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MassMu Collection: Carpathia Crew Medal

The Sinking of the Titanic
 

Titanic beginning a day of sea trials, April 2, 1912.
(NARA, RG 306, Records of the U.S. Information Agency)

The Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, from Southampton, England.  Despite several ice warnings from ships in the surrounding area, Titanic continued to travel toward New York at full speed.  On Sunday, April 14, at 11:40 pm, Titanic struck an iceberg which damaged her hull.  Water began pouring in, even overpowering her watertight doors and watertight bulkheads, which were meant to prevent sinking in the case of a hull breach.

Titanic’s wireless Marconi operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride sent morse code CQD and SOS distress signals to anyone who could hear.  Aboard the Cunard line R.M.S. Carpathia, Harold Cottam, wireless operator employed by the Marconi Company to send passengers’ messages, picked up the distress call from Titanic and woke 43-year-old Captain Arthur Rostron.  The Carpathia was about 58 miles away from Titanic.  Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, was close but too far away to provide assistance. Carpathia was traveling from New York to the Mediterranean.  The Captain ordered the ship at top speed and headed towards the coordinates given by the wireless operator.  The sea was full of ice and the Carpathia had to dodge small and large icebergs on its rescue mission.

There were approximately 2,200 people aboard the Titanic, which included passengers, officers, and crew.  The Titanic did not have enough lifeboats for everyone aboard, and in the panic of the sinking, many boats were launched half full.  Titanic sank quickly, finally foundering at 2:20 am on Monday, April 15. Only 705 survived the sinking while 1,523 people lost their lives.

Lifeboat. Photograph above was taken by a passenger of the Carpathia, the ship that received the Titanic's distress signal and came to rescue the survivors. (National Archives–Northeast Region, New York City, RG 21, Records of District Courts of the United States)

The 705 survivors were picked up by the Carpathia beginning about 4:30 am.  It took over four hours to get all of the survivors aboard.  During the survivors’ stay on the Carpathia, crew members and passengers of the ship attempted to make the Titanic survivors as comfortable as possible, giving up blankets, staterooms, food, and beverages.  Captain Rostron held a thanksgiving service for the survivors and a memorial service for the deceased.  Women clung to the railings, hoping to see signs of their husbands or children.  The Captain saw no signs of wreckage, bodies, or other survivors. After consulting with the paying passengers aboard the Carpathia, Captain Rostron turned the ship around a little before 9:00pm and headed back to New York. 

Carpathia docked on April 18 in New York City in heavy rain. Passengers began disembarking after 9:00 pm. When the ship arrived, 30,000 people swarmed around the dock.  A frenzy of press photographers and writers pushed their way to the survivors, hoping for an eyewitness account or some exciting gossip to publish.  Reports of the sinking were sketchy, and the whole world waited for a report of what really happened.

 

Carpathia postcard, c.1920
Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of the Edward Abbott Estate (58.72.3)

According to sources, the survivors created a fund along with a U.S. government resolution for $5,000 to purchase the medals for the crew of the Carpathia and a silver cup for the captain.  On May 29, 1912, many of the Titanic survivors gathered in the ship’s saloon to pay tribute to the heroic efforts of the Carpathia crew and officers.  While there were 320 crew members aboard Carpathia during the Titanic rescue, only 250 were present to accept their medals.  The remaining 70 medals were mailed. Many of Titanic’s prominent survivors chaired a committee that put the event together, most notably Mrs. J.J. Brown, also known as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” who presented Captain Rostron with a 15-inch high silver loving cup.  Each Carpathia crew member and officer received a medal with their name engraved on the back.  There were six gold medals given to the officers, silver medals for junior officers, and bronze medals for the crew. Captain Rostron handed a medal to each of his crew members while the purser read the roster of names. 

London’s Daily Mirror, showing Carpathia crew members who joined a football team to play to raise funds for Titanic’s survivors. Abbott joined this team and can be seen in this photograph 4th from the left in the top row.
Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of the Edward Abbott Estate (58.72.4)

Front of the bronze Carpathia crew medal

This small medal has the image of the R.M.S. Carpathia and Titanic’s lifeboats on the front.  It is framed by Neptune’s head and flowing beard with two dolphins. 

Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of the Edward Abbott Estate (58.72.5)

On the back it reads, “Presented to the Captain, Officers, and Crew of R.M.S. ‘Carpathia’ in recognition of gallant and heroic services. From the survivors of the S.S. “Titanic,” April 15, 1912.”

Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of the Edward Abbott Estate (58.72.5)

The Cunard Line also recognized the crew members of the Carpathia by giving them an extra month’s salary.

 “’Without an eager and brave crew,’ said Captain Rostron, ‘I feel there would have been no rescue at all; and while I thank the committee for the cup and their praise of me and my officers, I want to thank every man and woman in my crew for their gallant and fine conduct under most difficult conditions. I am humbly proud of every man and woman in this ship’s company.’”

Committee member and Titanic survivor Frederick K. Seward of New York spoke to the crew saying, “For your hospitality, for your devotion, for your unselfishness, and for all that was done for us we never can be adequately grateful, and as a slight token of that appreciation we wish you to accept the medals that we have had struck for every man and woman of this ship.” 

This small medal has the image of the R.M.S. Carpathia and Titanic’s lifeboats on the front.  It is framed by Neptune’s head and flowing beard with two dolphins.  On the back it reads, “Presented to the Captain, Officers, and Crew of R.M.S. ‘Carpathia’ in recognition of gallant and heroic services. From the survivors of the S.S. “Titanic,” April 15, 1912.”

Carpathia Steward Edward Abbott

Edward Abbott was twenty-five years old at the time and served as a waiter/steward on the Carpathia, thus his medal is bronze. It is pinned to a yellow ribbon.

Abbott was born in Liverpool, England, according to Encylopedia-Titanica. It is uncertain when he moved to Massillon. He is listed in the 1920 Massillon city directory with his wife Eva living on Maple Street. His worked at the Reliance Manufacturing Company in 1920, Union Drawn Steel from 1929 to 1950, and Republic Steel in 1950. Abbott passed away in December 1957. His estate donated this medal and several other Titanic-related pieces to the collection.

Many of these items were deaccessioned (removed from the collection by a lengthy process to ensure ethical use). Archivist Mandy Altimus Pond has given 28 talks in 2012, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Her love for Titanic spans more than 15 years. Upon joining the Museum staff, the Carpathia medal became one of her favorite pieces. She searched for the other items donated with the medal, but found them listed as “deaccessioned” some time in the 1970s, and assumed they were sold or given to other museums, but secretly always hoped she would discover them in a folder, having been misplaced instead.

And thankfully, that is exactly what happened today (January 9, 2013). While Executive Director Alex Nicholis Coon was sorting old files in various filing cabinets, she came across a folder of deaccessioned items labeled “to un-deaccession,” apparently kept to put back into the collection again. Contained within were the items pictured here: a photograph of Edward Abbott as an older man, a Carpathia postcard, a Carpathia menu from August 1912, a list of Titanic’s Second Class passenger survivors, and a press photo from London’s Daily Mirror, showing Carpathia crew members who joined a football team to play to raise funds for Titanic’s survivors. Abbott joined this team and can be seen in this photograph 4th from the left in the top row.

RMS Carpathia dinner menu from August 23, 1912
Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of the Edward Abbott Estate (58.72.3)

List of rescued second cabin passengers, ex-Titanic
Collection of the Massillon Museum
Gift of the Edward Abbott Estate (58.72.2)

 

Archivist Mandy Altimus Pond had a research appointment with Roy and Denise Darcy of Liverpool, England, on May 18, 2014. Roy's great-Uncle was Edward Abbott, who moved to Massillon, Ohio from England. His estate donated a Carpathia medal and several photos to the Massillon Museum.


SOURCES:

Gowen, Phillip, Ed.  Encyclopedia Titanica, http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/

Garrison, Webb.  A Treasury of Titanic Tales, Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, 1998.

Lynch, Don.  Titanic: An Illustrated History, Madison Press Books, Ontario, Canada, 1992.

 “Presentation to Carpathia Heroes.” Cook Free Press, June 10, 1912, pg 6.

“Titanic Survivors Honor Capt. Rostron.” New York Times, May 30, 1912. https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivors-honor-capt-rostron.html

“Bill Introduced in House to Decorate Men on the Carpathia.” New York Times, Tuesday 23rd April 1912. https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/medals-for-rescuing-crew.html

 
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