Thursday, April 12, 2012

Brookline's Titanic Survivor: Elizabeth Eustis

Elizabeth M. Eustis
This photo of Elizabeth Eustis
appeared in the Daily Sketch,
a British newspaper, a few days
after the sinking of the Titanic.
Elizabeth M. Eustis of Brookline (left) and her sister Martha (Eustis) Stephenson of Haverford, Pennsylvania spent the late winter and early spring of 1912 touring the Mediterranean and southern Europe. On April 10th, they boarded RMS Titanic at Cherbourg, France for the voyage home. (The ship had begun its maiden voyage in Southampton, England earlier that day.)

Eustis, 54, and Stephenson, 52, were the daughters of William Tracy Eustis and Martha (Dutton) Eustis. Their father, who died in 1906, had a long career in the millinery, oil, and financial industries. Their mother, who died in 1900, was the daughter of Henry Worthington Dutton, founder of the Boston Evening Transcript.

The sisters were in first class cabin D20. They attended services on the morning of April 14th, according to an account of their experience they later wrote, and remarked that the hymn "For Those in Peril on the Sea" had not been sung. They spent the afternoon reading and had tea on deck and a walk before dinner. In the evening, they attended a musical program and sat before a fire in the lounge before going down to Deck D where they sat with John B. Thayer and his wife Marian, Haverford neighbors of Stephenson's. (Thayer was Second Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad.)

Eustis and Stephenson went to bed a little before 11. About an hour later, the ship hit the iceberg. "I was sound asleep when at quarter before twelve I was awakened by a terrible jar with ripping and cutting noise which lasted a few moments," recalled Stephenson. "We both were much frightened, sitting up in our beds and turning on the electricity."

They dressed, though they did not hurry. Leaving their stateroom to go on deck, they left the lights and heat on, expecting to return before long. When they did return a short time after, it was under directions from a steward to get their life vests. Returning to the deck, they were placed in Lifeboat #4 along with other women and children passengers and a small number of crewmen and lowered onto the sea.

Most of those on the boat were from first class. Marian Thayer was there—her husband did not survive—as was another Haverford neighbor, Eleanor Widener. (Widener's husband and son did not survive; the Harry Elkins Widener Library at Harvard was built with a bequest from Widener as a memorial to her son, a 1907 graduate of the school.) Also on board was Madeleine Astor, wife of John Jacob Astor, and Florence (Thayer) Cumings, whose father, George Thayer, lived in Brookline. Neither Astor's nor Cumings' husband survived.

Three men were pulled from the water onto the lifeboat. One was drunk and had a bottle of brandy that was thrown overboard.

After getting in these three men they told how fast she was going and we all implored them to pull for our lives to get out from the suction when she should go down [wrote Stephenson]. The lights on the ship burned till just before she went. When the call came that she was going I covered my face and then heard someone call, 'She 's broken.' After what seemed a long time I turned my head only to see the stern almost perpendicular in the air so that the full outline of the blades of the propeller showed above the water. She then gave her final plunge and the air was filled with cries.

Five more men were pulled from the icy water. Two of them died in the boat before it was rescued by the CarpathiaOn board the rescue ship, the two sisters shared a small room that had been used as a dressing room with Florence Cumings and and Madeleine Astor's maid. Upon arriving in New York, they were met by family members. Stephenson left for Philadelphia that night. Eustis spent the night at the Belmont Hotel with her brother Tracy and others before returning to Boston and Brookline the next day.

Item about the Titanic in the Brookline Chronicle
The rescue of Elizabeth Eustis and her sister was noted in the Brookline Chronicle after news of the Titanic disaster reached Boston

Martha Stephenson, who had also survived the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, died in 1934. Her sister Elizabeth Mussey Eustis remained an active member of Brookline society for many years. She died at her home at 1020 Beacon Street in 1936.

"The Titanic: Our Story" by Martha E. Stephenson and Elizabeth M. Eustis
Affidavit of Emily Ryerson, rescued with her children and maid on Lifeboat #4

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