The Lusitania : Part 8 : A Hint of Scandal
The sinking of the Lusitania had the undesired effect of laying bare the personal lives of those on board. Whether it was having to make one’s financial status public before the Relief Committee, or having to return to one’s wife after the death aboard the ship of the mistress with whom one was eloping, many of those who survived saw aspects of their lives best kept submerged placed in full view. Bigamy, embezzlement, adultery, unmarried cohabitation, financial incompetence and probable homosexuality were among the private stories suddenly made a matter of public record.
The posthumous calumny directed towards Henry Sonneborn by a member of the U.S. Government’s judicial branch was perhaps the most unfortunate exposure of a Lusitania passenger’s private life. Mr. Sonneborn and his friend Lee Schwabacher were most likely in a long term gay partnership. They lived and traveled together for at least fifteen years, and died together in the disaster. A decade later, after a scathing case summary by a U.S. Mixed Claims Commission judge, a distorted version of their friendship became legitimized.
Schwabacher and Sonneborn
Courtesy of Paul Latimer
Henry B. Sonneborn
Schwabacher seems to have possessed considerable property. The substantial provision made by his will for his friend, Sonneborn, suggests a possible source of income to the latter, supplementing that from his own slender estate and enabling him, in middle age, to embark on the cultivation of his voice in Paris.
So spoke Umpire Edwin B. Parker, of the U.S. Mixed Claims Commission, on January 7, 1925. With these words, he posthumously doomed Lusitania victim Henry B. Sonneborn, of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. to an eternity of being an inside reference, for want of a better term, among researchers who have read through the Mixed Claims Commission Lusitania Case Summaries. Two men traveling together, who were “fast friends” enough to have named one another sole beneficiaries in their respective wills, who arranged to be buried together in the same mausoleum, and one of whom the court stopped just short of calling a “kept man” in its final judgment of the case seems, on the surface, to be one of the more scandalous affairs exposed by the disaster.
We approached the story of Mr. Sonneborn and Mr. Schwabacher from a sensationalistic angle in an article, and when Jim received an email from a member of the Sonneborn family a year or so later, he was initially uncertain of how his reception would be. Mark Praetorius, Henry Sonneborn’s great-nephew, proved not to be angry that we had dragged “the family skeleton” out of the closet. In fact, he quickly revealed that the relationship between the two men had never been the family skeleton. Henry and Leo had not been ostracized within the family during their 15 years together (Henry’s mother considered “Lee” a second son) and they did not become something best left not discussed within the family after the harsh official judgment in the 1920s.
Henry Becker Sonneborn was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Philip and Wilhelmina Becker Sonneborn, on October 14, 1872. The Sonneborn family ran a tavern on Light Street in downtown Baltimore and lived in rooms above it. Henry was a graduate of Baltimore City College, and along with his brother, Louis, half owner of a successful coal distributing company.
Leo “Lee” Schwabacher was the son of Henry and Virginia Schwabacher, born on January 14, 1873, in Peoria, Illinois. The Schwabacher family made their fortune as liquor merchants, and were more than comfortably well off. The details of how Lee moved from the multi-servant family estate on Perry Avenue, Peoria, to Baltimore have not survived. He was working, as of 1900, as Louis and Henry Sonneborn’s bookkeeper, and boarding in a room over Philip and Wilhemina Sonneborn’s tavern.
Wilhelmina and her family moved from Light Street to a larger and far more elegant house at 896 Battery Avenue, after the death of her husband, circa 1900. Bookkeeper Lee Schwabacher moved with them, still being referred to as their boarder. Simultaneous to the Sonneborn family’s move, Henry Schwabacher died, leaving each of his children a share of his estate large enough to generate $10,000.00 per year income, through interest.
Henry B. Sonneborn and Lee Schwabacher began traveling together in 1906, and after 1910 Henry sold his share of the family coal business. The two men moved to Paris, France, with one another in 1911, allegedly to allow Henry to pursue a singing career. They returned to Baltimore in October 1914 for an extended visit prompted, in part, by unease over the escalating war in Europe. Lee Schwabacher purchased a mausoleum in which they would one day be entombed together, before their return to Paris in May 1915. Both men altered their wills at this time, each naming the other his sole beneficiary. Schwabacher traveled to Peoria, where he spent time with his relatives while liquidating his remaining assets there; he planned never to return.
A small article about guests of the Gotham Hotel, on Fifth Avenue in New York City, who sailed aboard the Lusitania’s fatal voyage, listed Mr. Sonneborn and Mr. Schwabacher among those lost in the disaster.
Wilhemina Sonneborn traveled to New York City and boarded the Lusitania to make a last minute effort to persuade her son to cancel his passage. His response, along the lines of “A submarine? Don’t worry- we’ll send a telegram when we arrive safely” was quoted on both May 2nd, after the ship had sailed with Mr. Sonneborn and Mr. Schwabacher aboard, and again on May 8th after they died together.
Henry and Lee vanished from the record when the Lusitania sailed on May 1, 1915. Their bodies were never recovered, and as of yet, no account by anyone who knew them has surfaced to fill in the details of their final days. George Kessler later wrote of two men, rumored to be “German spies” who kept to themselves: one can make the case that this was the German surnamed Mr. Sonneborn and Mr. Schwabacher and, if so, that their final week might have been less than pleasant.
Mark Praetorius has speculated on what his ancestors’ reaction to the loss of both men must have been. The family was proudly German and to lose loved ones in an act widely condemned by anti-German forces must have led to a number of conflicting emotions. A 1915 news clipping, kept by the Sonneborn family, is an interesting window into how the Sonneborns may have felt:
For a year Mrs. Sonneborn’s health has been gradually failing, and her sons and daughters are now experiencing the added anxiety of shielding her as much as possible from the shock of news of the ship’s disaster although the bare fact has not been kept from her. Mrs. Sonneborn, in spite of her anxiety, is bearing no resentment towards the German torpedo boat that brought disaster to the Lusitania. She was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, nearly 80 years ago and lived there with her father when he was a professor at the university until she was 20 years old. Before her marriage, she was Miss Becker. She believes that Germany has given sufficient warning to all prospective travelers on this side of the ocean of the risk they were running to place the responsibility entirely on their shoulders when disaster occurs. This opinion is also shared by Mr. Sonneborn’s sister, Mrs. Philip Praetorius who, with her husband and children, makes her home with her mother. Their German blood makes it impossible for them to forget that the Lusitania is an English liner.
Perhaps the article offers true insight into Mrs. Sonneborn’s mindset two days after the death of her son and a man she reportedly viewed as a “second son.” Yet, one wonders how, if she was being kept in seclusion and denied news of the disaster, she managed to form so definite an opinion and how she managed to articulate it to a reporter. One also wonders if, in the first stages of shock at losing their family member and friend, any Sonneborn, no matter how proudly German, would voice a blame the victim sentiment to the press. Another odd detail is that Mrs. Sonneborn, described as being “in decline” had managed to travel to NYC to plead with her son not to board the ship, as reported on May 2nd. Neither Mrs. Sonneborn nor her son was anything approaching a celebrity, which vouches for the veracity of that particular story: the press would have had no reason to invent it before the disaster had it not actually occurred. Our interpretation is that no matter how pro-Germany Wilhelmina was, she was also afraid of what Germany might do, and made a last minute attempt to keep the two men off the ship. Would an ailing woman, who made a long train trip in an unsuccessful attempt to save the life of her son and his traveling companion, be inclined to let the world know that they had brought their deaths upon themselves, just nine days later?
The Mixed Claims Commission’s posthumous opinion of the two men, particularly Mr. Sonneborn, was harsh. The most damaging part of the case summary was the declaration that Henry Sonneborn was a man of slender estate, unemployed, and seemingly being supported by Leo Schwabacher. “The inferences from the meager statements contained in the record are that the resources of decedent were slender and his income small. The property of his estate, both real and personal, inventoried only $13,107.653.” One wonders what criteria Umpire Parker was using to judge “slender.” Sonneborn’s yearly income, prior to the sale of his share of the coal business was listed as $8,400.00, a more than adequate amount upon which to survive ca. 1910, and only $1,600.00 per year less than Mr. Schwabacher was earning in interest on his inheritance. $13,100.00 was one of the larger estates left by any of the American victims. Mr. Sonneborn’s lost personal effects were valued at $2,230.50. It may be noted that Allan Loney, socially well connected Lusitania victim, was described in the record as having the earning potential of $10,000.00 per year as a broker and bond salesman, of having lost $1235.00 worth of personal property in the disaster and “…died intestate…his daughter inherited his entire estate which does not appear to have been large” without any additional editorial comment being made by the commission. Likewise, the fact that Charles Williamson not only died broke but also owed a large sum of money to some of the most socially correct residents of New York City was allowed to pass without remark, as was the fact that he was traveling with a woman to whom he was not married. It would seem that Mr. Parker was basing his evident disapproval of Mr. Sonneborn on something other than dollar figures, because by 1925 standards, Henry was far from poor.
It is apparent from the financial data presented in the case summaries, that the two friends were more or less on equal footing, and although there is no known surviving evidence of who paid for what, other than that Mr. Schwabacher bought their shared mausoleum, it is obvious that this was not a case of an opportunistic poor man bleeding a well off friend.
Thomas Snowden, of Lynn, Massachusetts, was another survivor who saw a personal scandal made public as a result of his Lusitania experiences.
The shoemaker was returning to his native Leicestershire, where he was born in 1885, to visit with friends and family and, perhaps, to enlist. His excellent first person account omits but a single significant detail regarding his experiences aboard the ship:
I never want to go through such an experience again. To see men, women and little children drown in hundreds is a sight one will never be able to blot from one’s memory. I have worked hard since I left Leicester, and with hundreds of others on the boat was looking forward to a happy holiday and a happy re-union with my friends. To think how happy we all were up to the moment of the disaster, and now – it seems like a horrible nightmare.
I had just got up from lunch and was making my way along the second-class deck when there was a terrible crash and the ship shivered, as it were, from stem to stern. In a moment there was pandemonium. People were running around in all directions, and probably the majority of them realized that the ship had been torpedoed. The captain and officers certainly realized it for steps were immediately taken to put the women and children, or as many as were possible, in the boats.
I and my friend did what we could in this direction and whilst we were assisting a very heavy lady, there was much screaming. I ran to the side and looked over. Then I knew the cause of the agonizing cries. About 50 women and children were struggling in the water, appealing for help. It was heartbreaking to see them sink and disappear. The ropes of the boat had gone wrong, and the boat had been smashed against the side of the ship.
There was another crash. Everybody seemed to realize that it was a case of life or death. As many of the women and children were ‘collected’ as possible, but there were hundreds of poor things who never got a chance. I realized that the ship would sink, took my boots and coat and waistcoat off, and when I felt her going – dived. It seemed eternity before I struck the water. When I came up, I seized a piece of wreckage and held on to it. In the meantime the great ship disappeared. She went with a plunge – nose first.
Some distance away, there was a life raft. When I reached it there were some twenty-four of twenty-five other persons on it. The number was gradually added to and eventually this too began to sink. Far out was an overturned boat. I jumped off and swam to it. Others were doing the same. I reached it and with help got it righted. Those who were with me then began to pick up others. Among those I helped to pull in was Lady Allan. Another man I pulled in was called Beauchamp. Eventually we found the third assistant engineer among us, and he took command.
The boat contained seventeen men and five women and it was two and a half hours before we were picked up. What our condition was then, few can imagine. What our feelings were, no-one can express. When in the water I saw the body of a young fellow – Charlie Hurley – float by, apparently dead. He was from Brockton, Mass., and was coming to Leicester to work. He told me he was going to a Mr. J. Wine, 132, Tewksbury Street, who I presume, is a relative. I have looked in the list of those saved and as I cannot find the name, I presume that he was drowned.
We were picked up by a Greek steamer, flying the Greek flag. She, too, was evidently expecting to be torpedoed, for her boats were kept ready to be launched. Eventually we were landed and among the first things we were asked was whether ‘Anybody had taken a snapshot of the sinking ship?’ Sure if that fellow had not gone by quickly, he would have been molested.
I lost everything except my watch and money. I never thought we should get through. Our boat was fast making water, and could not have kept afloat half-an-hour longer. But we were very lucky, although luck is not the right word for it. You know what I mean. I am thankful, and so is one left back in America – my mother!
Snowden gave a second account to the local newspaper in Lynn, Massachusetts, on the fiftieth anniversary of the disaster:
When the torpedo hit, the ship shivered from top to bottom and from stem to stern. The concussion knocked me and everyone around me to the deck. The Lusitania immediately took a severe list to the starboard as thousands of gallons of water flooded into the hole made by the torpedo. I immediately joined other men in putting the women and their kids into the lifeboats. A lot of the boats were lowered about half way when suddenly something snapped the lines and they smashed to pieces against the side of the ship and in the water. The women and youngsters were spilled into the water and most of them drowned. Only two or three of the boats were lowered without incident. There was no question about the men escaping in the boats. There just weren’t enough!
It was clear that my only chance of surviving was to jump overboard, so I took off my shoes and socks and jumped the 40 foot from the deck to the water. It was cold. I spotted an overturned lifeboat with about 20 or 30 people holding on to it. I am a good swimmer and didn’t have any trouble reaching it about 50 yards away. We stayed in the cold water for about eight hours and during that time I saw 300 to 400 bodies scattered all over the horizon.
Finally, we spotted a ship coming towards us. The vessel named Kintina (sic) might have been an old tramp steamer but she looked beautiful to us. She was flying a Greek flag but was actually a British ship raising the German blockade. The crew, all East Indians, lowered their small boats to scoop us out of the water. Then they took us into Queenstown. When I got ashore, I refused medical care and told them all I needed was a good drink of whisky to stir me up. I decided to return to the United States, after realizing how sweet life was. I figured war work making military boots was just as vital as anything else.
No mention was made, in either article, of the fact that Snowden had been married for several years in May 1915.
Mrs. Marion Snowden sued her husband for divorce in early 1916, on the grounds of cruel and abusive treatment. She revealed, in court, that her husband had abandoned her to elope to England with another woman, from Lynn, but that she did not wish to draw the name of the woman- who drowned- into the public eye.
Mrs. Snowden, perhaps gleefully, revealed the woman’s name to the press upon receiving her settlement,. Thomas Snowden had informed his wife, around April 1915, that he was leaving her and returning to Leicestershire with Mrs. Eva Finch. Mrs. Snowden did not object, in light of the abusive treatment she had received during the course of her marriage. A 1916 newspaper trenchantly commented:
Snowden and Mrs. Finch sailed on the Lusitania. When the vessel was torpedoed, Snowden was rescued but Mrs. Finch was drowned. At the time, reporters noted that neither Mrs. Snowden nor Mr. Finch expressed any interest in the fate of their mates.
Thomas Snowden died in Lynn, on February 15, 1966, at age 81.
Aino Antila had immigrated to the United States from Finland at some point prior to 1910. She had two sons, Carl in 1911, and Jan ”John” in 1912, in Rockledge, Michigan. She and her sons were deported to Hanko, Finland by way of Liverpool during the summer of 1914; traveling aboard Cunard’s Carmania as part of a large group of Finnish deportees. The Antilas arrived in Liverpool on August 7, 1914, and a day later were placed aboard the Cunard liner Laconia and deported from England back to the United States. The entire family was detained upon arrival in New York, on August 17th, and hospitalized at Ellis Island. The separate paperwork pertaining to the nature of the illness, and who among the family was ill, has not been placed online. Cunard, as the shipping line which accepted these undesirable immigrants, was compelled to pay Ellis Island for their upkeep. The Antilas were detained at Ellis Island until January, 1915, and then held elsewhere until the following April, when they were again deported. They boarded the Lusitania, as third class passengers, and on May 7th were among the handful of families to survive intact.
The Cunard Line later sued the U.S. government for the approximately $50 it paid for the upkeep of the Antila boys during their internment at Elis Island. Their rationale was that only Mrs. Antila was a ward of Cunard; the boys, as U.S. citizens, were not the company’s responsibility. The suit was decided in Cunard’s favor, and the cost of maintaining the brothers from August, 1914 thru January, 1915 was refunded to the company.
“Constance Eda Stroud gave birth to a child of which your petitioner is not the father…”
They say looks are deceiving. Edward Stroud, his wife Constance, and daughter Helen appeared to be a typical family sailing home aboard the Lusitania. Passengers they encountered had no reason to believe otherwise. In reality, the fair haired couple with the red headed daughter was divorced, and the reason for the divorce was an illegitimate child – Helen.
Edward Percy Wallace Stroud was born in early 1877 to Colonel Henry and Ann Stroud. He grew up in Ramsgate and Eastbourne as the middle child of eleven children. When he was of age he signed up for the Navy and served in the Mexican war as a ACV/Sub Lieutenant. A few years later, he met Constance Eda Simpson, daughter of Charles and Alice Simpson of Streatham. They were married in a civil ceremony on August 19, 1907 at the Christ Church in Mexico City, Mexico. A second ceremony followed less than a month later, on September 3rd. They settled into their lives, while he first worked as the manager of the American Creamery Co. and then as the marine superintendant of the Anglo Mexican Petroleum Co.
Constance made frequent trips home to visit her family, and on March 19, 1912, she gave birth to Helen Wallace Stroud at the hospital in Westminster. A year later, Edward Stroud sailed home on the Oceanic, and began divorce proceedings in June. He wrote out the reason in his deposition:
“That the said Constance Eda Stroud had frequently committed adultery with a man whose name is unknown to your petitioner. That on March 19, 1912, at the Westminster Hospital in the county of London, the said Constance Eda Stroud gave birth to a female child of which your petitioner is not the father.”
How he came about this information is unclear. Did a friend or family member warn him? Did Constance send a confession? Did he always suspect the child was not his? Although a co-respondent was not named, the court felt that Edward had proven that Constance had committed adultery, and agreed for the dissolution of the marriage. The final decree was reached on December, 19, 1913 and the marriage dissolved on June 29, 1914.
That was not the end of the marriage, however. Constance began a series of regular trips to Mexico, with Helen, to visit Edward, with the first commencing less than a month after the final decree. Was a reconcilliation in the works? It is hard to say. The final trip was in March 1915, and the three of them booked passage on the May 1 crossing of the Lusitania. Mrs. Stroud and Helen traveled from Mexico to New York separate from Mr. Stroud, aboard the San Urbano, and checked in to the Phildelphia Y.W.C.A., before traveling on by train.
Second class was over-booked, but the ex-spouses were befriended by the gregarious Archie Donald and Mr and Mrs. Cyril Pells. Edward, having served in the Navy, chatted with several men who were going overseas to join up. People apparently did not know the Strouds were divorced, and it was not noted as such. They appeared to blend in with the many young families with children.
Edward was on deck when the torpedo struck, and Constance was below. He brought his family on deck, and made two subsequent trips down to the cabins for lifejackets. The final trip back on deck had him climbing on his hands and knees due to the sharp angle. Archie Donald saw them on deck, and watched as Edward stripped Constance of her clothing so that she would be able to swim better. He held Helen in his arms during the plunge, but lost his grip. Edward and Constance survived, but Helen was gone. The former Mrs. Stroud supposedly lamented to Donald, “Well, we will have another.”
Whatever bond that tied them together soon evaporated, and by the end of 1915, Constance had married Francis John Newton Dunne. Edward married Dora Williams a few months later . Both of these marriages would be short lived. Francis became a Captain in the Royal Field Artillery. He died on December 9, 1918, possibly of an injury suffered during the war. Constance was overcome by the news. She ingested a narcotic that put her into a coma, and passed away on December 10.
History repeated itself, and a year after Edward had married, he was in court divorcing his second wife on the grounds of adultery. This time a co-respondant was named.
Having received an opportunity elsewhere, he boarded a ship in 1923 bound for South Africa. He became a Senior Cultivation Protector. While there, he met Ethel Mary Bisgers. They married and had a son, Edward Peter. They decided to raise their family back in England, and returned in October 1930 on the Llangibby Castle. Ethel died in the first quarter of 1941 on the Isle of Wight. Several years later, when Edward was living in Wimbledon, the pain of the past was erased when he succumbed to mycardial degeneration on March 9, 1949.
Constance Stroud Dunne’s grave
Courtesy of Peter Kelly
Rose Ellen Murray, of Dublin and Boston, became a minor celebrity after she survived the Lusitania disaster. However, her celebrity proved to be her undoing twenty years after the vessel was destroyed.
Rose Ellen was the wife of a U.S. Naval officer, Christopher Murray. She loved ships and travel, and crossed the Atlantic at least fifteen times between 1910 and 1926. She would claim 34 crossings, a number which remained constant in her press releases between 1925 and 1932, despite other voyages made in the interim.
Christopher Murray and Rose Ellen Murray
Mrs. Murray’s frequent appearances in the papers hinged on her claims of being a survivor of both the Titanic and Lusitania disasters. She would tell eager reporters of her long wait for the Carpathia, and of her hours spent atop an overturned Lusitania lifeboat. The latter, at least, could be proved true. She had jumped from the sinking liner and been saved from atop a lifeboat, as had her brother, Patrick Ginley. Mrs. Murray was a good sport, gave great quotes about how she loved “the sea to the extent that she cannot now sleep on land” …and if her Titanic story seemed sparing in details compared to her Lusitania account, no one questioned. She was also aboard the Celtic when that liner was involved in a minor collision and apparently added that tale to her recitation at some point.
Mrs. Murray maintained a home for her husband and two of her brothers on South Circular Road, in Dublin.
One day, in July 1935, Mrs. Murray was accosted at her residence by three young women who said that they were there to escort her to a mental institution. Mrs. Murray refused to go with them and, instead, went to The Four Courts in Dublin, in order to discuss the situation with her lawyer and to instigate legal proceedings against an unnamed party. There, she was again confronted by the three women. A scene ensued when Mrs. Murray learned that they had been sent to take her to Verville, a private mental hospital. She was forced to her knees and her arms restrained. The women pulled Rose Ellen into a taxi with great difficulty, and broug
ht her to the facility. She remained in Verville from July 5, 1935 through October 10th.
Mrs. Murray was released after a sanity hearing determined that she was sane and capable of maintaining her own affairs. Incredibly enough, it seems that someone used Mrs. Murray’s frequently told Titanic, Lusitania and Celtic stories, and an incident in which Rose Ellen had been blackmailed over some indiscretion, to have her committed. She proved by affadavit and other evidence, that all four claims were partially true and not melancholy ravings, and was released. The identity or identities of whoever had her committed was not made public, but the fact that Mrs. Murray thereafter lived apart from her husband and brothers seems to point a finger.
Her actual Titanic story, as sworn in court, was that she was supposed to have been aboard the ship, but did not sail due to a missed train. This was far different than the tale told to the pier side press in NYC and Boston, and conceivably true.
Mrs. Murray sued Dr. Sullivan, of Verville, in November 1939, claiming that she had been falsely committed, and was physically assaulted by another patient while in the hospital. She had been punched in the face, driving her eyeglass in to her eye, and when she complained was told that she had to learn to watch out for herself when “in a place like this.” The jury found in favor of Doctor Sullivan in December, stating that Mrs. Murray had been legally committed with papers filed June 28, 1935, and that the assault was not due to specific negligence on his part.
Rose Ellen Murray was found dead on the floor of her home at Merrion Square, Dublin, on January 12, 1942. She was 62 years old. Rose left an estate of three thousand five hundred pounds. Her husband and three brothers were bequeathed fifty pounds each, and the bulk of her money went to charity. Her brothers opposed the will, and in July 1942 were each granted an additional two hundred pounds. Her husband, still in naval service, wrote the court to say that he in no way wanted to interfere with his late wife’s wishes.
I love the sea. It’s strange. When I’m on land I’m all nerves. Often I can’t sleep. Time after time, I live through it all again. When I’m at sea, I forget it all.
I remember that Rita Jolivet and I had been taking up a collection for the ship’s musicians. My brother rushed to me with a life belt.
The ship was about to stand on end. I leaped from one of its highest decks. An old man caught me by the hair. He was clinging to some wreckage. In a few moments, he went under.
I swam to an overturned lifeboat, and crawled across it. I lost consciousness.
They wrapped me in a blanket and took me to a hotel in Queenstown. There someone gave me a pair of pajamas.
I took a train that afternoon to my old home in Belfast. Still wearing the pajamas, without shoes or socks.
Rose Ellen Murray; disembarking from the Caronia. NYC, 1926.
Patrick McGinley, Rose Murray’s brother, was formerly a teacher at St. Gall’s National School, Clonard. He had been an employee of Park and Telford in New York City for five years as of May 1915, and was returning to Belfast for his first visit home since emigrating:
I had lunched at the first table at one o’clock, and then I came on deck and chatted with a gentleman friend. Everyone around was in the best of spirits.
Shortly after two o’clock as I was still talking to my friend, I noticed a white object about 100 yards off on the land side. It was directly at right angles to the liner. I called my friend’s attention to it, and he said “That appears to be a periscope.”
I saw a white streak coming towards the vessel. “My God, there’s a torpedo” exclaimed my friend. I saw it come quickly through the water until it struck the ship, which shook like a reed in the wind and heaved to one side.
Everyone was rushing to and fro and there was a good deal of excitement but not all that much under the circumstances. The people got into the boats as quickly and with as little crushing as possible. When they had been there for about five minutes, an order came from the captain, indirectly, that the passengers should leave the boats as everything was safe and they were going to make for land.
I at once went down to my stateroom and secured two lifebelts, thinking they were the best thing in the circumstances. On coming up, I fixed one on my sister, Mrs. Murray, who was already in a lifeboat and I fastened the other on myself. I remained in the boat, which contained about one hundred people. Orders were then given to lower all the boats quickly, as the ship was sinking very fast.
Something went wrong with the pulley on the boat in which we were, and a young man cut the ropes thinking, of course, that the boat would fall on its keel in the water. Instead of that, however, it turned upside down and we were all precipitated headlong into the water.
I went down ever so far in to the sea, and at last I began to rise again. On coming up, I felt something resting on top of my head, and on putting up my hand I discovered it was the upturned boat from which we had fallen. With great difficulty, I managed to get from under it, and I then started swimming around in the hope of finding my sister. I could find no trace of her, though bodies were drifting past me all the time.
In the meantime, the Lusitania had disappeared.
After I had been swimming for a considerable time, I managed to get onto a raft and drifted for about half a mile. I saw a lifeboat upside down and with about forty people clinging to her, and I thought if I could get to that boat I should be alright. I sprang from the raft and swam the one hundred fifty yards which separated me from the boat, and I was dragged aboard.
We were on that boat almost an hour- seven women and the rest all men. One of the men had his arm torn almost completely off, and a young man severed it for him with a pocket knife.
As we were floating about, I saw a lady and a gentleman clinging to a piece of raft and coming in our direction. When they came near the boat, the lady lifted one hand and said “For God’s sake, save me!” One man on the boat said “If you bring any more on the boat, it will go down” I said “We can’t see people drown, let’s get them on!” Mr. Wyle, a steward, and I helped the lady on, and also the man. The lady, it afterwards transpired, was Lady Allan.
Patrick McGinley died in 1951, at Cathcart, Scotland.
Several accounts bolster the unbelievable-seeming claim McGinley made about the crewmember with the severed arm. George Harrison, a third class passenger, gave this account to his local newspaper:
A young Ryhope miner, was among the survivors of the ill fated Lusitania, was bravely unselfish in the hour of his greatest danger. His name is Mr. George Harrison, of 8 Thompson Terrace, Ryhope, and he was returning from Coal Creek, Canada in order to join the army. When the vessel was torpedoed he twice gave up a lifebelt he secured, in each case to a young married woman with a child.
Mr. Harrison in an interview, said after the explosion he went to his bunk to get a lifebelt, and heard water like a river rushing into the ship. “I hastily reascended” he remarked, and happily found another belt in a first class state room.
Upon reaching the deck Mr. Harrison saw the first boat launched, but it broke up against the vessel’s side as the Lusitania rapidly listed. There were four people in the boat and one of them, a man, had his face smeared with blood. A second boat was also launched but it met with the same fate.
“Immediately afterwards,” said Mr. Harrison, “I dived into the sea with a lifebelt. When I came to the top again the Lusitania‘s stern was lifting and the propellers showing partly out of the water. A few seconds later the great liner lurched and dived into the depths.
“The ocean was calm, and I clung to some broken boxes. Then I saw a young Irish girl floating near, and I managed to get hold of her. Another young fellow joined me later, and eventually we made our way to an upturned boat, which was supporting 48 others. We were the last to join it.
“Dead bodies were almost everywhere,” commented the surviving miner,” and we sometimes collided with them. Men, women, children were floating head downwards all around us, and some were wearing lifebelts. There were scores of them, and the sight was awful. For over two hours I and the other passengers clung to the upturned boat, and then we were rescued by a merchantman.
“One man” concluded Harrison, “had his arm severed just above the elbow. He was one of the crew and said he received the injury through being in the part of the ship struck by the torpedo.”