pick up your sealing-device. Do not apply the device directly to the wax after melting it! In its current state, it’s still far too liquid in consistency, and all you’ll get is a big, fat nasty waxy smudge.

5. When the wax starts solidifying, press your sealing-device firmly and evenly into the middle of your pool of wax. Then, slowly lift it up, off the wax. If you’ve done it correctly, you should now have a nice, neat, wax seal.

6. If you’re doing more than one seal, be sure to clean the base of your sealing-device before using it again. This can be done by wiping it down with water to clear away any wax or oil that might have stuck to the underside of your sealing-device.

What can you use to make a seal?

These days, people use coins or other, highly-decorative items to be pressed into sealig-wax to create seals. Coins are popular because they have the heads of monarchs, or national coats of arms or emblems on them. But what did people use traditionally?

Back in the days when you had to have a seal on your letter for security reasons, you most likely had your own sealing-stamp. A sealing-stamp is a stamp with your coat of arms or your monogram engraved in reverse, on the bottom of the stamp so that when it was pressed into the wax, it left a clear impression of your coat of arms or your initials.


A sealing-stamp with the letter ‘A’ engraved in its base.

The other common sealing-device was your signet-ring. ‘Signet’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘sign’, from which we also get the word ‘signature’. So it was literally your ‘signature-ring’, the device you used to sign all your important documents. Not many people wear signet-rings anymore, but they used to be very common. A signet-ring is basically a portable sealing-stamp. Such rings were large, and had your coat of arms or your monogram engraved on the top. To use your ring, you removed it from your finger and pressed it into the wax, much like the sealing-stamp. Some rings were specially made so that you could press the ring into the wax without having to remove it from your hand, and without fear of getting hot wax on your fingers.


A gold signet-ring with the family crest and motto engraved in it in reverse, so that it comes out, right-way-around when pressed into a pool of wax.

Once the seal was made and imprinted, it dried hard and brittle and it would keep the letter or document closed and would provide clear evidence to the recipient if the document had been opened prior to reaching him, due to the fact that once a seal is broken, it is impossible to put it back together. A new one has to be made, with the same sealing-device. Since the unintended recipient probably didn’t have this device with him, tampering of a document was immediately obvious.

“Avoiding it like the Plague: The Horrors of the Black Death”

 

Swine Flu, Bird Flu, Flu-Flu, Spanish Flu, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Typhus, Consumption and Polio. All famous diseases, and all, in their respective eras, the unseen terrors of mankind. In the 21st Century, it’s swine flu and bird flu. In 1918, it was the dreaded ‘Spanish Flu’. In 1793, it was Yellow Fever and in the 1930s, it was Polio. But these, now largely treatable and preventable diseases, pale in comparison to the Granddaddy of all sicknesses, the very name of which, brave people dared not to speak. They called it ‘the pestilence’, ‘the sickenesse’ (original, 17th century spelling), ‘the plague’ and ‘The Black Death’.

Known to modern, medical science by the name ‘Yersinia Pestis’, Bubonic Plague, often shortened to ‘the plague’ or ‘the Black Death’, was one of the most feared diseases for hundreds and hundreds of years. From as far back as the 14th century, people lived in horror of another, unannounced and unstoppable outbreak of a disease so lethal, it could kill within hours. Such was the Plague’s ferocity and fear-factor that even today, a phrase which has its origins from over 700 years ago, still lingers in the English language today: “To avoid it like the Plague”.

The History of the Black Death.

The Black Death has been known to mankind for centuries. The most famous outbreak of the Black Death started in the 1340s, not ending until 1350. Over the course of three years, the dreaded ‘Plague’ killed as much as two thirds of the people of Europe, in some cases, killing every single person in a given community. But where did it come from?

The pandemic of 1347 is widely believed to have started in Asia, possibly China or Hong Kong. The plague bacterium, living in infected fleas which lived on rats, crossed the seven seas on ships which sailed from Asia to Europe, trading goods such as precious metals, cloth and spices. When the ships docked in Italy and Greece, they were ordered to be quarantined, when it was seen, what terrible health the ship’s crews were in, but it was too late. Rats onboard the plague ships scampered onto European shores, along the mooring-ropes of the ships, tied up in the harbour. Once with a toe-hold in Mediterranian Europe, the plague was unstoppable.

Such was the plague’s ferocity, that until fairly recently, it never fully went away. The worst years were from 1347-1350, but the plague came back again in the mid 1400s and almost every successive generation since. In 1665 it returned again, devastating several major cities in England, especially London, killing up to 100,000 Londoners, roughly 1/3 of the city’s population at the time.

It wasn’t until the 19th century, with improved hygeine, that the plague, in urban areas, at least, started to disappear. Eventually, the link with rats was established, and rat-catchers could make big bucks sweeping through houses and catching rats and killing them. But until modern antibiotics, the plague had a mortality rate in the high ninties for every outbreak that occurred.

What is the Plague?

The plague is a bacterial infection. The bacterium known as ‘Yersinia Pestis’ lives in the fleas on rats. When the rat dies, the flea has to find a new host-body. If it was a human, then the flea would bite the human, vomiting infected blood (previously from the rat), into the human’s bloodstream. There were two forms of the plague, the more famous ‘Bubonic Plague’, and the less well-known ‘Pneumonic Plague’, both of which are lethal. After being bitten by the flea, nfection follows very quickly. If I were to describe the symptoms of the plague in one word, it would be: “Horrific”.

And they were.

The Symptoms.

Once bitten by an infected flea, you could expect to be dizzy, faint, feverish, weak, fatigued and queasy. As the infection grew worse, large lumps filled with blood and pus would start to grow around your pelvis, armpits and neck. These were called ‘buboes’. Filled with blood and pus as they were, they turned the skin a dark red which eventually went black, which gives rise to the two names: ‘Bubonic Plague’ and ‘Black Death’. Other symptoms included uncontrollable vomiting and joint-pains.

The swellings were incredibly painful. When they burst, blood and pus went everywhere. The infection soon got even worse, though, and not long after, you’d be suffering from internal bleeding which resulted in dark bruises all over your body. When the infection reached your lungs, you coughed up pus and blood. If this was the pneumonic strain of the disease, your coughing spread the bacteria through the air, infecting anyone stupid enough to stand near to you. While in some places, it is written that you could last up to a week, in most cases, death came in a matter of hours. Usually, twenty-four hours after being bitten, you were dead. If you were really lucky, you lasted two days, but not much more beyond that.

Controlling the Plague.

In the days before hospitals, before PA announcements, the internet, modern medicine and widespread literacy, controlling the spread of the plague and enforcing the laws regarding its containment was very tricky and the methods used were very extreme. People from the 14th to the 17th centuries had almost no idea how disease was spread. Many believed it was due to ‘bad blood’ and that to cure the patient, you had to ‘bleed’ them (a practice that existed right into the dawn of the 19th century!). Bleeding involved making a cut or an incision in the arm of the patient and bleeding out a measured quantity of blood (say, two quarts), and then bandaging the arm up again. It was believed that bleeding the patient removed the ‘bad blood’ and the ‘pestilence’ from the afflicted sufferer and that this would eventually restore the balance of good blood. Unfortunately, all bleeding did was make the patient even weaker and even less able to survive. Treatments such as bleeding and the various quack medicines that people peddled to desperate plague-victims were about as effective as making a frying-pan out of tissue-paper.

What people did understand, however, was that to stop the plague from spreading, they did have to isolate it. If you isolated the sickness, it had nowhere to go, and it would eventually die out with no fresh victims. As a result, officials of all kinds, from priests to city mayors and kings and noblemen, imposed strict quarantines on their communities. Nobody was allowed to enter and nobody was allowed to leave, at least, not without written permission. The houses where plague-victims lived were invariably locked up. The doors were locked and bolted, windows shuttered and the entire house was sealed up. Everyone inside the house (the dying patient as well as his or her family!) was NOT allowed OUT and nobody apart from ‘authorised personnel’ such as plague-buriers, seekers of the dead, plague-nurses or doctors, were allowed in. Houses having the disease were marked with big, red crosses and had to be sealed up for at least two weeks. When the house was declared safe again, a large, white circle was painted around the cross, to indicate that the ‘pestilence’ had left the house. The words ‘Lord have mercy on us’ were usually written on the door as well, as a prayer for the poor souls under house-arrest.

Burying the Dead

Some of you may remember a scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, with a plague-burier going through a squalid slum in Medieval England, pushing a cart and ringing a bell, calling out the mournful words: “Bring out your dead!”, and then having the corpses of plague-victims dumped onto the cart. This isn’t just fanciful filmmaking. This is what really happened. Plague-buriers and Seekers of the Dead (old women who were paid tuppence for examining dead bodies), went through communities, ringing a bell to signal their approach, and calling out the famous, ever plague-associated catchphrase: ‘Bring out your dead!’.

The dead were usually wrapped in white shrouds (like a body-bag). Once dragged out of the house, they were dumped onto the cart and then wheeled away, often dozens of corpses at a time. Early on in the plague, you could generally get a decent burial, with a priest and a coffin and mourners…but as time went on and the plague got worse and worse, there just wasn’t time for all the pomp and ceremony. Gravediggers who dug massive holes called ‘plague pits’, would help the plague-buriers fling the bodies of the dead into the plague pits. With each layer of bodies, a bucket of crushed lime was thrown over the top, to aid in decomposition, before a layer of soil was thrown over, and then the process was repeated again, with more bodies, until you had this sort of chocolate-and-lime layer-cake of death. There are dozens, hundreds of plague-pits all over Europe and England. The locations of many are lost to history, but occasionally, construction-workers digging the foundations for new buildings or renovating existing buildings, do stumble across the dozens of skeletons of plague-victims, buried on that spot all those centuries ago.

Resistance to the Plague

Despite its incredible mortality rate (which was anywhere from 70-100%), some people actually did survive the plague, despite everyone around them dropping like flies. The most famous case of plague survival is the tiny village of Eyam in Derbyshire, England.

Eyam in Derbyshire, was struck by the Plague in the August of 1665. At the time, the English capital, London, was suffering nearly 1,000 deaths a week from Plague. The Plague came to Eyam in a cart, of all things. A delivery of cloth to the village tailor had plague-infected fleas living in it. When the tailor handled the cloth, he was bitten. Within a week, he was dead. The residents of Eyam, understandably shocked and terrified, at first thought that they should flee. Unsure of what to do, they consulted the village rector, the Reverend William Mompesson. Rev. Mompesson insisted that the best thing to do was to put the entire village on lockdown. A voluntary quarantine to prevent the disease’s spread to nearby communities.

A nearby nobleman, catching wind of the villagers’ determination to contain this most dreaded of diseases at all costs, agreed to send deliveries of food and basic medicines to the village, at great risk to his own life. The supplies were left on the outskirts of the village at nightfall and Eyam residents would go out, under cover of darkness, to retrieve them. The supplies were paid for with coins soaked in vinegar, as it was believed that vinegar (being acidic), would kill off the ‘pestilence’ and sterilise the coins, making them safe to touch by others.

The plague raged through Eyam for months on end, in some cases, killing entire households. Stories told of women such as Elizabeth Hancock, who buried her entire family of six sons and her husband, all within a week, and yet never falling sick herself. Another tale tells of another woman, driven mad by the death of her husband, who ran downstairs one evening and consumed an entire jug (or at least a great quantity) of…bacon fat! Whether or not bacon fat is a cure for the plague, I don’t know, but the story continues that she survived. The village gravedigger, despite handling and burying upwards of 250 plague-corpses, never fell ill himself.

Today, Eyam is still famous as the Plague Village, and descendants of the 1665 plague-survivors, still reside there, over 300 years after their ancestors fought and won a battle against one of the most dangerous diseases ever known to mankind. Genetic research in the village (using DNA samples from residents who can reliably trace their ancestry back to a village resident of 1665), has revealed that these villagers…and their incredibly lucky ancestors…contained a genetic mutation which gave them a natural resistance to the plague, which explains why, despite being literally surrounded by death for well over a year, they never succumbed to the diseaase themselves.

The Plague Today

Believe it or not, but the Black Death still exists today. It never really died out, it just went away, waiting to come back, unannounced, to wreak havoc on mankind yet again. The World Health Organisation still records hundreds of cases of Plague each year, but the legendary outbreaks of 1347 and 1665 are now, thankfully, little more than the texts in our history books, since with modern medicine, plague is now treatable and controllable.

“A Generall Bill for this present year, ending the 19th of December, 1665. Report made to the King’s most Excellent Majesty”.

This is the Bill of Mortality for the middle of December, 1665, in London. Down the bottom you can read the entry:

“Buried:

Males: 48,569.
Females: 48,737.
In All: 97,306.
Of the Plague: 68,596”.

Over two thirds of the burials listed were for the Black Death. The Great Plague of London did not finally end until February of 1666, by which point, 100,000 people had died.

The Sinking of the RMS Titanic (Pt. I)

 

The sinking of the RMS Titanic is one of the most famous disasters in maritime history, or indeed in world history. What made the Titanic so famous? Why was it not just lost to history like so many other maritime disasters and why does it continue to overshadow more recent or more tragic catastrophes at sea?

Probably because the events of the night of the 14th of April, 1912, were so intricately and minutely documented. Because the Titanic was a symbol of progress which literally vanished overnight. Because of the number of famous people onboard who lost their lives. Mr. and Mrs. Straus, Benjamin Guggenheim, John Jacob Astor, who were the Bill Gates’ and Donald Trumps of the the Belle Epoque.

But what really happened on the night of the 14th of April? Who lived? Who died? And what happened onboard the decks of the Titanic as people fought to survive? This posting will be an in-depth look at the events of that infamous night on the north Atlantic. All care has been made to keep this as factually accurate as possible…

Sunday, April 14th, 1912.

10:00pm.

The RMS Titanic ending the fourth day of an expected seven-day crossing to New York City from the port of Southampton, in southern England. Onboard ship, everything is calm. Officers go about their rounds, stokers shovel coal into the boilers and passengers relax in their cabins, or in the ship’s many public rooms, enjoying drinks, jazz and classical music or playing cards, before bedtime. 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller ends his watch and is replaced on the bridge by 1st Officer William McMaster Murdoch. It is freezing cold and the temperature is dropping fast. It’s already at freezing-point. 32F, or 0C. Up in the crow’s nest, lookouts Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee replace the previous two lookouts. They are warned to keep a sharp lookout for icebergs.

10:50-11:00pm.

In the ‘Marconi’ wireless radio room, head wireless-operator Jack Phillips is busy sending telegrams to the wireless land-station located in the lighthouse at Cape Race, Newfoundland, several hundred miles away. He is interrupted in his transmissions by wireless operator Cyril Evans of the S.S. Californian…

“I say old man. We are stopped and surrounded by ice”.
“Shut up, shut up, I am busy. I am working Cape Race!”

Evans, failing to properly prefix his message with the standard “MSG” (Master Service Gram, which would indicate a telegram to be sent directly to the captain), is brushed off by an overworked and frustrated Phillips. He has a massive backlog of messages to hammer out on the telegraph-key, due to the wireless-set breaking down the day before. Phillips disregards Evans’ message and continues transmitting to Cape Race. Evans shuts off his radio and goes to sleep about 11:30pm.

11:39pm.

Up in the crow’s nest, lookouts Fleet and Lee spot something large in the distance. It’s enormous, dark blue, and almost impossible to see in the moonless night. It’s an iceberg, less than half a mile away. The Titanic is steaming right for it, at nearly top speed. At 21kt (about 25mph), the Titanic would take up to 850 yards to come to a complete stop. The iceberg is barely 400 yards away. Fleet strikes the crow’s nest bell three times, to signal an obstruction in front of the ship. He picks up the telephone and contacts the bridge. 6th Officer Moody answers the call.

“What do you see?”
“Iceberg, right ahead!”
“Thank you”.

1st Officer Murdoch has already spotted the iceberg. He bellows the order “Hard a’Starboard!” into the wheelhouse. The helmsman, quartermaster Robert Hitchens, turns the wheel hard over, as far as it will possibly go. Murdoch grabs the handles of the two engine-order telegraphs and wrenches the indcator arms to the position: ‘Astern – FULL’. The bells ring and down in the engine-room, the ship’s engineers rush to engage the reversing gear. This isn’t as easy as you might think. The Titanic’s propellers must first come to a complete stop, before the gear is engaged. Steam-pressure has to be built up again before the propellers will start spinning in reverse. This interruption slows down the ship, but also makes it harder to turn. Murdoch activates the switches which close the watertight doors below deck. The ship slams into the side of the iceberg and scrapes past on the starboard side. Below the waterline, the rivets buckle and pop under the force of the impact with the iceberg. The steel, made brittle by the freezing Atlantic Ocean, opens up and water comes gushing into the Forepeak, the three forward holds and boiler room #6. Five compartments are breeched. Few passengers are awakened by the collision, which is but a barely-noticable shudder.

Murdoch then orders ‘Hard a’Port’, to swing the Titanic’s stern free of the iceberg to prevent further damage. At this point, Captain Smith comes out on deck. Murdoch explains the situation. Smith orders the engines ‘All Stop’. He orders 4th Officer Joseph Boxhall to go down below to assess any damage. Boxhall comes back up saying that nothing is wrong. Smith sends for the ship’s carpenter and for master shipwright Thomas Andrews to sound the ship (check it for damage). The water is rising very fast. Captain Smith orders the ship’s pumps to be turned on. The pumps are insufficient to cope with the amount of water pouring in, but they buy a few precious minutes of time.

Monday, April 15th, 1912.

12:15am.

By now, the water is pouring into the ship. Capt. Smith orders Jack Phillips, the wireless operator, to radio for help immediately. Phillips puts on his headphones and sends out the following message:

      “CQD DE MGY 41.44N / 50.14W”
    “Calling All Ships. Distress. This Is. Titanic. (Position).”

12:17am.

Phillips sends out another radio message. He includes the new distress-code, ‘SOS’, for the first time in his life. The Titanic was NOT the first ship to send out an SOS distress-call, however:

“CQD CQD SOS DE MGY 41.44N/50.14W”
“Calling All Ships. Distress. Calling All Ships. Distress. SOS. This is. Titanic. (Position)”.

SOS was selected as the radio distress-signal because it was easy to remember and distinctive in Morse Code. In case you ever need to use it, it is:

… – – – … (three short, three long, three short).

By now, two ships have responded. The S.S. Frankfurt and the R.M.S. Olympic, the Titanic’s sister-ship. They are 170 and 500 miles away, respectively.

12:20am.

By pure luck, Phillips manages to contact his friend and fellow wireless-operator, Harold Cottam on the R.M.S. Carpathia, eastbound out of New York City, steaming for the Mediterranean. Cottam was very nearly about to go to bed. He had put on his headphones to listen to the radio while undressing when this message came over the airwaves:

“Come at once. We have struck a ‘berg. It’s a CQD old man. Position 44:41N/50.14W”.

Stunned, Cottam radio’d back:

“I say old man. Do you know that there is a batch of messages coming through for you from MCC?”

(MCC was the callsign for the land-station at Cape Cod, Mass.).

“CQD, CQD!”
“Shall I tell my captain? Do you require assistance?”
“Yes! Come quick!”

Cottam ran out of his cabin to find 1st Officer Dean of the Carpathia. Together, they ran to find Capt. Arthur Henry Rostron. Rostron orders the ship turned around and to head northwest at full speed (17kt). He orders Cottam to send a radio-message back to the Titanic to find out as much as he can and to tell Phillips they’re coming as quickly as possible. At 58 miles away, it will take the Carpathia up to 4 hours to reach the Titanic.

At the same time, the Titanic’s lifeboats are uncovered, swung out and lowered level with the Titanic’s boat-deck. Passengers are ordered out on-deck. Capt. Smith orders “women and children first” into the lifeboats. The order “women and children first” was meant to be that women and children entered the boats first, and any remaining men were to head in afterwards to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, some officers misinterpreted the order as “women and children ONLY”, which possibly led to the needless deaths of men later on. The Titanic has 20 lifeboats – 16 wooden ones and 4 collapsable ones with canvas sides.

12:32am.

The Carpathia has turned around and is steaming towards the Titanic as fast as possible. Cottam wires back to Phillips:

“Putting about and heading for you”.

12:35am.

The first lifeboat (starboard boat #7) is loaded with people. The 65-seat boat is loaded with only 28 passengers. The order is given to lower away at 12:45, one hour and five minutes after the sinking began. Every other boat is loaded and launched thereafter, at roughly ten-minute intervals. At 12:55, the second boat (starboard #5) is lowered. 5th Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe is interrupted by the White Star Line’s managing director, Joseph Bruce Ismay, who insists that the boats must be loaded and lowered as quickly as possible. Lowe, already on-edge and irritable, loses his temper at Ismay and shouts:

“You want me to lower away quickly!? You’ll have me drown the lot of them!”

12:55am.

On the port (left) side of the Titanic, lifeboat #6 is being lowered away. It contains such notables as Fredrick Fleet, the lookout, Robert Hitchens, the quartermaster and helmsman at the time of the collision and Margret ‘Molly’ Tobin Brown, the ‘Unsinkable’ Molly Brown. Halfway down, it’s noted that there aren’t enough sailors in the boat to row it. Canadian major Arthur Peuchen, an expert yachtsman, offers his services. Lightoller, the loading-officer, looks at Peuchen a bit skeptically.

“Are you a seaman?”

      Lightoller asks.

“I’m a yachtsman”.
“Well if you’re seaman enough to go down those falls, you can go”.

Peuchen grabs hold of the falls (the ropes which lower the boat down the side of the ship) and climbs down safely into boat #6.

In the early stages of the sinking, many boats left the Titanic half-full. Passengers were unwilling to board the boats. For an explanation about why the boats were launched half-full, see “Questions and Statements about the Titanic”.

1:00am.

Lifeboat #1 (starboard) is lowered. Only twelve people occupy a boat meant to hold 40. Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, Lady Duff-Gordon, his secretary, seven crewmembers and another two first-class passengers were all that were to be loaded into this boat. For the rest of his life, Sir Cosmo would try unsuccessfully to clear his name from cowardice and accusations of bribing the members of the crew in the boat, from going back to the site of the sinking to rescue survivors in the water.

The Titanic continues to sink faster and faster. More boats are lowered with more passengers now.

1:30, 1:35am.

Lifeboats #13 & 15 (starboard) are lowered. Both of them are fully-loaded. The discharge-pipe which is forcing out water from inside the ship threatens to fill boat 13 with water. Crewmembers push the boat away from the side of the ship with their oars. When they land in the water, the discharge-water from the ship sends the boat sliding underneath boat 15. Quick thinking and a sharp knife to cut the falls prevents a disaster. Lifeboat 13 rows away just in time and boat 15 lands safely in the water alongside it.

It is now obvious that the Titanic is sinking. Passengers begin to panic. 5th Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe lowers lifeboat 14 on the port side. He fires his revolver at least three times to maintain crowd-control as angry and terrified male passengers try to swarm his already fully-loaded lifeboat.

As the night goes on, distress-rockets are fired. Phillips continues to radio desperately for help. The ship’s band, the Wallace Hartley Quintet, plays ragtime and classical music to try and calm the passengers. Mrs. Ida Straus gets into a lifeboat. When her husband tries to get in and is pushed back by the loading-officer, Mrs. Straus gets out of the boat, famously proclaiming to her husband:

“Where you go, I go”.

Mr. and Mrs. Isador Straus, owners of ‘Macy’s’ department-store in New York City, drown on the Titanic.

In the radio-room, Phillips continues to transmit Morse Code over the airwaves. His latest message:

“Women and children in the boats. Cannot last much longer”.

1:40am.

Collapsible C is lowered. White Star Line’s Joseph Bruce Ismay boards this boat, an action that will destroy his reputation for the rest of his life.

1:45am.

Two hours and five minutes after impact. Water covers the Titanic’s nameplate. It pours onto the deck and the bow plunges deeper. Water pours into the foward well-deck. Time is beginning to run out. Phillips transmits the following message to Cottam on the Carpathia:

“Come as quickly as possible, old man! Our engine-room filling up to the boilers!”

    (Captain Smith had recently informed Phillips of this fact, having gone down a few minutes before, to check on the water-level inside the ship).

The Titanic has just over half an hour left afloat. Master shipwright Thomas Andrews urges passengers to put on their lifebelts and to board the lifeboats as quickly as possible.

2:00am.

Lifeboats continue to be lowered at roughly 5-10-minute intervals. The Titanic starts a noticable list to port. The water onboard ship is causing it to lose its center of balance.

2:05am.

Collapsible D is launched from the Titanic. She is the last lifeboat to be successfully lowered. Water is pouring into the promenade area on A Deck. The ship starts sinking even faster. Soon, water makes it to the wheelhouse and the forward boat-deck. Officers begin to panic and try desperately to launch collapsible lifeboats A and B, stored upside down on the roof of the officer’s quarters. Seamen try to slide the boats down on planks propped up against the walls, but the port list makes this difficult at best. Collapsible B falls over upside down. Passengers manage to get Collapsible A upright and partially loaded. The rapidly rising water causes the boat to be flooded and it floats off with about two dozen people onboard.

2:15am.

The ship’s electrical generators are beginning to struggle. The Titanic’s electricians run around trying to stop the generators from short-circuiting from the water. Phillips continues to hammer out Morse Code messages on his now, barely-functioning wireless-set. The current is weak and his messages are garbled and broken up. He sends:

“SOS SOS CQD CQD DE MGY. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats.”

Outside, passengers climb down the empty lifeboat-falls into the water and swim for nearby lifeboats. Survivors in the boats help swimmers in and watch, horrified as the ship’s stern rises out of the water. The rudder and the three propellers are now clearly visible. Passengers who jump from the ship wearing lifebelts risk broken necks as they hit the water. Their downward momentum sends their bodies down into the water, but the boyant, cork-padded lifebelts pop upwards, hitting them on their chins, whipping their heads back and breaking their necks.

In the First-Class Smoking-Lounge, a steward escaping the rising waters, finds Mr. Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s shipwright, standing in front of the fireplace, staring at the painting over the mantelpiece, “Approach to Plymouth Harbour”. The steward asks Mr. Andrews if he’s even going to make a try for it. Andrews, who isn’t even wearing a lifebelt, probably suffering from shock and wracked by guilt, doesn’t respond. The steward flees, leaving Andrews to his fate.

2:17am.

Phillips continues to transmit. His last message:

“CQ…”

At this point, the wireless-set finally packs up. Try as he might, Philllips cannot get it to turn back on. According to Bride at the inquest, Phillips had intended to send:

“CQD DE MGY”
“Calling All Ships. Distress. This is. Titanic.

With the wireless set dead, Phillips and Bride turn to flee. They beat up a stoker who sneaks into the wireless-room, trying to steal Phillips’s lifebelt. Both men put on their belts and run out of the room. Bride helps the crew and 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller in launching Collapsible boat B. Phillips heads aft. The forward smokestack collapses into the water. It kills several struggling swimmers and it washes lifeboats A and B clear of the ship. Struggling to hold onto the slippery, overturned Collapsible B are about 30 men, a mixture of passengers and crew.

2:18am.

1st Class Passenger Jack Thayer Jnr (aged 17) and his friend, Milton Long, jump from the Titanic’s upper decks. Thayer never sees Long ever again. Jack swims through the frigid, 28F, -2.2C water until he reaches Collapsible B, which was overturned by the wash from the falling forward smokestack. He is met by wireless operator Harold Bride, who helps him aboard.

2:20am.

The lights flicker once and go out. The Titanic breaks in two, right down to the keel. The stern falls back and the bow plunges down. As the bow sinks, it pulls the stern vertical. It detataches and then sinks like a stone. The stern floats for a few seconds before finally filling with water and plunging down into the sea. The Titanic is gone. Over 1,500 passengers are still thrashing in the freezing water, begging for rescue. Most are dead within 20 minutes.

The Sinking of the RMS Titanic (Pt II)

 

Continued from Part I, above.

2:30am.

Onboard the overturned Collapsible B, 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller takes command. Spreading the men out along the overturned boat, he’s able to keep the boat from flipping over and sinking, and helps more passengers onboard. Along with the few who grabbed on when the ship sank, Lightoller is soon joined by wireless operators Phillips and Bride, 1st Class Passenger Jack Thayer Jnr, ship’s cook George Maynard and chief baker Charles Joughin. Joughin is unique amongst the passengers of the Titanic in that he entered the water completely stinking drunk. When the ship was sinking, he consumed his entire private stash of brandy and whiskey before leaving his cabin. He rode the stern of the ship down and described it as being like in an elevator. He stepped off the ship and into the water without, so he claimed, even getting his hair wet. He then swam over to Collapsible B where his colleague and friend, Maynard, held onto his hand while Joughin bobbed in the water for up to an hour before being hauled safely aboard the lifeboat when another passenger died from exposure.

A little further away, 5th Officer Lowe gathers some lifeboats together. He redistributes passengers and rows back to the site of the sinking to search for survivors. Throughout the sinking and throughout the night, roughly a dozen people are pulled out of the water. Nearly half of them later die from exposure and hypothermia. Amongst them is wireless-operator Jack Phillips.

Throughout the night, Lightoller talks to the people onboard his boat, to keep them awake. Their delicate balancing-act on the overturned Collapsible B is the only thing preventing them from all faling into the water and losing the boat for good. He asks Bride how long the Carpathia would take to arrive. Bride estimates another one hour. In lifeboat #6, QM Robert Hitchens comes under heavy criticism by the women passengers, whom he would not allow to row back to the Titanic to pick up survivors. He continues to mope and grumble throughout the night, arguing frequently with Molly Brown. At one point he even swore at her. Considering that Brown was a girl who came from a working-class background and who married into wealth, she barely batted an eyelid. Instead, she coolly replied that she would tip Hitchens out of the boat if he didn’t shut up. Hitchens sat at the back of the boat for the rest of the night, not talking to anyone.

3:30am.

The R.M.S. Carpathia reaches the exact spot given by Phillips. There’s nothing there. No boats. No ship. No bodies. Nothing. Captain Rostron, who has steamed through the night at top speed through an ice-field at great risk to his life and the lives of his passengers and crew, begins to worry. He orders distress-rockets to be fired to signal his ship’s presence and location. In the lifeboats, Titanic’s survivors notice the rockets. They burn pieces of paper and articles of clothing such as hats and scarves, to send out smoke and fire-signals to indicate their presence and position and start rowing towards the Carpathia. 4th Officer Boxhall releases a green smoke-flare to attract further attention.

4:00am.

The first lifeboat pulls up alongside the Carpathia. Carpathia’s officers and crew help survivors out of the boats with rope ladders and slings. They are served hot drinks and food and crewmembers start taking down the names of survivors.

9:00am.

The last of the Titanic’s boats has finally been offloaded. The Carpathia carries 705 survivors. She steams off to New York City. Nearby, the wireless-operator of the S.S. Californian has just woken up and radios to the Carpathia to ask if there’s anything he can do to help. Despite severe frostbite to his feet, surviving wireless-operator Harold Bride helps his colleage, Harold Cottam, in working his wireless-set, transmitting lists of survivors to New York. Joseph Bruce Ismay sends the following telegram:

    “Deeply regret advise you Titanic sank this morning after collision with iceberg, resulting in serious loss of life. Full particulars later.”

The Hospital – A Short Story

 

The Hospital

By Shahan Cheong

Manhattan, 1918.

“I’m sorry Dr. Harrison…he didn’t make it,” said the nurse.

Doctor Harrison nodded. He lit up a Camel and followed the nurse down the corridor, the grey wisps of cigarette-smoke trailing behind him.
“Where is he?” the doctor asked.
“In the mortuary…they moved him already…”
“That quick, huh…okay.”
Doctor and nurse headed down to the mortuary, taking the stairs because the lifts were too congested.
“Here he is,” she said. She pulled the man out and the doctor examined the corpse.
The corpse lying on the tray was once a man; six feet tall with brown hair, green eyes and a good physique. When age was important, he was thirty-six.
“How many does that make?” the doctor asked.
“I don’t want to know,” said the nurse.
“You don’t want to, or you just don’t?”
“Both, I suppose.”
“Hmmm…”

The body was cold. Very cold. It had been on ice, literally, for the last hour and a half. His skin was white and slightly blue-tinged. His hair was a sort of light brown now, not the dark chocolaty brown it once was. Harrison looked at the long black scar running from the man’s collarbone, down his chest to his belly-button. The scar was made of black thread, and the opening which the thread tried to hold shut had revealed to the other doctors what they all knew; that the man had been another victim of the dreaded Spanish Flu. The lungs underneath would be spongy and pus-filled. Filled with pus, with blood, with mucus. If one were to take a scalpel and slice it open, one would be overcome by the stench. This man had quite literally drowned in his own fluids.

*

“You’re not staying late AGAIN, are you?”
“Yes, I’m staying late again,” said Harrison into the phone.
“But you PROMISED! And it’s little Tony’s birthday!”
“Tell him I’ll see him later.”
“Now come on!”
“Mary I said I can’t come home! You knew I was like this when you married me. I’m a doctor, I have to go out at all kinds of hours and I have to work late!”
“But!…”

Harrison groaned. He put the earpiece back on the hook and pushed his phone away from him. This was the last thing he needed; more evidence that his marriage was going to fall apart. Of course he loved Mary, if he didn’t love her, he would never have married her, but lately things were just going downhill. The outbreak of flu had ripped his marriage apart. Spending night after night, week after week at the hospital was distancing him from his wife. He tried to show her that he loved her by doing the usual stuff; buying flowers, trying to spend evenings alone with her, trying to convince her that he wasn’t just hiding out at the hospital, but nothing worked. The last thing he needed was a divorce, with little Anthony only eight years old. Tony would tell anyone who’d listen, about how many times in the past four months that his father and mother had been fighting. It depressed everyone, and that was the last thing that a little boy had to concern himself with.

“Honey…” Mary said, “why are you doing this?”
“Relax,” Harrison said, “you were the one who was complaining I wasn’t spending any time with you…”
“But not like this, Albert!”
“Can you think of something better?”
“Well…”
“I rest my case.”

Little Tony wandered around the hospital restaurant. The kitchens were at one end, and a large pair of double-doors was at the other. In between was a jungle of tables and chairs and legs. The nurses watched as the boy wandered around, saying “hi” to the nurses and the orderlies and the other doctors. He could hear all kinds of noises; typewriters, test-tubes, sizzling and clanking from the kitchen, the squeaking of gurney-wheels from the hallway outside, the tinkling of piano-keys from the hospital restaurant as someone tried meagrely to enliven the gloomy atmosphere with music.

“Listen, this is the best I can do, okay?” Harrison hissed, “I can’t leave here and come home every night, and you know it. Now the best you can do is to try and…”
“But there are other doctors in this hospital, why can’t you work in shifts?” Mary asked.
“We do, and I got stuck on the ten-to-ten shift. I can’t help that! Besides, I’m home during the morning…”
“Barely. You wake up, you get dressed, shave, wash, have breakfast and then catch the El to work.”

Harrison sighed. This was obviously not going to work. Mary got up and took Tony by the hand.
“Come on, Tony…” she said, and led him out of the hospital.
“Is daddy okay?” he asked.
“Is anybody these days okay?” she asked, “I don’t know, Tony…I really don’t know.”

*

Dr. Harrison coughed. It’d two weeks since he’d had that disastrous conversation with Mary in the hospital restaurant, and things were only getting worse. He shivered and coughed again. The hospital was overrun by walking corpses, with nurses and doctors running after them. Soon, he would join the ranks of the living-dead, but he had no desire to leave this world coughing his lungs out. He had the flu, and he knew it. He’d had it for the last three days, and had been staying in the hospital during the night because of it. He wasn’t going to go home and endanger his family. He coughed again and his body’s gag-reflex kicked into action. Shoving away his chair, he ran to the sink and vomited violently. A sort of slimy liquid hit the white porcelain. It was off-white with specks of red. It didn’t trickle away. It sort of slithered into the hole in the middle of the sink, like a blob of misshapen jelly with grease on it’s underside. Harrison grimaced and returned to his desk. He picked up his pen and dipped it into the ink-well, finishing off what he was doing on his desk. He folded the sheet of paper and stuffed it into a drawer in his desk. The person whom it was addressed to would come along eventually and find it and read it. The last anyone heard of Dr. Harrison was a clatter, a slither of rope and a loud creaking noise…

Manhattan, 1940.

“But sir…”
“I’m sorry, Harrison, but that’s it.”
“Yes sir.”
“Listen…I know you don’t like going there, but that’s the only place I can put you right now…now go on…”
“Yes sir.”

Patrolman Tony Harrison left the precinct and headed out into the streets of Manhattan. Couples, singles and families bustled by him on the pavement, and cars growled past in the street, churning up water and splashing it up onto the sidewalk. Tony shivered and rubbed his hands together. He turned the corner, stopped, and looked around.

So this was his beat.

From six o’clock to eight o’clock pm, until such time as another beat was assigned to him, Harrison seemed doomed to walk the streets of the Upper East Side, looking for crime. At least he was in a good neighbourhood; filled with rich people and fancy shops and big-name buildings. He strolled up 5th Avenue, spinning his nightstick around in his hands. Sure, it was a richer part of town…but that only meant that there was more stuff to pinch. Tony knew from experience that pinchability did not decline just because a cop was on his beat…it just meant it happened the moment the officer had reached the end of the street and had turned the corner, by which time, a man’s shout, a woman’s scream, a gunshot or screeching tyres, would either be unheard, or heard too late for the officer to render any assistance. Tony shivered and pulled his collar up over his neck, until the stiffened edges were brushing his cheeks. His boots clunked quietly on the pavement as he kept walking. A woosh of steam from a vent in the road obscured the lights of shopfronts and streetlamps and Tony walked into it, allowing the mist to swallow him up.

Suddenly, two gunshots, a woman’s scream, the screeching of car-tyres! Wait; there’s no shouting man…Oh never mind. Tony twisted around and saw two men rush out of a shop, one of them was holding a bag. They both dived into a car and took off. A warbling, shrill “Chrrreeeeeep!” of a police-whistle floated dismally through the noisy street, drowned out by car-horns and shouting people. Another cop was running after the car. Tony pulled out his gun and fired, going for the tires. He missed, and the car ran a red light.
“Oh to hell with it!” he grumbled. Holstering his gun, he ran as fast as he could. The car skidded and crashed into a streetlamp. The two men jumped out and ran for the doors of a towering old Victorian-style building, made of a sort of light-grey stone. They kicked down the doors and rushed inside.

“Hey Tony! Come on!” the other cop shouted. Tony rushed after him, past the smashed up Ford and up the steps. On the last step, Tony tripped and fell flat on his face…

*

…He was eight years old again. The room was bright and white and airy. Ladies wearing funny white costumes and men wearing strange white suits walked back and forth, in and out. Beds on wheels were shoved from door to door and through long, never-ending corridors. A strange noise could be heard outside and the men and women in white started scurrying like ants. Tony got up and turned around. The street was filled with people walking, horses and carts, hansom cabs, Model-T Fords and curious vans which let out a curious wailing noise. Tony turned around again and blinked…

*

“What the hell is wrong with me?” he grumbled. The room was dark. Behind him, the doors had swung shut again. He got up and started walking around. He pulled out his flashlight and turned it on.
“Tony!”
Tony stopped and looked around.
“Tony! There you are, come on, I think they went this way,” said the other cop.
“Jesus Mike, where’d you get to?” Tony asked.
“I ran ahead, then I saw you weren’t behind me. They have to be here somewhere.”

Together, the two men kept walking, their shoes making soft thudding noises on the dusty old linoleum flooring. Suddenly…a clatter, a quickly stifled profanity and Tony and Mike shrank back, turning off their light.

A door to their left burst open and two men rushed out, firing blindly to their right. Tony and Mike threw themselves against the walls and then took off after them. Michael fired up the stairwell. The gunshots and the ‘ping’ of spent slugs bounced off the walls and clattered down the stairs with a soft ‘drrrrrr…plink!’
“Shit!” he groaned, “come on…they can’t get far. This place doesn’t have any working elevators.”

Together, the two brave upholders of the law made their way up the stairs. The two-man stampede that had gone before them had kicked up a whole heap of dust, which now hung in the air like cigar-smoke. Tony sneezed…

*

“Daddy?”

Everything looked so much bigger. When you’re barely five feet tall, things get like that. Tony looked around and his mouth dropped open. Those men and women in white were back again! And those strange beds on wheels lined the sides of the corridor. A body lay on each one of these moveable beds, evidenced by flapping gowns or the odd listless limb dangling over the side. The smell was strong and sort of musty. Not the dusty sort of smell…but the sort of stale, and yet fresh smell…of antiseptic sprays. Here and there, women and men dressed in…clothes…were standing over the beds, crying, holding onto handkerchiefs, hands, or the frame of a door, to stop themselves from falling over. Tony shuddered. The stench of death hung in the air like bubbles did over the bathtub. It lingered, it floated, it came and went. When it was gone, you could smell the refreshing, sweet smell of scented soap and bath-oils. When death was gone, you could smell the stench of rotting that it had left behind.
“Tony?”
“Daddy…” Tony said. He looked around. He saw another man, this one was wearing a dark suit. He was looking around.
“Tony…are you alright?”

*

“Huh?”
“You look a little queasy…are you allergic to dust or something?” Michael asked.
“No no…I’m fine…” Tony sneezed loudly.
“So where are those guys?” Tony asked.
“I dunno, they’re running everywhere, now come on, we need to stick together, this place is huge and I don’t want to get lost.”

Together, the two officers scanned the first floor. Nothing. Footprints in the dust told them where the men had gone, though. Slowly, the progressed further up.

‘Click’.

“Oh fuck!” Michael screamed. He ducked and the bullet missed him by inches! He reached around the corner of the corridor and grabbed the man by the hand. Together, criminal and cop wrestled for the gun. Tony pulled out his revolver and aimed it. He fired and missed. Michael grunted and shoved the crook against the wall. He unclipped his handcuffs from around his belt and was about to lock the man up when he jabbed his elbow into Michael’s stomach, he reeled back. The crook twisted around and raised his gun but Tony beat him to it. He emptied the remaining three bullets into the man’s chest and watched as he collapsed to the ground. The sound of the man’s automatic pistol clattering on the ground reverberated off the walls.
“You alright?” Tony asked. Michael nodded. He picked up his handcuffs and put them back on his belt.
“What a mess…” said Michael.
“Don’t worry,” said Tony, “the proper place for him is downstairs. It won’t be hard to get him there.”
“There’s only…”
“Two more floors,” Tony said. “The other guy has to be on one of them.”
“Okay…You lead the way.”
“With no ammo, are you crazy? You go first!”
“Fine…give me the light.”

Handing Michael the torch, the two men headed upstairs again. Tony rolled the cylinder of his service-revolver out, picked out the empty cartridges and tossed them into an old fire-bucket. He reloaded the gun and put it back into it’s holster.

A muffled clicking noise fell upon Tony’s ears. He put his finger to his lips and pointed to a trail of footprints. Michael nodded. Tony followed the trail. They turned right, off the corridor, and through a pair of double-doors. Tony stepped in and looked around.
He gasped and struggled. The second crim had been hiding behind the door and had wrapped an old blind-cord around Tony’s throat. Tony smashed his gun-butt into the man’s face about three of four times. His attacker howled in pain and Tony and Michael tackled the man to the ground and handcuffed him. Michael opened the bag. Five-hundred dollars in cash and a small selection of jewellery; what a haul. Michael snapped the bag shut and led the man downstairs.
“Aren’t you coming, Tony?” Michael asked.
“Later…” Tony said. Michael took the man downstairs.

Tony rubbed his neck. It was like having a sore-throat all over the outside of your neck, instead of inside it. After rolling his head around a bit to loosen up his muscles, Tony walked slowly around the room. He stopped a rectangular shaped object, covered in a white cloth. Tony felt it, and tapped it. He pulled the cloth off, and sat down.
The piano hadn’t been moved in nearly thirty years. Tony opened the lid and looked at it. Glistening ivory keys looked up at him. The untarnished name of the maker was still visible on the lid – ‘Steinway & Sons’.

Tony sighed. He needed to relax after all that running and punching and shooting. He started to play.
The music was beautiful, but the instrument making it…well that was another story. The piano sounded out-of-tune, with crisp, metallic-sounding notes, which warbled and echoed and wavered in and out of tune. Bouncing hammers made strings vibrate for longer, or shorter than they were supposed to, but to Tony, it sounded wonderful.

“I didn’t know you could play the piano,” said Michael.
“That’s because you never visit my house,” Tony said. He stopped, closed the lid and then got up. “My mother sold our piano last week, though. Old grand piano, no room in the house for it.”
“Yeah…” said Michael. “Tony, are you alright? You’ve been acting really weirdly since we came in here.”

Tony sighed.
“This place used to be a hospital,” he said. “My dad used to work here when I was a kid…and he…did away with himself here…”
“Oh,” said Michael, now wishing he hadn’t asked.
“No, it’s alright…” Tony said. “He hung himself. We don’t know why. I think it was because his marriage to my mother fell apart. They had a great marriage, loved each other a lot…but when the flu came, their relationship went. And things just spiralled downhill…My mother still thinks that my dad killed himself because she wasn’t being understanding of him. She still thinks that perhaps if she’d seen it from her husband’s point of view and backed off, then he might still be alive.”

Michael nodded. “sounds…weird.”
“Yeah…” said Tony. The two men found themselves walking around the hospital. They reached the end of the corridor and they headed upstairs. Tony walked to the end of a corridor and opened a door.

*

“Daddy!”
Tony cried. The corpse hung from the pipe running through the ceiling of the office. The policemen hurried Tony and his mother away. The officers went inside and closed the door. They had to cut the body down.

*

Tony leaned against the doorframe.
“They didn’t find anything. They didn’t find a note, he didn’t tell anyone. My mother still thinks that she drove him to suicide. I think it was because I was so young. She wanted him around for my sake…but he just couldn’t do it, and all the stress drove him nuts.”
Michael sighed. “Come on…”

Tony stepped into the office. The furniture was still there.

“They locked this place up after the flu pandemic was over. They left everything where it was. A doctor killing himself in his own office at the hospital isn’t really good publicity.” Tony said. He chuckled. “His desk is still here.”

Tony opened the drawers and continued talking.

“They cleared out all the people…all the stuff they needed, all the papers…and just left the furniture.”
“Why hasn’t this place been pulled down?” Michael asked.
“It’s protected.” Tony said, “It’s a historical building. So they just left all the furniture here.”

Tony reached into the drawers of the desk, as if he was supposed to find some sort of treasure.

“Tony?” Michael asked. Tony held a piece of yellowed notepaper in his hand. Slowly, he unfolded it. Written in a shaky hand, with an old nib-pen, was a note.

“Saturday, 15th of October, 1918.

I leave this where someone might chance to find it someday, and read it.

The toll is too much. I am both mentally and physically exhausted, after just a few months. Bodies stack up like firewood and there are not enough crematoriums to burn them all. For weeks I have tried to heal the sick, bury the dead and distance the healthy from those that are sick. This disease is incurable and I have myself succumbed to it. Coughing up pus and blood and having extreme difficulty breathing, I have decided to end my life now, quickly and in relatively less pain, than those whom I tried to save.

Dr. Albert Harrison. MD. Bach. Med. Bach. Surg.

I have, and always will love my darling wife, Mary, who wished to have me away from this place of death. Remember me always, and hope that our son will not follow in my footsteps, down the path that he has wanted to walk ever since he could get on two feet and not fall over again. Take care and remember that your father loved you. Goodbye Anthony.”

Tony shuddered.
“What’s the matter?” Michael asked.
“Nothing…let’s get out of here.”

Tony folded the message into his wallet and the two friends left. Tony was given the opportunity to patrol another beat after that, but decided not to change. He didn’t have to be afraid of the building where his dad had killed himself. He didn’t have to worry about him or his mother thinking that through their own actions, or in Tony’s case, through his very existence, they had caused Dr. Albert Harrison to kick the chair and take his own life.

*

“So that’s it?” Mary asked.
Tony nodded, “that was it, ma,” he said. Mary sighed. “Thank God for that…” she said. The old woman got up and opened a cabinet. She pulled out an empty picture-frame, framed the note, and then put it on the mantelpiece, to stand as a constant reminder that she needn’t feel guilty anymore.

Questions and Statements about the Titanic’s Sinking.

 

Just as the Titanic has its legions of fans, affectionately known as ‘Titaniacs’, the ship also has its hundreds of cynics, critics and just plain clueless people, who make sweeping statements, outrageous suggestions or ask questions which can only lead to unhappy answers. Here I’ll list some of the more…interesting…statements and questions that I’ve read in my time:

1. “If the lookouts had binoculars, they would’ve seen the iceberg earlier! Why didn’t they have any?”

This is a popular assertion. Yes, if you have distance-viewing equipment, you can see things in the distance a lot easier and a lot quicker! DUUUH! On the surface, it sounds perfectly logical. But apply this to the Titanic scenario, and it falls down flat like a row of dominoes. Here’s why:

Binoculars (or indeed, any distance-viewing aid, such as a monocular or a telescope), while they greatly increase how far you can see, also greatly decrease your field of vision. It’s no point being able to see ten miles out to sea if you can only look a total of six inches either way with your eyes. You’ve effectively created tunnel-vision for yourself. Without peripheral vision, you’re basically staring into a pair of tubes in a black room.

On the night in question, being almost pitch black with still water and no breaking-water at the base of the ‘berg, the Titanic’s fate was almost invisible to the ship’s lookouts, with a wide field of vision and the help of the ship’s lights. Having bincoulars would only have narrowed their field of vision even more, making them effectively blind. You can’t see something if you don’t know it’s there. They wouldn’t have seen the iceberg because they wouldn’t have a ‘reference point’. By that I mean, they wouldn’t be able to say: “If we start at the tip of the bow and work our way forward, we’ll focus on that area in front of the ship”, because they wouldn’t able to FIND the bow of the ship with their field of sight so severely restricted. If you don’t believe me…Go out into the sky at night with a telescope or some binoculars. Look at the ground. Put the binoculars to your eyes. WITHOUT taking them AWAY from your eyes…look up and try and find the moon. Can you find it? No. It’s impossible to look for it if you don’t know it’s there and it’s impossible to see it without having first seen it with your naked eyes. This was the predicament that the Titanic’s lookouts faced, and why binoculars would’ve been almost no help at all.

As to why they didn’t have any binoculars, well, there were binoculars onboard the Titanic, but they were locked in a cupboard and the crewman who had the key, had taken it with him when he disembarked the ship before it sailed off into history.

2. “Why didn’t they just stop the ship?”

Basic laws of physics is why not. Anyone who passed high-school science will know that the larger an object is, the harder it is to set in motion, and the harder it is to arrest that motion. The Titanic simply wasn’t able to stop in time. During her sea-trials, the Titanic accelerated to ‘full ahead’, a maximum speed of 23kt. She then had her engines stopped and then run full astern at maximum speed. It took her half a mile to stop. The ship had roughly half a mile between the iceberg and her bow when the iceberg was sighted and the crew had only 37 seconds to react. Furthermore, on open ocean, the ship would have had nothing to slow its momentum, apart from the drag of the water.

3. “If they had more lifeboats onboard, they would’ve saved everyone!”

A lot of people have said this. And on the surface, it sounds logical, but unfortunately, it would not have helped. The Titanic had twenty lifeboats; sixteen wooden ones and four Englehardt collapsable lifeboats with canvas sides. In the two hours and forty minutes in which the Titanic sank, the ship’s officers only managed to launch eighteen of those boats at a rate of one every five minutes starting at 12:45am (a full hour after the sinking started). Even if they had the full complement of lifeboats that the Titanic could carry (64 in total), they wouldn’t have been able to launch them all in time, which means the provision of extra lifeboats was rather pointless.

4. “Why didn’t they fully-load the lifeboats before lowering them?”

For all of the Titanic’s history, one of the biggest controversies was why the lifeboats were never fully-loaded when they were filled with passengers and lowered into the water. The reasons for this are numerous and will take some time to explain. There are several factors which one has to consider about the Titanic’s lifeboats to understand why the officers did what they did.

Passengers didn’t want to go.

Brainwashed by media hype, passengers believed that the Titanic was well and truly unsinkable. With this in mind, they did not see the point in getting into the lifeboats. Officers could not force passengers into the boats, so they took what few that would get into the boats, and then lowered them away. They could not afford to wait around and waste time while passengers made up their mind, which was almost invariably, to stay onboard the ship.

The Drop.

The Titanic was a big ship. From the boat deck down to the waterline, it was a drop of sixty-two feet, just over twenty meters, into ice-cold water that was 28F, or -2.2C. Most passengers were not brave enough to get into a tiny wooden lifeboat which was swinging out over the side of the ship on a set of ropes. They considered the Titanic to be a much safer option, foregoing what was probably their only chance of survival.

The Weight of the Boats.

This was probably the officers’ biggest reason for not wanting to fully load the boats with passengers. The lifeboats themselves were already incredibly heavy. I know, they’re made of wood. They can’t weigh that much, can they? Yes they can. The average Titanic lifeboat weighs between two and three tons…empty. Add passengers and that increases the overall weight to five to six tons. Considering that they only had twenty boats, the officers didn’t want to be put in a situation where an overloaded lifeboat snapped free from its falls (the ropes which lowered it into the water) and crashed into the ocean, 62ft below, possibly smashing the boat like matchwood and killing or injuring several dozen people. They preferred to do it safe.

5. “Why weren’t the ship’s pumps turned on?”

The ship’s pumps were turned on. When the Titanic started sinking, the captain ordered all of the ship’s pumps to be turned on, in an effort to bail out the water. Unfortunately, the ship did not have any pumps which were designed to force out the water quicker than it was coming in. She had bilge-pumps for ejecting water from the bilge (the very bottom of the ship), and she had ash-ejector pumps, which forced out a slurry of water and ash into the ocean, but she did not have any pumps purely for preventing the ship from sinking. The water was pouring in much too fast for the Titanic’s small pumps to ever force it out at a speed quick enough to keep the ship afloat.

6. “Why didn’t passengers swim to the iceberg?”

They didn’t swim to the iceberg simply because they didn’t know where it was! By the time the ship had stopped, the iceberg was at least half a mile away, if not more. It would have been impossible to locate it in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean without any lights.

7. “Why didn’t the ‘Californian’s’ wireless-operator stay on the air throughout the night?”

Cyril Evans, the wireless-operator of the S.S. Californian, shut off his wireless set shortly after 11:15pm and went to sleep at 11:30pm on the night of the sinking. The Titanic would strike the iceberg just ten minutes later. Why didn’t he remain on the air longer?

Because he didn’t want to, he didn’t need to, and he wasn’t legally obligated to. Until after the sinking of the Titanic, it was not mandatory to maintain 24/7 radio-contact at sea for purposes of safety.

8. “Why did Jack Phillips ignore Cyril Evans’s radio-message?”

One of the most famous events in Titanic history. At 11:00pm, Cyril Evans sent out a general message to all ships (including the Titanic) that the ‘Californian’ had stopped for the night, on account of the pack-ice near the ship, which made it too dangerous to continue sailing until morning. The exchange between the two wireless-operators, word for word, was:

Evans: “Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice”.
Phillips: “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy! I am working Cape Race!”

Why did Phillips ignore Evans? Because Evans interrupted him, simple as that. Phillips was busy sending wireless messages (in morse code), to the wireless land-station in Cape Race, Newfoundland, several hundred miles away. Evans, just a few miles from the Titanic on the S.S. Californian, sent a radio-message that was so loud, it nearly blew Philllips’s eardrums out. Apart from that, Evans did not prefix his ice-warning message with the three letters: “MSG”.

“MSG” stands for “Master Service Gram”; (telegram, that is). All messages prefixed “MSG” had to be sent DIRECTLY to the captain AT ONCE. Evans’s failure to follow basic wireless-operation procedure of the time, meant that to Phillips, Evans’s message was just as good as saying: “Sup dudez? Wez stopped by ice and stuff and like…yeah. Out, man!” instead of something more official, along the lines of: “IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Stopped due to heavy ice in path. Please inform captain ASAP”.

9. “Why didn’t the Titanic just simply back up to the iceberg, park there and offload all her passengers onto it?”

Because it could not be done. For the Titanic to make it back to the iceberg, she’d first have to know where it was, which was impossible. And even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to navigate effectively, backwards, towards the iceberg. And even if she could do that, the momentum built up during the journey would mean that the Titanic would not have been able to stop (AGAIN!) in time to ‘park’ next to the iceberg, probably resulting in another collision and even more damage.

10. “Did a ship’s officer really commit suicide?”

The general consensus is yes, an officer did commit suicide. Was it 1st Officer William McMaster Murdoch? Nobody will ever know for sure.

11. “Did ship’s officers ever shoot anyone on the Titanic?

No. Certainly there were revolvers and ammunition on the Titanic (at least five pistols, four belonging to the crew, one belonging to a passenger), but none of these were ever used to kill anyone. 5th Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe had a revolver (of his own, private property), and the other, more senior officers had revolvers (Webley & Scott breaktop revolvers, which were part of the ship’s supplies), and certainly, Lowe fired at least four shots during the sinking to scare passengers back from swamping the boats, but there is no evidence to suggest that anyone was actually shot and killed or wounded on the Titanic, except the unknown officer who commited suicide.

12. “If the ‘Californian’ had answered the Titanic’s calls for distress, she could have saved everyone”

On the surface, this looks like a rather easy thing to say. If the Californian had answered the Titanic’s radio calls or distress-rockets as quickly as possible, she could be alongside the Titanic and would have saved everyone at once! Unfortunately this isn’t the case, as there were several things preventing it.

Stopped for the night.

The Californian’s engines were stopped for the night. This means that it would take a considerable amount of time to get them going again. Once they were going, it would have taken time to get the ship moving, time which Titanic didn’t have.

Icebergs.

The Californian would be sailing through several icebergs to reach the Titanic, which would have greatly impeded her speed and progress.

Lifeboats.

Even IF the Californian had built up enough steam. Even IF she had reached the Titanic, she still needed to cart all the passengers back and forth, using both her own, and the Titanic’s lifeboats as ferries. Even on a flat calm, still night like that of April 14th, 1912, this would’ve taken several hours. While this might have saved several more lives, it is unlikely that the Californian would still have managed to rescue everyone.

13. “Why was the Titanic going so fast? Why didn’t it slow down?

The Titanic was going so fast because it had a schedule to keep and it didn’t slow down because it wasn’t seen as being necessary. Don’t forget that time is money. If the Titanic arrived in New York late, it meant that passengers would cancel their tickets and pick other ships, which meant that the Titanic and the White Star Line, would lose money.

14. “Did that car in the Titanic film really exist?”

The car in which Jack and Rose had sex in, in the 1997 movie certainly exists. But I figure you’re asking: “Did it exist on the ship in real life?”. Yes it did. The car was a 1911 35hp Renault towncar, owned by Mr. William Carter Snr, a first-class passenger. The scenario in the movie would have been impossible, though, because the car was locked in a crate for the duration of the voyage. It is listed in the Titanic’s cargo-manifest as: “1 Case Auto – W. Carter”.

15. “Hitting the Iceberg Head-On would’ve Saved Everyone!”

This is debatable. The argument is that if the R.M.S. Titanic had slammed into the iceberg head-on, less of the ship would’ve been exposed to major damage and the ship’s ‘usinkable’ design-features would spring to the rescue. Here’s how it plays out:

The Titanic was designed to float with the first four, or any other two of her watertight compartments flooded. The argument contends that if the ship had crashed into the iceberg head-on, the first, or at the very most, first two compartments, would’ve been ruptured by the force of the collision. The water floods in, but the ship is in no immediate danger of sinking. It might even be able to continue sailing to New York City, or at the very worst, it would stay afloat long enough for rescue-ships to reach it and offload all her passengers.

When the Titanic was designed back in the early 1900s, the kinds of accidents it was being ‘protected’ against were T-bone accidents, with the bow of one ship crashing into the broadside of another, or vice-versa. Under these circumstances, where two or three bulkheads might be ruptured, yes, the ship would stay afloat. But the ships of the day were not designed to survive impacts with icebergs. In theory, the ‘headbutt’ argument with everyone (or most of the people) surviving sounds plausible, but as it’s never been put into practice, it is unknown how much structural damage the Titanic would really have sustained, having smashed into a mountain of ice (that’s what an iceberg literally is – ‘ice’ + German word ‘berg’, meaning ‘mountain’, literally ‘ice-mountain’). The ship might have been even more severely damaged and this would have caused great problems later on with the evacuation of passengers.