The Titanic sank into the North Atlantic 100 years ago this Sunday, killing more than 1,500 people in what remains the most famous shipwreck in modern history. And after being recounted, researched and re-enacted for generations, a trove of information has emerged about the ship, the iceberg, the victims and the survivors.
But at least a dozen Titanic passengers have received far less attention over the past century. As a new centennial museum exhibit reveals, roughly 12 dogs were onboard the Titanic on April 15, 1912, all pets of first-class passengers.
"There is such a special bond between people and their pets. For many, they are considered to be family members," exhibit curator and Widener University historian J. Joseph Edgette said in a recent news release. "I don't think any Titanic exhibit has examined that relationship and recognized those loyal family pets that also lost their lives on the cruise."
At least nine dogs died when the Titanic went down, but the exhibit also highlights three that survived: two Pomeranians and a Pekingese. As Edgette told Yahoo News this week, they made it out alive due to their size — and probably not at the expense of any human passengers. "The dogs that survived were so small that it's doubtful anyone even realized they were being carried to the lifeboats," Edgette says.
The three canine survivors of the Titanic were:
- "Lady," a Pomeranian that had recently been purchased in Paris by Margaret Bechstein Hays, according to Encyclopedia Titanica. The 24-year-old New Yorker was returning home on the Titanic from travels in Europe with friends. As she stepped into lifeboat 7 with Lady, another passenger reportedly passed by and joked, "Oh, I suppose we ought to put a life preserve on the little doggie, too."
- Another Pomeranian, whose name isn't known, owned by New York clothing magnate Martin Rothschild and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Anne Rothschild. While Martin Rothschild didn't survive the shipwreck, his wife made it to lifeboat 6 with her dog, which she kept hidden. No one else on the lifeboat remembered seeing the dog until the next morning, and rescuers on the Carpathia initially refused to take it on board. But Rothschild insisted, and both made it back to New York.
- "Sun Yat-Sen," a Pekingese owned by Henry S. Harper, heir to New York's Harper & Row publishing firm, and his wife, Myna Harper. The Harpers were returning from a tour of Europe and Asia, joined by an interpreter they had picked up in Egypt. All three, plus Sun Yat-Sen, entered lifeboat 3 on the Titanic's starboard side. When asked later about saving the dog, Henry Harper explained that "There seemed to be lots of room, and nobody made any objection."
Only first-class passengers brought dogs on the Titanic, Edgette tells Yahoo, and most were kept in the ship's kennels. A few stayed in their owners' cabins, however, and the others were released from their kennels while the ship was sinking, according to Titanic Stories, an informational website produced by Ireland's tourism bureau.
Several dogs that died were never identified, and Edgette admits there may have been even more onboard than we know. But there is information about some of the Titanic's canine casualties, including a fox terrier named "Dog," an Airedale named "Kitty" and a French bulldog named "Gamin de Pycombe." One passenger, 50-year-old Ann Elizabeth Isham, reportedly refused to leave the Titanic without her Great Dane, which was too large to put in a lifeboat. Isham's body, along with her dog's, were later found floating at sea by recovery ships, Edgette says.
Some passengers who left their pets at least received some consolation in the form of insurance payments, however. William Ernest Carter of Philadelphia, for example, had insured his children's King Charles Spaniel and Airedale for $100 and $200, respectively, and later received settlements back on land.
There are stories of other animals on the Titanic, too, but none are confirmed. One rumor suggests passenger Edith Russell brought her pet pig, but Titanic Stories contends it was actually a toy, not a real pig. Ships often carried cats to control rat populations, and Edgette notes that at least one cat (and her kittens) rode the Titanic from Ireland to England prior to its final voyage. But that cat supposedly disembarked before the ship left for New York, carrying all her kittens to the pier — a decision later attributed to "some sort of premonition," according to Edgette.
The centennial Titanic exhibit will run through May 12 at Pennsylvania's Widener University, which is named after an affluent local family that lost two people on the Titanic. Held in the school's art gallery, the exhibit features information and artifacts from a wide array of Titanic passengers, both human and canine.