Block of Cork from Titanic

(All the names in the following account, whether people, boats or locale, have been changed at the request of the family. But every facet of the rest of the story is completely true.-Editor)

George and Emily Sargent were proud owners of a magnificent 38-foot raised-deck cruiser called Shikari, which had been built in Calcutta in 1956 for a sea captain owner. Every scrap of wood in her, from her 38' keel beam, all her ribs and planking, was made up of prime teak. She was massively and beautifully constructed.

But because her owner had to go back to sea, the handsome vessel came into George Sargent's ownership. He loved her dearly and her rakish profile was a familiar and well-loved sight along the stretch of Florida coast where he and his family lived. For 37 years, she was their pride and joy.

George Sargent is an ophthalmologist and one of his patients was Mrs. Louis M. Ogden, who, with her husband, had been a passenger aboard Carpathia when the little Cunarder rescued all of Titanic's survivors. She and the Sargents became firm friends and she presented them with a rare and valuable present, a block of cork that had originally seen service as part of a Titanic lifejacket.

Dr. Sargent was delighted to have the relic and had it framed in a little shadow box that was hung in Shikari's forward cabin. There it stayed for many years until an August night of 1995 when the yacht, moored in a boat-yard slip, caught fire. She burned, horribly and completely, despite the fact that local firemen so drenched her with water that she sank to the bottom.

Mrs. Ogden's cork block in its glass case, sank with it, yet somehow survived the inferno. So, for the second time, that piece of cork had been cast upon the waters and was restored to land. Shikari is gone. The Sargents grieve for her still but Mrs. Ogden's gift remains a precious keepsake ashore.

During one of Mrs. Ogden's visits to the Sargents, she annotated an edition of The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters, copyright L.T. Myers in 1912. On April 3d , 1959 she wrote on the fly leaf: "Read with great interest by Augusta M. D. Ogden (Mrs. Louis M. Ogden) passenger on the Carpathia."

On page 86, next to a passage where Quartermaster Moody is quoted as suggesting "I saw Murdock die by his own hand," Mrs. Ogden scribbled "Do not think this is true." And at the bottom of the facing page, she penciled: "Colonel Gracie wore my husband's clothes. We were old friends." Gracie, newly embarked as a Titanic castaway, must have been grateful to have a change of clothing or two during Carpathia's 3-day passage to New York.

On page 107, where the author has suggested that Carpathia left New York on April 13th, Augusta Ogden wrote in a corrective 11th. She marked with a simple and presumably admiring pencil line the paragraph on page 115 that praised Mrs. Widener's "brave toil" in the lifeboat, as volunteered by her maid, Emily Geiger. Over the page, she records that "I gave Mrs. Carter clothes;" Mrs. William Carter was another Philadelphia woman in Mrs. Thayer's lifeboats with her children.

On page 119, Mrs. Ogden wrote: "It was a beautiful, starry night with a waning moon and very cold. We sneaked out on deck and saw the first boat arrive at about 4:30 a.m." The author claims that there were several bodies in the lifeboats as they approached Carpathia which the occupants weighted and put overboard. The annotator suggests authoritatively: "Only one dead man arrived."

Across the bottom of facing pages 126 and 127, which detail some fellow Carpathia passengers' concern about what was happening on board, Mrs. Ogden wrote: "My husband also believed we were on fire, hearing the shocks of the lifeboats overhead and got me up and dressed. We were on deck when the first boat arrived. We had been told it was an accident to the Titanic but did not believe it until we saw the (White Star) insignia on the lifeboats."

She gives us a glimpse of life aboard the rescue vessel as it sailed for New York. "Mrs. Astor, Mrs. Thayer and Mrs. Widener," she records in pencil, "were put in the Captain's quarters. I lent them clothes and took them flowers and fruit every day."

Later, there is talk of Bruce Ismay. Carpathia steward McGuire, having fed the famished Mr. Ismay in the dining room, was quoted as saying that "he must have kept to his cabin." Appends Mrs. Ogden: "He certainly did!"

When the vessel reached New York, she went north of the Cunard piers to drop off Titanic's lifeboats. "That part," Mrs. Ogden remembered, "was terrible for the survivors. The boats had been hoisted aboard in case of need."

Once the vessel was docked, it was suggested in the text that two Carpathia passengers, ("as their orderly dress showed them to be") descended the gangway ahead of any survivors. Not so, recalled Augusta Ogden. "No Carpathia passengers were allowed to land until all the Titanic ones were off. I understood."

On page 165, on the subject of what has been called the Duff Gordons's private lifeboat, Mrs. Ogden wrote: "Duff-Gordon and his wife were alone with twelve seamen, whom he paid!"

Twenty-four hours after Carpathia had landed Titanic's people, she sailed out of the port, resuming her interrupted Mediterranean spring cruise itinerary. "Only one passenger dropped out," Mrs. Ogden advises us.

A final annotation brings us back to the cork float. The author queried why so many men who had donned lifejackets did not remain on the surface. Mrs. Ogden's theory, penciled beneath the offending paragraph? "The cork was too new."

Your editor extends his warmest thanks to Dr. Sargent for sharing his annotated book and the sad tale of Shikari.


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