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May 20, 2019

14 Amazing Stories of Famous People Who Cancelled or Missed the Titanic

A total of 2,224 people sailed on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic from Southampton, England, to New York City. Partway through the voyage, the ship struck an iceberg and sank in the early morning of 15 April 1912, resulting in the deaths of over 1,500 people, including about 815 of the passengers.

Several people planned to travel on the Titanic but for one reason failed to do so. Some had actually booked cabins and these are confirmed by their presence in an early passenger list. Others only appear in newspaper reports or family lore and are therefore harder to verify.


In fact, within days of the disaster, newspapers were already remarking on the phenomenon. “‘JUST MISSED IT’ CLUB FORMED WITH 6,904 MEMBERS,” Michigan’s Sault Ste. Marie Evening News headlined an April 20, 1912 story, five days after the sinking. Later it quoted one Percival Slathersome, a presumably fictional artist, as saying, “I count it lucky that I didn’t have the price to go abroad this year. If all of us who ‘just missed it’ had got aboard the Titanic she would have sunk at the Liverpool dock from the overload.”

By the time Ohio’s Lima Daily News weighed in, on April 26, the club seems to have grown considerably. “Up to the present time the count shows that just 118,337 people escaped death because they missed the Titanic or changed their minds a moment before sailing time,” the newspaper observed.

However, below are 14 amazing stories of lucky individuals who changed their plans to sail on the Titanic.

1. J. Pierpont Morgan


John Pierpont Morgan came from a family of successful financers. After beginning his career as an accountant, Morgan moved into business, reorganizing the railroads and amalgamating several steel companies to form United States Steel, the world’s first billion-dollar corporation. He also created General Electrical, by merging The Edison General Electrical and Thomas Houston Electrical. By 1891, the company was the dominant electrical equipment manufacturing firm in the US. Morgan also reputedly saved the US banking system during the panic of 1907, earning himself the title: “The Napoleon of Wall Street.

Morgan also amalgamated the majority of transatlantic shipping lines into the IMM- the International Mercantile Marine. Amongst those lines was the White Star Company, the company that owned the Titanic. This fact meant that technically speaking; JP Morgan was the owner of the legendary liner that could have cost him his life. Such was his interest that the ship was equipped with a private suite just for Morgan, complete with a promenade deck, and a personalized bath with specially designed cigar holders.

So it is no surprise to learn that Morgan had booked passage on Titanic’s maiden voyage. However, he never made it. The businessman had been enjoying a restorative holiday at the French resort of Aix, taking the sulfur baths for his health. At the last minute, he decided to extend his vacation and continue in Aix. The maiden voyage of the much-vaunted Titanic would have to go on without him. “Monetary losses amount to nothing in life,” he told a New York Times reporter who visited Aix several days after the sinking. “It is the loss of life that counts. It is that frightful death.” Frightful death or not, Morgan had avoided it.

However, in recent years, an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory has grown up around Morgan’s eleventh-hour decisions not to sail. The theory speculates that Morgan orchestrated the sinking of the Titanic to eliminate several rivals to the idea of the creation of a US central bank. Those opponents included John Jacob Astor IV, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Straus who went down with the ship. The idea, however, doesn’t hold much water. Morgan’s role in championing the bank was a small one, and by the time it was set up in December 1913, Morgan had been dead nine months, having passed away in Rome earlier that year.

Curiously, at least two other people associated with Morgan were also booked to travel on Titanic. Like Morgan, they did not sail. However, fate, rather than his own decision saved one-the outgoing US ambassador to France.


2. Robert Bacon


US ambassador to France, Robert Bacon had enjoyed a varied career. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he began his working life in the Steel Industry. Bacon worked in partnership with JP Morgan to form the US Steel Corporation and International Mercantile Marines before moving into politics in 1903. He initially served as Assistant US Secretary of State in 1905 until in 1909 he undertook a short stint as Secretary of State during the last 38 days of President Roosevelt’s office. After that, Bacon moved to France to become its US Ambassador.

In April 1912, Bacon was looking forward to retiring from his diplomatic post in Europe and returning home to America to take up a fresh challenge in academia. He had been invited to become a fellow of Harvard University and had accepted the post.“The service of higher education must be honorable when it can tempt a man to exchange an American ambassadorship for a university trusteeship,” commented the editors of The Harvard Crimson when they learned of Bacons’ appointment in February 1912.

So, the soon to be ex-ambassador, his wife Martha and their four children Robert, Gasper, Elliot, and Martha all booked passage back to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. However, they never made the ship. Bacon’s replacement, Myron T Herrick arrived at his new post late, and Bacon had to reluctantly delay his departure to assist Herrick’s transition into the ambassadorship. The family eventually sailed home from La Havre on April 20, 1912, on the maiden voyage of another luxury liner, the SS France.

This lucky twist of fate most assuredly saved Bacons life, because, as a man, he would have been last in line for the lifeboats. Instead, Robert Bacon enjoyed another seven years of life before he died of blood poisoning in 1919. Most of this time was spent in military service. In August 1914, during the early months of the First World War, Bacon returned to France to help with the American Field Service, which was offering medical assistance to French and British Troops. Once America itself joined the war, he became a commissioned officer, eventually serving as Chief of the American Military mission at British headquarters.

Robert Bacon was not the only First Class passenger in the “Just Missed It” club whose extra years of life were used in service to others.


3. Milton Hershey


Milton Hershey was a self-made man. The son of farmers, after a brief stint as a printer, Hershey was apprenticed to a confectioner. He opened the highly successful Lancaster Caramel Company in 1883. In 1900, Hershey sold his company and started another: the Hershey Chocolate Company. By 1907, he had established a factory to mass produce the chocolates that became a nationwide success. Hershey was now a wealthy man.

However, Hershey did not keep this wealth to himself. His chocolate factory was built in Pennsylvanian dairy farmland, as Hershey required a good supply of milk for his chocolate making. As a result, a town began to grow up around it, named Hershey after the factory and its owner. As Hershey and his wife, Catherine had no children; the couple started to invest their wealth into good works within Hershey town. The couple actively financed many of its public facilities including the Milton Hersey School.

Hershey and his wife had spent the winter of 1911-12 holidaying in the south of France. Catherine’s’ health was poor, and the couple believed the warm climate of Nice would be beneficial. However, they planned to return to the US in April- and booked passage on the Titanic. The Hershey archives show that on December 18, 1911, a cheque $300 – a 10% deposit on a first class suite- passed through the Hershey Company accounts. Hershey was said to love a novelty, so the idea of sailing on the ‘unsinkable’ and most luxurious liner of its day must have been irresistible.

However, the Hersheys never boarded. Milton Hershey had been contacted by one of his employees and asked to return from his European trip early so he could attend to some business. So Hershey left Europe three days earlier than planned on the German liner Amerika, therefore missing his chance to experience the wonders of the Titanic- and saving his life. The Amerika turned out to be one of the ships that sent out ice warnings to the Titanic, which followed in its wake.

Hershey had already made provision for the continuation of many of his philanthropic works in his will. However, some would never have been completed if he had died on Titanic– particularly in the town of Hershey, “How the town developed and his support of public education in the community, none of that would have happened,” said Pam Whitenack, Director of Hershey Community Archives.

Another loss to the world of good works was averted when a future Nobel peace prizewinner avoided passage on the doomed liner.


4. John R. Mott


It was his principles rather than outside events that saved John R. Mott from traveling on Titanic. Mott, a dedicated Christian had become a charity worker for the YMCA after being inspired by a lecture given by J Kynaston Studd in 1886 when Mott was a student at Cornell University. After Mott graduated, he began to work for the YMCA of America and Canada, becoming its National Secretary. Later, he also became involved with the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions.

Mott’s work took him around the globe as he spoke at conferences, addressing students on Christian values. As a result, he spent a lot of time at sea. It has been calculated that he spent over 34 days a year just traveling by boat as he moved about the globe. He crossed the Pacific Ocean 14 times and the Atlantic an incredible 100 times.

So, being such a seasoned traveler, it is hardly surprising that Mott came to the attention of The White Star Company. In 1912, they offered him and a companion free passage on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. However, to the company’s surprise, the two men refused. They were uncomfortable with the notion of sailing on such a luxurious ship, instead opting for passage to New York on the much humbler liner, Lapland. On reaching New York and hearing of the disaster, the two men were said to have looked at each other and said: “The Good Lord must have more work for us to do.”

Mott did indeed have more work to do. He went on to become the General Secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA in 1915. During World War One earned a Distinguished Service Medal for his work with the National War Work Council and continued his international work with the YMCA, conducting relief work for prisoners of war in various countries. In 1946, he shared the Nobel Peace prize with Emily Balch for his work in establishing and strengthening Protestant Christian student organizations that worked for world peace.

Mott was not the only Nobel prize winner who turned down a place on the Titanic.


5. Guglielmo Marconi


Like John R. Mott, the Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy and 1909 Nobel Prize winner for physics, Guglielmo Marconi was offered free passage on Titanic. The inventor and his family had been holidaying in England near Southampton and were invited to be guests of The White Star Company on the ships maiden voyage. Marconi initially accepted. However, his plans were upset. Marconi found that he had to get back to New York early. He also had work to do en route and needed a ship with a public stenographer. So he switched to the Lusitania, which departed three days before Titanic was due to sail.

However, the plan was, his wife Beatrice and their two children would indeed follow on Titanic. Again, however, fate intervened. Marconi’s son, Guilio fell ill with a sudden fever, and so Mrs. Marconi decided to delay their departure until the little boy recovered. She and her daughter Degna apparently watched the Titanic depart Southampton, waving to passengers before returning sadly to their holiday home, not yet aware of how lucky they were.

Mr. Marconi meanwhile heard news of the disaster just after his arrival in New York. It was initially reported the ship and passengers had been saved and towed to Halifax. It was not until 7 PM the day after the disaster that its true scope was revealed publicly when the Carpathia finally docked in New York.

Marconi’s wireless operators were accused of withholding the full information of the disaster so they could sell the information to the papers, leading to Marconi’s interrogation by a Senatorial inquiry. However, both the operators and the inventor swiftly turned from villains to heroes when it became known that in fact Marconi’s wireless telegraphy and the brave actions of his operators on board Titanic had in fact saved more than 700 lives.

The Marconi family were not the only passengers to be initially disappointed not to travel on Titanic.


6. Rev. J. Stuart Holden


The Reverend J. Stuart Holden may not have been destined to win a Nobel Peace Prize. However, like John Mott, he was deeply involved in Christian public speaking. In 1912, Reverend Holden, who was vicar of St Paul’s Church, Portman Square, London was looking forward to a trip to New York where he had been invited to speak at the Christian Conservation Congress, a six-day long convention that was opening at Carnegie Hall on April 20. Unlike John Mott, the Rev Holden had nothing against a spot of luxury travel. So he booked himself a first class ticket on Titanic.

However, the Reverend Holden’s wife suddenly fell ill. So on April 9, the day before the ship was due to sail and with no small amount of regret, the Vicar canceled his trip so he could stay at home and nurse her. However, a few days later, his feelings changed entirely to relief and gratitude when he heard of his narrow escape. This unexpected deliverance prompted the Reverend to mount his ticket in a cardboard frame to which he added the words from Psalm 103, verse 3: “Who Redeemeth Thy Life From Destruction,” in thanks for his salvation.

Perhaps the reverend was right to offer thanks to his god for it seemed some mysterious force was at work. For he was not the only clergyman due to sail on Titanic to the Conference. The others included Archbishop Thomas J. Madden, of Liverpool, and the Rev. J.S. Wardell Stafford. Like Holden, they too were prevented from traveling on the doomed liner.

As for the ticket, it hung in its very ordinary frame in the Reverend’s study, a constant reminder of his lucky escape. After his death, it was then donated to the Liverpool Merseyside Maritime Museums. It is the only known surviving first class ticket from Titanic and until 2003 was deemed too valuable to display when it was finally unveiled to the public.

It was not just passengers who were prevented from sailing on Titanic by strange twists of fate. Changes in circumstances also saved certain members of the crew.


7. David Blair


David Blair had served as Titanic’s Second Officer during her sea trials and the ship’s journey from her Belfast shipyard to Southampton’s docks. He was due to continue in this role for the duration of the liners maiden voyage- until a twist of fate dashed his hopes. Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic was unexpectedly laid up, and so someone in the company had the idea of utilizing her now idle Chief Officer, Henry Wilde, on Titanic instead. So, Wilde was transferred to Titanic, as chief officer, leading to a reorganization of the new liner’s officers. This change resulted in Blair being moved across to the Olympic instead.

The change saved Blair’s life. However, its last-minute nature could also have cost Titanic dearly. Officer Lightoller, who served as Titanic’s Second Officer instead of Blair and survived the sinking, later said that this “doubtful policy’ had the effect of upsetting the dynamics between the officers on Titanic. The original chief officer Murdock had to be demoted to First Officer to accommodate Wilde and Lightoller lost his post as First Officer and became Second Officer instead. Aside from the disappointment, the officers felt at their demotions; the change meant they had to forge a whole new working relationship.

There were other repercussions too. Blair was moved to the Olympic with such haste that he accidentally took the key to Titanic crow’s nest telephone. He had also left the crow’s nest binoculars of Titanic in his cabin without telling anyone they were there. This was why on the fateful night of the sinking, there were no binoculars.

Wilde, who was probably transferred to allow him more experience for a future promotion, lost much more than his career on Titanic; he also lost his life. Meanwhile, Blair continued his maritime career. He had reunited with Lightoller again during World War One when they both served on the Oceanic. The ship ran aground during an operation and once again Blair was in the spotlight for blame as he was the ship’s navigator. Once again, however, he survived.

Other members of the crew, however, didn’t serve on Titanic because they literally missed the boat.


8. The Slade Brothers


On April 6th, 1912, brothers Alfred, Tom and Bertram Slade all signed on as firemen on the Titanic. All were seasoned sailors. Twenty-five year old Alfred had just finished a tour of duty on The Highland Glen and Bertram, 26 and Thomas, 27 had transferred from the Titanic’s sister ship the Olympic. However, despite signing on and reporting for muster on the morning of April 10th, they missed the ship’s departure.

After reporting on board at 8 am on April 10th, the brothers, like many of the crew, decided to pass the time before boarding in one of Southampton’s many pubs. The Slades settled themselves down in The Grapes, a public house that was a short walk from the docks. At 11.15 they were joined by crewmates John Podesta and William Nutbean, who had been drinking elsewhere but decided to chance one last drink with the Slades.

At about ten minutes to twelve, the group left The Grapes to make their way to the Titanic. However, they were delayed when a passenger train heading to the docks drew up and blocked their way. It was a long train and if the crewmates waited for it to stop, going around it would severely hamper their journey. The Slades, however, were quite relaxed. “Oh let the train go by,” Podesta later said he heard one of the brothers’ say. However, Podesta, Nutbean and a fireman from the ship decided not to chance the wait and dashed across the train lines just in front of the train, leaving the Slade brothers behind.

By the time the brothers reached the White Star dock, it was 11.59, and the gangplank was just being drawn up. Despite the fact he could have let the brothers on, the officer in charge of the gangway refused to lower it. Southampton docks were packed with sailors desperate for the work, and when the brothers did not board, he had taken new men on to replace them.

John Podesta and William Nutbean managed to survive the sinking. However, the men who replaced the Slade brothers did not return. Indeed, out of the 724 ordinary Titanic crewmembers that listed with Southampton addresses, 549 died in the sinking. The Slade brothers might have lost their jobs that day. But they had saved their lives.

As they had turned up for muster but did not board the ship when it sailed, the Slade brothers were listed as deserters- however unintentionally. However, another of their crewmates saved his life by deliberately jumping ship.


9. John Coffey


Unlike the Slades, twenty-three-year-old Irish fireman John Coffey managed to board Titanic at Southampton. However, once the ship reached Ireland, he deserted- thus avoiding the final, doomed leg of the voyage and joining the “Just Missed It” club.

Like two of the Slade brothers, Coffey had previously served as a fireman on the Olympic. Again, like the brother’s, he signed up for Titanic at Southampton on April 6th. However, unlike the Slades, Coffey managed to make it safely aboard the ship at Southampton to begin its maiden voyage.

However, when the ship docked at Queenstown in Ireland, Coffey deserted. The reasons why he jumped ship are open to speculation. Some say Coffey had a foreboding of the impending disaster, but it is perhaps more likely that he never intended to sail on with Titanic past Ireland. He could merely have wanted passage back home. In any case, Coffey did not remain in Queenstown for long. Shortly after his desertion of Titanic, Coffey he signed on with the Mauretania, according to a report in The Courier on Monday, April 29.

Coffey continued with his career at sea as a ship’s fireman. However, the next time he made the news was in 1941, when The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, described how he was rescued after falling into the river At Hull! The newspaper recorded how Coffey’s rescuer, a Mr. James Bielby, a fellow fireman, was given a royal humane society award for rescuing Coffey one November night in 1940 when he was in “imminent danger of drowning.” It seems Coffey was a non-swimmer, making his desertion of the liner doubly lucky because, as a non-swimmer, he would have stood no chance of survival on Titanic.

Crew aside, the last student of Escoffier had a narrow escape when he was booked to travel on Titanic to a new life in America.


10. Joseph Donon


Joseph Donon decided to become a chef because he was so fussy about his food. So when he was 13, he began his apprenticeship as a kitchen hand. He showed such an aptitude for cooking that he advanced quickly and by the age of seventeen, Joseph was the assistant chef to the Marquis de Panisse Passis at Villeneuve-Loubert. In 1905, the famed French chef, Auguste Escoffier happened to be visiting the Marquis and was impressed by the young chef’s work. “If you are ever in London, come and see me, ” he told Donan. Taking Escoffier at his word, Donan left France and six weeks later was working for Escoffier at London’s Carlton Hotel.

In 1912, Donan impressed another diner so much that he poached him. Wealthy American industrialist Henry Clay Frick, an associate of JP Morgan was dining with his wife at the Carlton. So impressed was he by his meal that he asked to meet the chef who had cooked it. Frick then presented Donon with a tip-in 20 gold dollar pieces- and offered him the job as his personal chef in America. The twenty-four-year-old Donan readily agreed.

And so, Donan found himself booked for passage to America on the same ship as his new employers: Titanic. However, Mrs. Frick sprained her ankle, and so the Fricks and Joseph Donan delayed their passage by two days, thus saving their lives. Once in America, Donon, he worked for the Fricks until the First World War when he returned to France to fight.

However, after the war, he returned to America, becoming the household chef of Mrs. Hamilton Twombly, the daughter of William H Vanderbilt. He worked for the Twombly’s until his retirement aged 67. In his time, Joseph Donan became something of a celebrity as he became the most famous private chef in America.

However, Joseph Donan was not the only future artistic talent America nearly lost to Titanic.


11. Edgar Selwyn


Edgar Selwyn was to become an important figure in American entertainment during the first half of the twentieth century. He co-founded and built the Selwyn theatre on Broadway in 1918. However, he was perhaps most famous as the founder of Goldwyn Pictures, which later went on to become MGM studios. At the age of 17, Selwyn had tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Chicago River. Instead, he landed on the ice, which saved him. Twenty years later, he was rescued from a similar icy death at sea- this time all for the sake of reading a book.

According to the diary of Arnold Bennett, the famous English novelist, and playwright, he and Selwyn met in April 1912- a meeting that saved Selwyn’s life. Selwyn was due to travel back to America in the company of American producer H B Harris and his wife, Irene. However, he was eager to read an early draft of Bennett’s new novel The Reagent. The problem was, by April 10th, the novel wasn’t ready to read. So both Selwyn made his excuses to the Harris’ and stayed in England.

The Harris’ departed on Titanic. Although Mrs. Harris made it safely onto a lifeboat, HB Harris went down with the ship. Meanwhile, on April 19th, Selwyn was still safe in England and had finally read The Reagent- the novel that saved his life. He returned to America to enjoy the greatest success of his career to date, the musical “The Wall Street Girl” which ran for 56 performances from June 1912. In the same year, he produced “Within the Law” which accrued a net profit of a million dollars just days before the introduction of federal income tax. 1912 was indeed Selwyn’s lucky year.

A misunderstanding and overzealous newspaper reporting made one person who was never due to sail on Titanic into a member of the “Just Missed It” club.


12. Thomas Hart

“Thought to be lost – Alive,” declared the New York Times, in May 1912. The headline was referring to Thomas Hart, a ship’s fireman on the Titanic who was believed to have drowned when the liner went down. Instead, according to the paper’s sub-headline: “Another man signed on the Titanic under Thomas Hart’s name.” In England, The Times had also taken up the story, reporting that “ Thomas Hart, a fireman who was supposed to have been drowned in the Titanic, has, according to his mother’s statement, turned up alive.”

The story was a sensation. It told how Thomas Hart signed up to the ship, and sometime in between then and Titanic’s departure, drank himself unconscious. He came to only to find his discharge papers and the Titanic gone. Hart was so ashamed of his behavior that he did not return home until he learned that he had been reported lost with the ship.

However, this sensational story of survival was also a complete work of fiction. It was seeded by an announcement in The Merseyside Daily Newspaper in May 1912 which read: “Messrs. Quilliam, of Liverpool, solicitors, acting on behalf of relatives of Thomas Hart, marine fireman, of Liverpool, supposed to have been lost in the disaster, have been informed by his mother that her son has turned up. He told her that he had had his discharge book stolen from him.”

The reality was, Thomas Hart was indeed a ship’s fireman- but from Liverpool, not Southampton. His mother, Jane, who had already lost her husband- also a fireman- at sea, panicked. Seeing the Titanic had been lost, she jumped to conclusions and contacted solicitors to try and find out more information. When Thomas turned up safe and well, she attempted to rectify her mistake. However, Chinese whispers and the newspaper’s hopes for a good Titanic-related story blew the real facts out of all proportion.

The crew’s manifests confirm that Thomas Hart was not signed up to Titanic. However, a James Hart was. This man, lost with the ship, was assumed by some to have stolen Thomas Hart’s identity. To rectify matters, on May 18, 1912, James Harts family were forced to place an announcement in The Southampton Times, and The Hampshire Express to clear his name, because of “the inference was that he had sailed under false pretenses.”

The announcement proclaimed James Hart had used his own discharge book which was “a good one” so he had no need to “hide behind another man’s character.” If he had used “the name of the Liverpool man, he must also have given the Liverpool address of that fireman.”


13. Theodore Dreiser


Theodore Dreiser became one of the leading novelists of the early 20th century by writing about how money and wealth were changing America. Ironically, it would be money that kept Dreiser off the Titanic’s first and only voyage. The author of 1900’s Sister Carrie, Dreiser had just spent four months traveling through Europe to write travel pieces and collect material for his memoir, 1913’s A Traveler at Forty.

Dreiser, who had grown up poor in Indiana, was eager to experience the opulence of the Titanic, but his English publisher convinced him to take a cheaper berth on another ship, which set sail from Dover two days before the Titanic sank. News of the Titanic’s doom made it to Dreiser’s ship, which would take another week to reach New York.

In his memoir, Dreiser recorded the reaction to the news: “To think of a ship as immense as the Titanic, new and bright, sinking in endless fathoms of water. And the two thousand passengers routed like rats from their berths only to float helplessly in miles of water, praying and crying!”


14. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt


A member of the famous Vanderbilt family, Alfred Vanderbilt was not only extremely wealthy, he was also a dedicated sportsman. He especially loved riding in horse-drawn carriages with friends (something called “coaching”) and fox hunting. In April 1912, he and his wife were in Europe and on April 9, just before Titanic was to leave on its maiden voyage, he changed his mind and decided not to board the Titanic for America. Someone in their family objected to their sailing aboard the new ship, “because so many things can go wrong on a maiden voyage.”

However, their servant, Frederick Wheeler did make the voyage on April 10, 1912 along with their luggage. He sailed as a second-class passenger and died when the Titanic went down. Three years later, his luck would run out. On a business trip to Europe to buy horses and dogs for his favorite hobbies, he was aboard the Lusitania when a German U Boat torpedoed it off the coast of Ireland. Several survivors reported they last saw Vanderbilt offering his life vest to a child and helping the mother tie it onto the child. Vanderbilt did not survive.

(via History Collection)



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