An American first-class passenger, the redoubtable Colonel Archibald Gracie, wrote the single most dramatic eyewitness account of the Titanic disaster. In his rip-roaring memoir, he described being dragged beneath the waters with the sinking ship, then fighting his way to the surface and onto an upturned lifeboat.
He told his story for the first time in the Washington Times of April 19, 1912 – the morning after the survivors reached New York. The tone is typically florid: “Emotions never before experienced by man thrilled me as I stood there and felt the great ship trembling”. Amid his tributes to the heroism of all concerned, though, we get the occasional glimpse of repressed panic: “only in rare instances was it necessary for the officers to use force to prevent frenzied men from pushing aside women”.
In his book, Gracie complemented his own experiences with extensive interviews with his fellow passengers, to create a full narrative of the night’s events. Attributing his survival to “mind over matter”, he wrote that in the ship’s final moments,“I questioned myself as to the performance of my religious duties”. He then decided: “God helps those who help themselves; I should have only courted the fate of many hundreds of others had I supinely made no effort to supplement my prayers with all the strength and power which He has granted to me.”
In a public talk on November 24, 1912, Gracie denounced inaccurate newspaper reports of the tragedy. “The terrible phase [sic] of the wreck was that it would go down in history in the way the papers had pictured it”. He insisted for example that the Titanic’s band did not play Nearer My God To Thee, and had stopped playing long before the ship finally sank.
Sadly, Gracie died just ten days later, from the lingering effects of his ordeal. His book, The Truth About the Titanic, was published posthumously the next year.