Friday, March 03, 2006
Lost photos of the Titanic
I was out in front of a bookstore one night talking with a friend while leafing through a coffee-table photo book of the Titanic in the sale bins. A young woman overheard our conversation and told us that her great-uncle had been on the Titanic; he was traveling alone - I believe she said he was a Basque from Spain - and met his death in the icy sea that night, April 15, 1912, at 2:20 am, along with 1500 others. I can't help but hope that he at least made some friends on board or somehow made peace with his fate.
I always wondered if any photos were taken on board those last days that have yet to be found. I don't mean the famous last photos taken from her final departing point in Queenstown, Ireland; I mean photos - or film - taken during the voyage by either survivors that remained unspoken of and in the family's possession, or some film that went down with the ship and might be recovered intact.
There were some photographic plates found in the wreckage but all material was obliterated.
Incredibly, when the Lusitania (sunk 1915) was salvaged in 1982, a reel of film called Carpets of Baghdad was found and sections of it were restored and viewable. Is it possible something of this sort survived on the Titanic?
There happened to be a well-known cinematographer aboard the Titanic, William Harbeck. He was noted for his documentary filming of the days folowing the San Francisco Earthquake among others. There is some speculation that he was invited to take footage aboard the ship and it seems definitive that he intended at least to film the arrival in New York; employing a smaller boat to view it before docking.
There is a mystery surrounding his relationship with a young French woman, Mademoiselle Henriette Yrois. Although Harbeck was married it seems likely that Yrois may have traveled with Harbeck as his wife (as younger unattached females were likely to be chaperoned in those times). One of the survivivors recalled:
"In the opposite corner are the young American kinematograph photographer and his young wife, evidently French, very fond of playing patience, which she is doing now, while he sits back in his chair watching the game and interposing from time to time with suggestions. I did not see them again."
We will never know the truth of it as both Harbeck and Henriette perished in the sinking. Harbeck's body was found, apparently clutching a bag that belonged to Mlle. Yrois. Her body was never recovered.
A great site for information and discussion about the Titanic: intelligent contributions from writers, naval experts etc., extensive biographical articles about most of the passengers and crew;