Saved from the Sinking by a Survivor

A recent acquisition for my Lusitania collection is a purse and its contents that were saved from the sinking by second-class survivor Martha Barker. Martha was traveling with her nine-year-old daughter Winifred, who was lost in the disaster. Purchased directly from the Barker family, this purse is all that Mrs. Barker was able to save from the sinking. It came with the contents that were inside when Lusitania sank as well as a few additional family items related to Lusitania. Among the contents are a letter written on board by Winifred during the crossing, a pin from on board Lusitania, a coin purse, a pair of gloves, two $1 bills, and a set of keys.


My Dive to Lusitania

Today marks the 25th anniversary of my second dive to the wreck of Lusitania. It certainly was less dramatic than the first one, which was four days earlier and is shown in the painting below! Both are experiences that I will never forget.

To read the journal I kept on the expedition (including moment-by-moment accounts of both my dives to the wreck), click the following link.


After my first dive to Lusitania on 4 August, the tail that was caught in the fishing net was recovered a few days later. In the photo below, the sub pilot, Chris Ijames, is holding the tail that we had to drop.  The center photo below is the dropped sub tail that is currently in my collection, and the last photo is a section of the net that had us trapped on Lusitania for nearly an hour.




Lusitania in the Mersey by Charles E. Turner

This watercolor by a young Charles Eddowes Turner (1883-1965) depicts the new Cunard liner Lusitania in the River Mersey around the time of her maiden voyage. The painting is dated 1907 and is the earliest work by Turner that I have seen. It is currently in my collection.

In the background is another Cunarder. After looking at Cunard’s ship movements for the end of 1907, the most likely candidate is Etruria of 1885. Lusitania and Etruria were only in the Mersey together on three occasions in 1907—30 August, 31 August, and 28 September.


Decorative Window Glass from the Wreck of Lusitania

In 1990, I visited the Oceaneering office in Aberdeen, Scotland, to inspect the items that had been salvaged from Lusitania in 1982. Before making the trip, we read through the simple inventory Oceaneering had compiled of the items recovered. One piece that was particularly interesting was described simply as “patterned window glass.” There were several possibilities of what it could have been, but one of the most exciting was the thought that it might be a piece of the stained-glass barrel-vaulted ceiling from the first-class Lounge.

While examining and photographing the artifacts, we came across a box with this beautiful pane of “patterned window glass” at the bottom, wrapped in a piece of very thin cardboard and covered with very heavy metal parts. Although it was not the stained glass we were hoping for, it is nothing short of miraculous that this survived not only the sinking, but then the collapse of the superstructure, the salvage process, and its careless handling after it was brought up.

Although its original location on board has not yet been determined, its leaf pattern is very reminiscent of that in the first-class Writing Room on Boat Deck. Three pieces of patterned glass were recovered. This intact pane and a smaller broken piece of a different pattern are currently in my collection.

Window glass annotated

Lusitania Coal

During the 1993 Lusitania expedition, I was fortunate to make two dives to the wreck in a small two-man submersible. The first dive took place on 4 August during which we explored the hull of the ship. The second dive on 8 August was spent looking through the debris field of the superstructure. During the dive, we recovered this piece of coal. It was originally 1/3 larger, but a section was removed by National Geographic for later analysis. It currently measures 6” x 4” x 3”.


Elsie Hook’s Train Ticket

In the early 1990’s, I was fortunate to locate and correspond with Lusitania survivor Elsie Hook. She sailed on Lusitania with her father George and her brother Frank, and fortunately, all three survived the disaster. Elsie was probably the “best” survivor I ever corresponded with because she was 12 at the time of the sinking and had amazingly accurate memories of the disaster.
George had a number of items in his pockets when he went into the water as Lusitania sank, including a ship’s newspaper dated 7 May 1915 and this train ticket that he had purchased for Elise shortly after they sailed from New York. Elsie very kindly gave me the train ticket and a number of other items she had collected over the years related to Lusitania.

Hook ticket 2

A Survivor’s Memento

The Lusitania survivor I knew best was Edith Wachtel (née Williams). Edith was traveling to England on the fateful voyage with her mother Annie, two sisters Florence and Ethel, and her three brothers Edward, George, and David. Of the family, only Edith and Edward survived.

This collar was part of a dress that was purchased for Edith the day after the disaster. Over the years, the dress became tattered and eventually fell apart, but Edith kept the collar as a reminder of that day. Shortly before she passed away in 1992, Edith gave me all of her Lusitania-related memorabilia, including the collar. The inset photo is of Edith (wearing the collar) and Edward shortly after the sinking.


George Griffiths, Second-Class Waiter

Several years ago, I added this replacement discharge book for Lusitania crew member George Griffiths to my collection.  George signed on to Lusitania as a second-class saloon steward (waiter) on 17 April 1915 for the round-trip crossing.  The date of discharge is listed as 7 May 1915, and the reason is “sunk by enemy action.”

All crew discharge books were lost during the sinking; so every crew member was issued a replacement.


Salvaged Lusitania Artifact Identified

In 1990, I purchased a number of artifacts that had been salvaged from Lusitania in 1982. Most of the items were easily identifiable, but there were three or four pieces that escaped identification. Although I had not given up on figuring out what they are, it seemed unlikely that I would ever find any of them in an archival photo. Several years ago, I purchased a large number of original builder’s photos of Lusitania that showed rarely seen interior and exteriors of the liner. While carefully examining one of these, something jumped out at me. It was one of the artifacts that I had purchased in 1990—the remains of an oil lamp from a crew area.

Although Lusitania and Mauretania were fully electrified, electricity on liners at the time was still not trusted 100%; so oil lamps were installed throughout the passenger and crew areas. Most of the items salvaged in 1982 were brought up from the area surrounding the forecastle and bridge. The archival photo below shows the Officers’ Smoking Room behind the bridge, and perhaps my oil lamp is the exact same one shown in the photo. It was extremely gratifying to finally be able to put an identification to this amazing artifact.


RMS Lusitania in Rare Photos & Memorabilia