In remembrance of The Great War during this centenary year, this blog will explore the intriguing social history of that tumultuous time. The first two of my Muskoka Novels – "The Summer Before the Storm" and "Elusive Dawn" – take place from 1914-1918. During my four years of research I accumulated a trunkful of notes, and will illuminate some of the more interesting and unusual tidbits, beginning with the Age of Elegance.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Sinking of the Lusitania
Lusitania 1st Class dining room
In the days when ocean liners provided the only way to
travel across the Atlantic, the R.M.S.
Lusitania was one of the fastest and most luxurious. The domed, two-storey First Class dining room
(above) was gilded and decorated with frescoes. The First Class lounge (below)
boasted marble fireplaces at each end and a vaulted stained glass skylight
above. Second Class accommodations were deemed to be superior to most First
Class on other ships, and even Third Class fared better on the “Lusy”.
1st Class lounge
The Lusitania began her last voyage on May 1, 1915 from New York to
Liverpool, England. The crossing was smooth and uneventful, despite the threat
of German submarines, and on May 7 the ship was off the coast of Ireland, nearing
the end of her journey. Some First Class passengers were finishing lunch and
listening to the orchestra playing “The Blue Danube” when a U-boat torpedo
struck. It took only 18 minutes for the ship to sink, and just 6 of the 48 lifeboats
were successfully launched.
Aftermath of the Lusitania's sinking; painting by William Lionel Wyllie
Among the 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived, some
– amazingly - spending two or more hours in the frigid sea. Canadian Josephine
Burnside, sister of Sir John Eaton (mentioned in a previous post), was sucked
into one of the four smokestacks when the ship sank, but was blown out again.
She lived to tell the tale, but her 20-year-old daughter didn’t. Although a
$5000 reward – a fortune in those days – was offered for finding one of
America’s wealthiest men, Alfred Vanderbilt, his body was never recovered, nor
were nearly 900 other men, women, and children.
A few of my characters are on board the ship. Not all
Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston is a fascinating
account of her fateful last voyage and the controversies surrounding the