Saturday, April 21, 2012


 The most detested man to escape the Titanic has never been identified.

Until today.

 For 100 years he's been known only as the man who escaped dressed as a woman. Disgusted newsmen called him a "cur in human shape" and declared "so foul an act as that will out."

But his name stayed a mystery until his very existence began to be doubted and dismissed as another legend of the Titanic. Oh, he was real, alright.

 The world first heard of the man who escaped dressed as a woman from Titanic passenger Mrs. Mark Fortune, of Winnipeg, Canada.

 The New York Times, Saturday, April 20, 1912
"Through her son-in-law, H. C. Hutton of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mrs. Mark Fortune told how she and her three daughters, Lucille, Mabel and Alice... were rescued from the Titanic and after being separated from her husband and son Charles, were placed in a boat with a Chinaman, an Italian stoker, and a man dressed in woman's clothing. Of all the occupants of this lifeboat, only one, the stoker, could row. Mrs. Fortune's daughters took turns at the oars." "... The man dressed in woman's clothing did his best to row, but did not seem familiar with an oar. This man wore a woman's bonnet and a veil, in addition to a skirt and blouse, which he had evidently picked up in a hurry as he ran through the ship."

 The Manitoba Free Press carried a similar story (datelined April 19, 1912) but quoting Charles Allan, the fiance of Mrs. Fortune's daughter, Alice Fortune, 24. Allan spoke of a "man clothed in a woman’s dress and with a veil."

 Shocked Senators conducting an Inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic rushed to get some official statement on the matter.

 Confirmation came from Fifth Officer Harold Lowe, one of the heroes of the disaster who was credited with personally saving dozens of lives.

Harold Lowe, Senate Hearing, April 24, 1912
Describing his loading of Lifeboat No. 14 he said,"They were all women and children bar one passenger, who was an Italian, and he sneaked in and he was dressed like a woman."

Senator Smith: Had women's clothing on?
 Mr. Lowe: He had a shawl over his head and everything else...He had a shawl over his head and I suppose he had skirts. Anyhow, I pulled this shawl off his face and saw he was a man. He was in a great hurry to get into the other boat, and I caught hold of him and pitched him in.

But who was he? The answer is a detective story. And a love story. And a story with a twist so sharp you'll never see it coming.

 If you were trying to solve a hundred-year-old mystery that's stumped everybody who ever took a crack at it, where would you start? Why not with the best detective in the world?

 Sherlock Holmes, of course.

 "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" The Sign of the Four, ch. 6 (1890)

 One hundred and thirty men survived the Titanic. Of those, 56 were first class passengers. Just as today, the press of 1912 was most interested in the rich and powerful, so it was easy to track how the first class men were saved. With two exceptions.

 Every book on the Titanic published since the liner's sinking states that Tom Cardeza of Philadelphia was returning to the the U.S. with his mother, Charlotte Cardeza, and that they escaped in Lifeboat No. 3. With them were her maid Annie Ward and his valet Gustave Lesneur.

 But Mrs. Cardeza said in a newspaper interview that her son, a strong oarsman, had been handpicked by J.Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line which owned the Titanic, to make up the crew of the lifeboat in which he (Ismay) escaped the sinking ship. Mr.Cardeza, in turn, gave an interview wherein he denied the Ismay story, but said that after putting his mother into a lifeboat he and his valet helped as much as they could before leaping off the Titanic and being picked up by a passing lifeboat.

 So, Mrs. Cardeza and her son both agree that he was NOT in the same lifeboat as she, although they disagree over how he was actually saved.

 In other words, when it comes to being a suspect for the man who escaped dressed as a woman, he has no alibi. And neither does his valet, Lesneur. However, there is something suspicious about the escape of both men, as you'll see.

Only 14 men in second class survived. Two men from Spain--Julia Padro i Manent and Emilio Pallas y Castillo--were said to have left the Titanic shortly before it sank. Padro said he climbed down a rope into a lifeboat two decks below while Pallas jumped into the boat, injuring his leg or ankle in the fall. Because there aren't enough details in their stories to identify the lifeboat, they made the suspect list.

 As did a third man from second class, George Harris, because there's virtually nothing known about him. Even his age is listed in separate places as either 30 or 62.. One newspaper mentions a Joseph Harris who jumped and was picked up which may be George Harris. The abbreviation of George is G-e-o. The abbreviation of Joseph is J-o-e. In handwriting, a G was often written with a flourish that could make the letter mistaken for a J, and an editor could have assumed the e and o were simply transposed. But that's only speculation.

 A complete absence of verified details put Harris on the list.

 Sixty men travelling in third class managed to survive. Ten of them made the list---Irishmen John Kennedy (a total absence of information) and Daniel Buckley (plenty of details but nothing concrete enough to pinpoint a lifeboat), Belgians Theodore de Mulder and Jean Scheerlinck (jumped and picked up, no details to identify the boat), Scandinavians Thure Lundstrom, Eino Lindqvist, Karl Midtsjo, and Johan Sundman (jumped either into the ocean or a lifeboat with not enough details to tell which boat), Croatian Ivan Jalsevac and Italian Luigi Finoli (ditto).

 Fifteen men with no way to narrow the list further. It looked as though the only conclusion was to concede that one of these men was likely the man who escaped the Titanic dressed as a woman but that no one could say which.

 That was unacceptable. There had to be a way. There`s a saying among journalists. If you don`t ask the right questions, you don`t get the right answers.

 I was looking for a man who escaped dressed as a woman, not a man who escaped dressed as a man pretending to be a woman. The question then was: who had access to women`s clothing?

 Eliminate the men travelling alone or with other men. Gone George Harris and John Kennedy, gone De Mulder and Sheerlinck, gone Ivan Jalsevac and Luigi Finoli and Karl Midtsjo and Johan Sundman. I could almost hear Sherlock Holmes cry out,"Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"

 Seven men left. Re-interview the suspects? After going over their stories a thousand times there wasn't more to learn from them. So... re-interview their women.

 And there it was.

 The overlooked clue that lets the detective solve the crime.

 She was travelling on Titanic's maiden voyage with her sister. Both of them managed to survive the sinking. She eventually reached her destination, And she got married. To a man four years her junior. Believe it or not, she married another survivor of the Titanic. At least that was the story.

 But it's who she married that solved the case. She married her chauffeur. Really?

 It's obvious he wasn't her chauffeur, though that's the way he was listed on travel documents. He was her lover. And she didn't marry him after the Titanic sank. As it turns out, they were already married. Why he was pretending to be her chauffer is another story. If any woman aboard the Titanic had a motive to save her man, she did. She had the means, motive and opportunity.

 A hundred-year-old mystery solved... The man who escaped dressed like a woman: Julià Padró i Manet.

 For a photo:

 Padro came from a well-to-do family in Spain. He owned a restaurant in Barcelona; Florentina Duran's family owned a grocery store. A Spanish Titanic website cites an unnamed magazine for the claim that Padro met and fell in love with Florentina at a Catalan theatre where she was a dancer ("que ella era bailarina.") Padro, 26, sold his restaurant to travel to "the America's" to make his fortune. His passage cost him the equivalent of a year's rent. With him came his wife, Florentina, 30, her sister Asuncion, 27, and his friend Emilio Pallas, 29. They were headed to Cuba.

 In New York following their rescue, they demanded that the White Star Line provide them with first class tickets on a ship to Cuba, even though they were booked second class on the Titanic. An attache of the Cuban Consulate went with them to the White Star offices. They got their upgrade. Padro gave only two interviews about his experience on the Titanic. The first, the more dramatic, was the day he arrived in Cuba with the Cuban newspaper La Discusion , published April 29, 1912. The other was with the magazine Bohemia 43 years later in 1955.

 In Cuba, Padro eventually became the wealthy owner of a bus company. His brush with death on the ocean scared him off travel on the water and he never left Cuba. Pallas, however, returned to Spain where he married and opened a bakery.

 Have you detected the twist in the story?

 There were two men in the party of four. You wouldn't save one and let the other fend for himself, would you? That means.... ...there were TWO men who escaped the Titanic dressed as women. Padro AND Pallas.

 Is there any support for that supposition?

 Lebanese immigrant Elias Nichola Yarred was 12-years-old and his sister, Jamilah, was 14 when they rescued from the Titanic in Lifeboat No. 12. Elias told a relative this story: "There was one young couple with a baby who 'put one over' on the crew. The wife was very shrewd; she dressed her young husband as a woman, covered his head with a shawl and gave him the baby. He was in one lifeboat and she was in ours. Both were rescued by the Carpathia .


 That certainly wasn't the man in women's clothing discovered by Fifth Officer Lowe. That man wasn't carrying a child, and after being tossed into Lifeboat No. 10 he was made to take an oar and start rowing. So Elias had to be referring to yet another cross-dressing survivor.

 One century-old mystery solved. But one loose thread remains.

 Mr. Cardeza and his valet. Though cleared of being the men who escaped dressed as women, how did they get off the ship?

 A news story ran in the Daily Sketch on Friday, April 26, 1912, datelined "Vienna, Thursday." The headline read "Dressed As A Sailor". The story said Mrs. Cardeza, Thomas Cardeza's wife, had received a letter from him saying "that he bribed two sailors to give him sailor's clothing. He and his secretary, dressed in these clothes, with his mother and her companion, succeeded in gaining the lifeboat, as they were supposed to be sailors." There's never been any verification of the Sketch story, that the letter from Mr. Cardeza ever existed. The only hint of confirmation of the story is a comment by an unidentified stewardess of a passenger dressed as a sailor in her equally unidentified boat.

 For the time being, the Cardeza file must remain---unsolved.


A newspaper interview with George Harris surfaced, indirectly on the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Here the relevant excerpt:

100 years later, Titanic still raises questions
The Stamford Advocate

By Maggie Gordon

Updated 10:15 pm, Saturday, April 14, 2012

STAMFORD -- An April 15, 1912 dispatch published in The Advocate described the previous evening as "a night of black terror," as a 300-foot gash tore through the world's largest ship, the Titanic, sending it and more than 1,500 souls to the bottom of the icy North Atlantic.
"The staggering of the wounded monster and the gradual sinking by the head must have indicated to all that the end was certain," The Advocate reported. In the week that followed the disaster, dispatches from the scene covered the front page of the city's newspaper as local families watched for the names of the loved ones: Helen Churchill Candee; George Harris; Frederick and Jane Hoyt; Frances May James; Viktor Larson. Some local passengers made it onto lifeboats and home to Connecticut, while others died in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.
George Harris, a 61-year-old retired gardener who lived at 168 Greenwich Ave., Stamford was asleep in his second-class cabin near the ship's stern at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, when the Titanic struck the iceberg.
"The shock did not harm my sleep in the least, for I did not awaken until after what must have been 10 minutes when the first storm of ice began to fall on the decks with a noise resembling thunder. I afterwards saw that those cakes of ice weighed four and five hundred pounds," Harris told an Advocate reporter on April 19, 1912 as he rested at his home after disembarking the Carpathia at 11:50 p.m. the night before.
Harris managed to find a seat in a lifeboat, after hearing someone ask whether there were more women and children waiting for a spot, and hearing a negative response. As he and the others in his small boat floated about a quarter-mile from the 883-foot long vessel, he watched the great ship sink into the ocean in what he called "the most agonizing moment of my life."
From that vantage point, he recalled seeing the rail separating the first- and second-class passengers crowded by a group of people 10 deep, trying to climb away from the water's path as it inched nearer.
"Suddenly the rail broke, and with a scream, the first I had heard, the whole mob fell back into the water. From this point on, the ship settled rapidly, and suddenly broke amidships, carrying down all on board, which was few at the time," he said.
But there were so many more than a few. According to the American Inquiry on the tragedy, 1,517 lives were lost that night. It would have been hard to see that from the sea. While 63 percent of first-class passengers were saved, 75 percent of steerage class passengers died; most were never even let onto the higher decks for a chance at salvation, and were instead left locked below the surface until the ship's final moments.
Though men and women from all parts of the world have studied the historic sinking of what was once thought to be an unsinkable ship, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding just what happened that night.
As Harris recounted the ordeal to an Advocate reporter four days after the disaster, he recollected that he was lowered to safety in the fourth boat to leave the ship -- Lifeboat 13, with 49 others.
"Although I am over 60 years of age, I rowed that boat with five others from 11 that night until we were picked up by the Carpathia." But official records state that Harris was on the 13th boat to take off, Lifeboat 15, with 42 others. It was freed from the Titanic at 1:35 a.m., 115 minutes after the ship originally struck the berg.
"Everyone agrees that the Titanic hit the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. And sank at 2:20 a.m. -- but there's disagreement on nearly everything that happened in between," Walter Lord noted in "A Night to Remember," the minute-by-minute account of the disaster he published in 1955 after interviewing dozens of survivors.

No comments:

Post a Comment