In Liverpool and Southampton alike,
there used to be a common superstition among crew families that a picture
falling from the wall indicated that a ship would be lost at sea.
C. L. Daughtrey, the daughter of an Olympic crewman who was bitterly
disappointed at not having been being assigned to Titanic, recalls that at her
house, on April 14th, 1912, a picture fell. Her mother remarked, almost as a
conditioned reflex, "Goodness, a ship will go down tomorrow." Needless
to say, many of her father's friends' lives were lost in the disaster the omen
That picture fell eighty- three years ago. This spring, one fell at my house,
one of five long French Line cutaway's that are hung high up in my drawing room
around the picture-molding. It was a handsome color cutaway of the French Line's
Ile de France about five feet long. Together with four similar companion pieces,
it had been included over the past years as part of two exhibitions, Hommage au
Normandie and Ships of State.
I can only assume that the repetitive process of hanging and rehanging the
cutaway, at the exhibitions and back on my walls, had loosened one of the
screweyes securing the picture wire to the rear of the frame; in any event, that
was what failed, catastrophically.
Mary and I heard the most appalling crash. We raced upstairs to find Ile de
France's frame hanging vertically and miraculously from one end of its picture
wire. The lower end of the frame, in scything down from the horizontal, had
spared a framed Hermes scarf from the France but destroyed two of a collection
of historic Holland America Line souvenir plates arranged on the wall below.
Also shattered was a handsome Tiffany crystal covered vase which Cunard had been
kind enough to present to me when I served as master of ceremonies at the
shipboard press conference celebrating QE2's successful resumption of normality
following her 1994 year-end renovation. Final casualty was one of a pair of
extremely pretty little Limoges dishes from Paris that I had given Mary for
Christmas the year before.
villain of the piece, the long Ile de France cutaway, was, save for its
extracted screweye, completely undamaged; the glass was intact and gilt frame
| I rehung it recently, not before, as readers can see from the
accompanying photograph, restaging the incident midway through without all the
broken pieces of china and glass. In fact, the frame had ended up suspended by
almost the entire long picture wire, sweeping the glass and china off the
Now it is back in place and I have made a point of examining carefully all four
remaining cutaway wires and screweyes to avoid further breakage elsewhere.
Naturally, the ancient superstition came to mind at once and although, over the
succeeding months, no ship was actually lost, an eerie series of misfortunes
befell a variety of vessels all over the world.
En route home from Bermuda to Boston, Royal Majesty ran aground on a Nantucket
Sound sandbar and had to be hauled off by half a dozen tugs during the next high
Carnival's Celebration suffered a crippling electrical fire in an engine room
switchboard, effectively disabling the vessel and necessitating, after three
sticky days, the mid-ocean transfer of 2500 passengers to the rescue ship
The Mississippi's largest steamboat, brand-new American Queen, came to grief on
a river sandbank when the Army Corps of Engineers inadvertently lowered the
river level without advising shipping. She remained high and dry for several
Star Princess sliced two gashes in her hull when she ran over Poundstone Rock in
pilotage waters while cruising along the Alaskan coast. Once she had been
anchored 14 miles to the north of Juneau in Auke Bay, her passengers had to be
disembarked and flown home.
Also in Alaskan waters later over the summer, Regent Star suffered an engine
room fire. All her passengers had to be transferred to nearby Rotterdam.
Once again, thank heavens, no ship and no lives were lost. But this past spring
and summer certainly proved an unfortunate season for various passenger vessels.
What about Maxtone-Graham's falling cutaway? Was it mere co-incidence? Maybe.
Perhaps there is something to be said for traditional sailors' superstitions.