Suicide and the Titanic Survivors

The odds a person who survived the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 would later commit suicide are 1 in 89.

Eight of the approximately 705 people who survived the sinking of the Titanic committed suicide:

  • On October 10, 1912, Mrs. Annie Robinson, a stewardess on the Titanic, became agitated when the Devonian steamship came into heavy fog in Boston Harbor and the fog horn sounded. She threw herself from the ship and drowned.
  • On June 30, 1919, Dr. Washington Dodge died from the gunshot wound to the head he had inflicted nine days earlier. A man of prominence in medicine, banking, and public service, Dodge had become entangled in a law suit he felt reflected on his honor
  • When Dr. Henry William Frauenthal, an American of German descent, jumped into the lifeboat, his 250-pound heft broke the ribs of a woman beneath him. On March 11, 1927, the doctor jumped from the seventh floor of his hospital building. His wife Clara spent the last 16 years of her life in a psychiatric facility.
  • Juha Niskanen was a 39-year-old third class passenger from Finland at the time of the collision. He committed suicide on August 13, 1927 after setting fire to his cabin, depressed over his failure to find gold.
  • Seventeen-year-old Jack Thayer survived on an overturned life boat. His mother survived, but his father perished. A successful banker in Philadelphia, he became distraught after the death of one of his two sons in the Pacific during World War II, and on September 18, 1945, he slashed his wrists and throat.
  • John Morgan Davis was an eight-year-old boy traveling in second class when the Titanic sank with his father aboard. His mother was saved. He killed himself on December 16, 1951 through barbiturate overdose following divorce.
  • Phyllis May Quick was an Englishwoman who was returning to her home in America on the Titanic. She married and had four children before shooting herself in the head at her home in Detroit on July 11, 1989.
  • Frederick Fleet was the lookout on the Titanic who first spotted the iceberg. He always claimed that if he had binoculars that night, the collision would have been avoided. His wife died at the end of December, 1964, and his brother-in-law then evicted Fleet from his home. On January 10, 1965, the despondent Fleet hung himself on a clothes line in the garden. He had always kept his papers from the White Star Line which had the note: “Discharged at sea.”

If the Titanic sank now, the survivors would be surrounded by grief counselors knowledgeable about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who would recognize that PTSD leaves its victim vulnerable to suicide. In 1912, men in particular were expected to endure with fortitude. Less than a month after the sinking, Washington Dodge spoke to the Commonwealth Club about the “harrowing” scenes on the ship and broke down when he spoke of the cries which “wafted” across the water telling him “many lives were perishing in those icy waters.” Some men who survived felt acute shame; could that be why a lawsuit that shamed him was unbearable?

Jack Thayer was also haunted by memories of the Titanic. “Her deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle. Here it seemed to pause, and just hung, for what felt like minutes. Gradually she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle.” Did the “awful spectacle” ever leave him?”

One survivor refused to commit suicide even when pressured to do so. Forty-nine-year-old Masabumi Hosono took an open spot in a lifeboat, but when he returned to Japan, the press hounded him with reports he had acted shamefully to survive. He lost his job and was ostracized, forbidding all mention of the Titanic in his home until his death in 1939. Eighty-five years after the disaster, Hosono’s reputation was at last salvaged when his letter to his wife, written on board the rescue ship Carpathia, was discovered. “What had been a tangible, graceful sight was now reduced to a mere void,” he wrote. While white passengers were ordered to the boats, Hosono had twice been ordered below, until he determined to push past an officer to get to the deck. “I tried to prepare myself for the last moment with no agitation, making up my mind not to leave anything disgraceful as a Japanese.”

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