Sunday, March 25, 2012

"one long continuous wailing chant"

It was the desperate cries for help that haunted John "Jack" Thayer after he witnessed the death throes of the Titanic as it reared, roared and plunged into the North Atlantic.

The shouts from those thrown into the icy water swelled into "one long continuous wailing chant", noted the teenage son of an American railway baron.

"It sounded like locusts on a midsummer night in the woods. This terrible cry lasted for twenty or thirty minutes, gradually dying away, as one after another could no longer withstand the cold and exposure."

Lost for several decades, his searing first-hand account will be published next month to mark the centennial of the catastrophe in April 1912. Amid the slew of books, documentaries, films, auctions, exhibitions and cruises commemorating the 100th anniversary of the disaster, A Survivor's Tale stands out for its power, intensity - and indisputable authenticity.

From his vantage point clinging to an upturned lifeboat, Jack watched the unthinkable befall what was supposed to be the unsinkable. All the more poignant was that his father, also called John Thayer, was among the 1,514 who perished in the seas in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

"We could see groups of the almost 1,500 people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after-part of the ship, 250 feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a 65 or 70-degree angle," he recalled.

In 1940, those recollections still vivid, he put them into print in privately-printed edition of just 500 copies for family and friends, which sat largely forgotten on relatives' bookshelves for the next seven decades.

Now, however, his compelling story is to be published by Thornwillow Press, specialists in hand-made letterpress printed books, after one of the originals was found by Lorin Stein, editor of the literary magazine Paris Review and a distant relative of the Thayers. The copy was inscribed to his great-grandfather.

No comments: