A Night To Remember, 100 Years Later

The R.M.S. Titanic departs Southhampton

Have you caught the “Titanic Fever” that’s going around or were you not even aware that this coming Sunday, April 15th, marks the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the most infamous ship of all time?

A photograph of a postcard written and mailed by passenger Ann Marie Perreault 3 days before the sinking of the Titanic.

My husband, somewhat of a “Titaniac”, has recorded no less than 10 documentaries, specials, or movies airing this week, and that’s just on TV. Our London correspondent R.B. (a mutually obsessed friend) is keeping us abreast of all happenings “Titanic” on that side of the pond, including the 4 part series that explores the tragic event from the perspectives of different passengers in each episode. I won’t spoil the ending, but there is a bit of a twist.

Perhaps you’ve already seen the newly released 3-D version of James Cameron’s 1997 flim “Titanic” or caught Nat. Geo’s “Titanic; The Final Word” Cameron’s latest hypothesising on exactly what happened on the fateful, frigid night the “unsinkable” ship sank. The director, who’s made more than 30 dives down to the wreckage, assembled a team of experts consisting of engineers, naval architects, artists and historians to explore the many scientific explanations.

.I found it absolutely fascinating when Cameron & team realised they’d never actually considered why a ship of that colossal size didn’t “list”after striking the iceberg, according to all documented eye witness accounts. Was it sheer luck, or were all those poor sailors working frantically (and apparently successfully) to keep the Titanic evenly keeled until it finally cleaved in two, with the bow plunging vertically, to the dark depths of the ocean floor? If this was indeed the case, it would mean the crew saved 100′s of lives that would no doubt been lost had the ship listed, rendering the lifeboats on one entire side unusable.

The part of the documentary that most resonated with me though was when one member of the team (all men btw) was moved to tears describing the opening of a salvaged perfume bottle within the room where the vast array of Titanic debris and artefacts are stored. He recalled the exquisite scent of fresh flowers instantly permeating the space normally thick with musty decay…as if, in that brief moment, the essence of all those lost lives had been released from the tiny vial and were there with him again.

Chills. For me, nothing is more evocative than the sense of smell, so that really got to me.

.Now reading all of this, and regular readers also knowing of my passion for the Edwardian Age, you might imagine my delight when as a gift for my wonderful husband on our 10th wedding anniversary (also a 100 years ago :) ) I was lucky enough to acquire an actual love letter, written by a passenger on board the RMS Titanic.

ocean liner disasters

Slim Paley photo

The envelope postmarked “Queenstown, April 11th, 1912″

The story of the letter

Mary Ann Perreault was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1878.

I know little of her life before the Spring of 1912 when at the age of 35 and, dare I say on the precipice of ‘Spinsterhood’ by Edwardian standards, she traveled to London as a Lady’s maid and fell in love.

Bert Pickett, the object of her affections, was the chauffeur of a business associate of Mary Ann’s employer Charles Hays, and was apparently smitten enough, after only six weeks of being acquainted, to propose to this Canadian belle. As both Bert and “Annie” were working during this period, one has to assume there must have been more than a few ‘stolen moments’ in their romantic, if hasty, courtship.

So “Downton Abbey”- Don’t you just love it?

By early April, Charles Hays and Bert’s employer, Sir Abe Bailey had concluded their business together and the Hays family booked first class passage for themselves and Mary Ann back to America on the RMS Titanic. The day before departure, with his mother’s ring in hand, Bert proposed to Annie and “highly delighted” she accepted. The plan was then set for Annie to return to NY with the Hays family until Bert had gathered enough money to come over and join her so that they could marry in Canada.

Annie, ring tightly round her still secretly betrothed finger, boarded the ship on that fateful day, with an eager heart filled with plans to spend the rest of her life with Bert.

Below is a partial transcribe of Annie’s letter to Bert, written on board the Titanic on the White Star Line stationary and postmarked April 11, 1912, Queenstown;

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April 10, 1912

My Dearest Bert,

We left Old Eng. at 9:30 this morning & sailed at 12 noon. There was a terrible crowd at the dock to see this new boat leave on her first voyage. No doubt you have read about the commotion caused by the propellers as we were leaving. Every body on board was dreadfully excited with exception of me for I knew nothing about it until it was all over. I felt a sudden jerk but took no notice.

Anyhow I was thinking of you and counting the months when I hope to see you.

This is a tremendous boat, how I would love you to see it dear and explore it with me. I have been just crazy with a headache all day long, I went and lied down directly I got my unpacking done. I met a steward that was on the Adriatic. He insisted on showing me a suite of rooms that cost 40 thousand dollars for the trip across. Apart from that, I have really not seen any of the boat. Those rooms were to be occupied today at Cherbourg that is why I was so anxious to see them.

…Well, Bert, dear, I cannot believe I have been to England & on my way back. I have been so very happy with you. The time went by without knowing it.

Never mind a happy day will dawn I hope. …I have my ring on now & kiss it every little while & think of you….

I hope Bert dear you won’t worry when you read that account in the paper of us leaving.

I am trusting in a higher power & I hope we will get over all right. I don’t feel nervous in the least. Will you save the cutting dear and send it?…

Now Boy, I must say good bye. I would write a great deal more but what a headache I have got & I feel I must have a good sleep.

Be a good boy won’t you dear & pray for me every day.

I will drop you a card soon as I reach land. God bless you & write me soon.

With love Annie

Titanic

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At 11:40 pm on the 15th of April, as disaster struck, Mary Ann Perreault, along with Mrs. Charles Hays and her daughter, were amongst the 711 passengers who managed to survive the sinking of the Titanic.

Differing accounts have Annie on board either lifeboat #3 or possibly #13 (the boat that caused so many problems being released from the blocks) and rescued by the crew of The Carpathia after 5 hours of drifting in the lifeboat. Tragically, her employer Charles Hays was one of the 1,500 who were drowned.

The Titanic

.From my collection, a rather stylish pair of Ladies kid leather gloves from the Edwardian era.

Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s “Titanic”

Eight months after the Titanic tragedy, Bert and Annie were happily reunited and married on December 11th, 1912.

They settled in California where Annie lived to the ripe old age of 90.

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The Titanic footage
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77 Comments

  1. As I said somewhere else around here, after a certain time of day, when I hear a ping on my iPhone that says I’ve received an email, I always look forward to seeing whether it is from Slim Paley or not. It makes my evening a little more special, if it is. Thanks, Slim.

  2. Slim! You’ve outdone yourself with this post. I was glued to my laptop and so distracted by the beautiful pictures as I read. Picture – no, text – picture.

    And I will vouch for your sense of smell – years ago as I walked in to a room of friends you said, Jo Malone Orange Blossom, even before saying hello.

    bd

  3. Utterly fascinating! What a lovely gift to your husband!!! I thoroughly enjoyed every word and every picture! Thank you!

  4. That was so interesting. I loved the fact that the wonderful love letter ended in happiness. What a great story, such a tragedy that so many died.
    Karen

  5. I remember skipping work to see the movie ‘Titanic’ when it was first released in New York. I was anxious to see it and knew I must play hooky! I saw the 10am showing and had chills down my spine that day and for days after. What an oxymoron. To be so grand, so majestic and yet, so weak. What a tremendous story about Annie and the love of her life. Chilling indeed. Thank you for the reminder of what is so precious: life and love.

  6. What will be looked at, shared and saved in another 100 years…old emails, text messages? Such a thoughtful anniversary gift from your husband and thanks for sharing, Slim.

  7. I, too get chills when I think of the Titanic and the fate that awaited it. My daughter was in a children’s theater production of the musical Titanic (beautiful songs – I recommend listening to the soundtrack) that started rehearsals right around September 11th, 2001, and I remember feeling haunted by the eerie parallels of all of those doomed souls.

    hank you, Slim for the photographs and the romantic tale.

  8. HELP!! HELP!!

    hi slim!
    my gal pal from california forwarded this to me, because i am no longer getting the auto-delivered posts! it says i still have an account, you can see that i’m able to comment, but i am distressed to have not gotten your last 4 posts. they aren’t being shuttled to *spam* mistakenly, either.

    could you help me get back onboard & receiving your fab musings? many thanks……

    • Sorry about that- WordPress has definitely been fiddling around with the hosting lately.
      Try signing out, or unsubscribing and then sign up or back in again. That worked for someone else.
      and Please do let me know if it solves the issue.

  9. I used to live on Nob Hill in San Francisco where a family purchased a home that (unbeknownst to them) belonged to a Titanic survivor, a doctor, who committed suicide in the the home’s basement. Everyone in the family saw his ghost. Story here: http://tinyurl.com/6s3xfas

  10. There is a fabulous book called “Starboard at Midnight” that was just published by my dear friend Helen (Lynn) Behr Sanford about her grandparents who became engaged and survived the sinking of the Titanic. Described as “an intimate literary gem” by reviewers, their lives before and after the Titanic (Yale, East Hampton, Davis Cup) is a story of redemption and a must read.

  11. Fascinating post.

    So amazing that the love letter had a happy ending!! The perfect anniversary gift for your hubby!
    :-)

  12. Tried to leave reply last post-it was a no-go! If this takes thanks for this informative post….loved it even though I never watched the movie found it quite interesting and romantic. What a lovely present you gave your husband.

  13. Slim a most romantic story amid such tragedy. The memorabilia from this sailing is priceless! Thank you so much for sharing. I of course loved the movie the first time around!

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

  14. Great post and good pictures. The wonderful gift for your husband, You are such a romantic. So glad there was one happy ending. Thanks for the research and putting this all together.

    Spirit

  15. What a wonderful post. As a perfume collector and Titanic fanatic I was absolutely riveted. And that letter, what a wonderful anniversary present. I’m so glad there was a happy ending, too.

  16. I am intrigued by Titanic too… This is a wonderful post… and your letter… true romance… I am watching the new Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey creator) mini series called Titanic which is viewing in the UK now… not as good as the movie but if you are into it… you are into it… Loved this Slim… xv

  17. It is a miracle both the woman and the postcard survived.

    By the way, I am now hooked on Slim’s Pinterest site. It’s a quick fix of beauty and inspiration on a sunny (or grey) morning. Keep the pictures coming Slim.

    • so glad you are enjoying my Pinterest boards R.R.
      Oh to have been an early investor in “Pinterest”!! Fantastic concept, that’s for sure.

  18. Oooooh what a compelling read! My computer went down as I was reading it….and I was chomping at the bit to get to your post again!

    Thanks for that!

  19. Dear Slimtastic
    In Australia every night there is another Titanic Doco on. Your husband would be loving it sick. I’m tucked in bed as I type (9pm here) watching a doco about the Britsh steelworks in Sheffield that made the Titanic’s anchor. I read the piece about the perfumier who was taking his wares to NY too…Dying to watch the Julian Fellows miniseries aren’t you? I wish someone would lock him in an attic and make him write more books. 2 is simply Not Suffice. In other exciting news I’m having a Moroccan dinner party tomorrow night. I know. ‘Citng Times. Cheerio FF xx

  20. This is only the second post of yours that I’ve read, but your writing has me absolutely enraptured yet again! This is a gem of a blog, you have such a gift for writing. This letter is unbelievable, how did you ever come to own it? What a treasure. What a beautiful, moving, wonderful story. Just wonderful! Once again, I’ve run out of words before I could really express how much I enjoyed this. Just splendid.

  21. Very cool post!

    a comment left on the Youtube link on your post:

    “I think I speek for everyone in Northern Ireland when I say, it was allright when it left here :/”

  22. In 2005 an exhibit of Titanic memorabelia was on exhibit in Philadelphia. A piece of the Titanic was on display, and one could reach into a plexiglass box and touch it. I still get chills remembering how overwhelming the experience of touching the Titanic was – lovely post.

  23. Slim, I was holding my breath as I scrolled down to read. Such an amazing story! So glad she survived. The whole story of the Titanic is heart-wrenching and I was a little disturbed that my son brought home a pop-up book from the school library illustrating a story of a girl on board. It’s turning it into a bit of a fairy tale when it really wasn’t.

    Also, on a funny side note, was at my friend’s home last night and we were going through her grandmother’s LV trunk which included her high school memory book from 1912. Included in this book she had pasted dance cards, photos, letters and 2 perfect pairs of kid gloves! What a beautiful time. You would have loved to see this Slim!

    Loved this!

    Kim:)

  24. fyi
    i didn’t get an e-mail alert to this new post either. I just entered my e-mail address in the “follow” button on the bottem right hand side of your blog, we’ll see if it works on your next post

  25. Oh Slim, what a wonderful story!! I loved every minute of reading it, What a treasure to have that letter. Have a beautiful weekend. XO, Pinky

  26. I cant make myself watch Titanic the movie just because of the heart break! We even had the movie before it was released so long ago, and I couldn’t stand the crying I kept hearing in the movie room. Now I haven’t missed one of these specials but still cant bring myself to see the movie. I am a coward, I guess. Thank you for showing your treasure, that letter. Your husband must be a treasure as well. You deserve him!

  27. Such a beautiful and touching post – my heart skipped when I saw the envelope as I live very close to East Grinstead.
    BBC Radio 2 is broadcasting a programme tomorrow evening, recreating the events between hitting the iceberg and the sinking, at exactly the same times of the night and playing the music of those fateful last couple of hours.

  28. I can hardly wait to share this with my daughter. I’m afraid that she and I have caught the fever. So looking forward to Sunday nights documentary and we have a date to see the new release tonight. Thank you for sharing this with us. Chills.
    And happy anniversary! How bout that husband of yours….you’re lucky to have each other.
    Enjoy your weekend.

    xo Lisa

    p.s. lemonade & cookies at TLPC!

  29. Hope you and “Bert” enjoy your hours of viewing.

    The perfume story reminded me…for some obtuse reason…of Lilli Palmer in “The Pleasure of His Company” remarking on the orange mimosa and her romance with Pogo Poole. Many pleasant aromas remind me of loved ones. You are quite the aesthete, Ms. Slim!

  30. Marie Anne Perrault was my 2nd great aunt, it’s just so fascinating to see this old letter! Thank you for sharing!

  31. Thanks for this fascinating post. What a beautiful treasure that letter is – particularly as there was a happy ending, so rare for passengers on this ill-fated ship. You must have one of the most romantic husbands in the world for him to have hunted down this wonderful gift.

  32. Lesley- wonderful! How did you find my post?

    Sandy- just to clarify because I don’t think I made it clear in my post- I gave the letter to my husband for our anniversary- Not that he isn’t one of the most romantic husbands in the world, because he is!! :)

    • Thanks Slim. I knew YOU were a romantic, but finding this letter for an anniversary gift is truly amazing! How amazing that one of her relatives has read and responded to your post! I love love love your blog! xox S

  33. What a great story,with a happy ending.

    In London in the early 1950′s, my mother met a woman whose late husband survived the Titanic by dressing as a woman (not sure to what extent) and therefore getting onto a lifeboat. In 1912, one didn’t do that kind of thing and apparently for the rest of his life he was ostracised. I believe he actually worked for the White Star line.

  34. I was also moved by the scientist in The Final Word describing the perfume being exhaled from the bottle when he opened it. All that life and hope, like a genie, wafting out of a small glass vase. Beautiful.

  35. Thank you, that was engrossing, I haven’y watched that much Ut
    ube in years! What a cool gift, and happy story, for your husband. Oh those poor people that didn’t survive, what a hideous ordeal. Thank you for sharing, it really makes one think about life and love and the precariousness of both. Take care.

  36. I love your Titanic post, Slim! I first remember hearing my grandmother speak of the Titanic when I was a young girl. She was 9 when it sank, and it made a huge impression on her, of course. When my oldest son was 4, Memphis hosted a Titanic exhibit which was fantastic. He was totally mezmerized by the story and the boat itself. He even knew that the fourth smokestack was only cosmetic and informed many people at the exhibit with us of that fact. After he saw the movie, he pretended he was Jack for months!

    I am envious of your letter. What a wonderful treasure! I got chill bumps as I read it. AND I can smell the perfume.

    Thank you, Slim!

  37. actually I usually avoid any of the hoop la about the Titanic as I think its often overdone – but I absolutely loved your post and its given me a new perspective on the whole thing – many thanks
    Bumble

  38. Dear Slim, How beautiful, what an endearing post. I am so glad I found this tonight on April 15. Your absolute best yet, thank you again.

  39. Fabulous article! Just fabulous really. There is a fairly new museum that opened in such a random place as Branson, Missouri. We took the kids there a few years ago just “to have something to do” while visiting family. The entire exhibit is dedicated to the Titanic. It was a superb exhibit. We couldn’t believe how engrossed we became in the individual stories that were so well displayed. If you ever get to Branson, MO…dig through the country music venues and go to the Titanic exhibit.

  40. One of the best post I’ve ever read. Maybe it’s because I’m also obsessed with Titanic (well, not to the point to record 10 documentaries, but…) or maybe just because you wrote it so well and gave so many interesting information.

    There’s so much to learn from you, SP. Thank you for always sharing your wisdom, your beauty and your talent.

    Big hugs,

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

  41. One hundred years ago last month my grandmother, who was six years old at the time, arrived in Cherbourg, France with her family to set sail on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. When they got there they discovered, due to a ticket mixup, that there was no room and they would have to wait and take the next ship leaving for America.

    This account is from my grandmother’s autobiography: “The [Titanic] was too large to dock in the port so to ease our disappointment we took a boat out to see the world’s largest and most expensive luxury liner. My parents never lost an opportunity to see anything that was beautiful, and this was a sight to see. We sailed several days later on the Olympic White Star Line (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_class_ocean_liner) … As we came to the same latitude where the Titanic went down, I recall passengers praying and throwing flowers into the ocean in memory of those who perished.”

    Whenever I hear stories of the Titanic I think of my grandmother, Angelica, and the stories she would tell of that fateful trip. Thank you for posting this Slim.

  42. Pingback: Countdown Abbey | Slim Paley

  43. Fabulous post Slim. I didn’t receive an alert either,. A fan sent it to me . I would have been mad hadI missed it xo.

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