I Took a Voyage on the R.M.S Titanic
Excerpt from “I Took a Voyage on the R.M.S Titanic,” Yankee Magazine, June 1981.
Marjorie Newell Robb of Westport Point, Massachusetts, was one of the last survivors of Titanic disaster. Here’s her story:
At the age of 56, Mr. Arthur W. Newell of Lexington, Massachusetts, had finally attained that station of life to which he had long aspired. Born in Chelsea to poor parents, he had risen by dint of his unquestioned integrity and single-minded attention to detail to be Chairman of the Board of the Fourth National Bank of Lexington. A somewhat distant, austere man with a Van Dyke beard, a student of the Bible, a mediocre-to-poor keyboard player, he had a tendency to bring the office home with him. When that happened, his wife and three daughters would form a quartet and play some classical music to relax him and bring him out of his shell.
In 1909, Newell had taken his family on a European trip, one of those leisurely three-month junkets that people had time and money for in those days. Late in 1911 he decided to repeat the adventure, but his wife, who had a delicate disposition, and a daughter, who shared her mother’s temperament, begged off, having found the arduous embarkings and disembarkings infinitely wearing.
So it was that in February of 1912, Arthur Newell and daughters Madeline and Marjorie set sail for Europe. They traveled to the Pyramids (Marjorie Newell celebrated her 23rd birthday in Cairo), and made exhaustive investigations of the Holy Land: Port Said, Jaffa, Bethlehem, Jericho. After taking a ship to Marseilles and traveling thence up to Paris, the Newells arrived in Cherbourg, where they were to start the long voyage home.
There the daughters found one more surprise awaiting them, for A. W. Newell had booked first-class passage for himself and his daughters on the maiden voyage of the world’s largest ship. She was 11 stories high, a sixth of a mile long, weighed over 46 tons, and had a top speed of 24 to 25 knots. Their trip home would encompass another week or so of sumptuous luxury and a triumphant arrival in New York harbor before the glorious vacation would be over.
The Newell girls would certainly have something to tell their grandchildren: what it was like to sail on the world’s greatest ship, to travel in the company of some of the world’s richest men, like John Jacob Astor, or Isidor Straus of Macy’s Department Store, or Benjamin Guggenheim. In short, Marjorie and Madeline Newell would have had the inestimable pleasure of having sailed on the White Star Line’s crowning achievement, one of the jewels of the post-Edwardian age, the R.M.S. Titanic.
It was a most beautiful ship,” says Marjorie Newell Robb today in her low-ceilinged 200-year-old house, originally built for a minister, in Westport Point, Massachusetts.
She is 92 years old now only slightly hampered by her years, endlessly gallant and feisty about life and frankly hesitant to recall the events that irrevocably altered that life. Even now, almost 70 years later, a feeling of intense melancholy comes over the former Marjorie Newell as she recalls the last days in the short life of the ship they called unsinkable.
“The Titanic was a massive affair in every way: four enormous smokestacks, carpets that you could sink in up to your knees, fine furniture that you could barely move, and very fine paneling and carving. Everything on the ship was of the finest quality.
“We were, I think, five days out of Cherbourg; I do know that it was Sunday night. We had finished a lavish dinner in the corner of the magnificent dining room and had gone up to one of the foyers. We just sat there for a while, feeling very refreshed and invigorated after this lovely trip. My father smiled and said, ‘Do you think you can last till morning?’ You see, we had rather large appetites, and he was kidding us about whether we’d need more food. While we sat there in the foyer, I distinctly remember that John Jacob Astor and his wife walked by, looking very affable and distinguished.
“Well, as the evening wore on, my sister and I decided to retire, so we went to our rooms.
“I don’t honestly remember how long we’d been down in our rooms, but we suddenly felt and heard a great vibration; its size was just staggering.”
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