Sample Minnesota newspaper articles, photos and ads dating back more than 140 years. Fresh items are posted weekly. Go here for tips on how to track down old newspaper articles on your own. Follow the blog on Twitter. Or check out "Minnesota Mysteries," a new book based on the blog.

E-mail your questions or suggestions to Ben Welter.

April 20, 1912: A Titanic survivor’s tale

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Disasters Updated: April 16, 2012 - 9:48 AM
 
After a two-month honeymoon in Europe, a Minneapolis couple – John Pillsbury Snyder and his wife, Nelle – boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England, for their trip home. Before departure, Snyder used the ship's stationery to write to the owner of a London tobacco shop, thanking him for the cigars he was enjoying on board. The note, mailed just before the ship departed on April 10, 1912, was part of a collection of Titanic items that sold for more than $100,000 in 2011. 

Less than five days into its maiden voyage, the “unsinkable” ship sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Snyder’s eyewitness account of the Titanic’s final hours appeared in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune:
 
Titanic Disaster Aftermath
 

Mr. Snyder Tells
of Ship Disaster;
Three Men Shot

 
Minneapolitan Declares Crew
in Lifeboat Acted as
if Insane.

Says Three Rescued Persons
Were Murdered and Bod-
ies Thrown Out.

Frenzied Seamen Overpower
Officers and Capture
Lifeboat.

Passengers Who Swam Near
Hit on the Heads With
Oars.

Witnesses Unable to Account
for Actions of the
Men.
 
New York, April 20. – (Special.) – Most horrifying tales of brutality on the part of frenzied members of the Titanic’s crew were related by John Pillsbury Snyder, of Minneapolis, at the Waldorf hotel, and Luigi Signoli, of Philadelphia, who came in on the Carpathia.
 
Mr. Snyder said three passengers in the lifeboat in which he was saved were shot to death by sailors, and their bodies dumped over the side of the boat into the sea. He said that the crew that manned that particular lifeboat seemed crazed with fear, and he cannot account for their action in resorting to murder unless they were insane, or feared that the three unfortunates would upset the boat.
 
 
  John Pillsbury Snyder and his wife, Nelle, on April 18, 1912, the day they arrived in New York City aboard the Carpathia. (Courtesy of Philip Weiss Auctions)
Signoli said that the crew got the better of the officers after all boats save three had gone over the side of the Titanic and succeeded by main force in occupying boats and lowering them. After the Titanic sank, he said, several passengers with life preservers around their bodies swam up to the boats occupied by these sailors and attempted to board them. As each of the swimmers got near enough the sailors fought them off and attempted to brain them with oars and boathooks.
 
 Mr. Snyder’s story of the great catastrophe follows:
 
All Ordered to Deck.
 
“My wife [Nelle] and I went to bed at 11:30 o’clock on the night of the disaster. Shortly after we retired we felt the boat shiver and we knew she had struck something. There was a grinding noise such as a canoe makes when dragged over the graveled bed of a stream, only it was much louder, of course. I rang for a steward and asked him what the trouble was. He told me that the ship had struck an iceberg, but there was no use in going on deck for the danger was past. Soon another steward came down and told us to dress and come on deck at once. We did so hurriedly, but when we reached the deck the officer had matters well in hand and we thought the danger was over.
 
“Everything was so quiet and orderly that one woman went back to her stateroom to get her pet dog. We did not realize the danger until we were ordered to get into boats. Both men and women occupied the first few boats and my wife and I got into one of those that went over the rail first. That was about 12:10 o’clock. As we were veering off the Titanic we heard shouts. Then the stern of the vessel began to rise. Three explosions, one rapidly following the other, were heard. The stern rose high in the air and the Titanic began to settle. As far as I could see she slid toward the berg. The iceberg looked tremendous in spite of the fact that the sun had melted it along the top. A sort of ice beach seemed to have formed around it.
 
Three Shot by Crew.
 
“Three of our passengers were shot by the crew and thrown overboard,” continued Mr. Snyder. “I did not see the act committed, but I heard the shots and afterward saw the bodies dumped over the side of the boat. Perhaps the crew thought that the men were rocking the boat too much and were crazed with fear. There was no reason assigned for the shooting.”
 
Won’t Leave Country Again.
 
“Let me say in the beginning,” began Mr. Snyder, “that I probably will never leave my native country again. The experience was so harrowing, so terrible, that I at times imagine it is not all a reality, in fact it seems like a frightful dream.
 
Both Ordered Into Lifeboat.
 
“There was very little disturbance among the passengers, for I suppose none of them realized the danger,” continued Mr. Snyder.
 
 “My wife and I were told to get into a boat and we did, although at the time I much preferred staying on the Titanic.
 
“It looked safe enough on the Titanic and far from safe in the life boats. Before we knew what was being done with us we were swung from the Titanic into the sea and then the life boat was so crowded that the women lay on the bottom to give the crew a chance to row.
 
“We went about 200 yards away from the Titanic. We could see nothing wrong except that the big boat seemed to be settling low in the water at the bow. Still, we could not make ourselves believe that the Titanic would sink. But the Titanic continued to sink lower and lower into the water, and we could see the passengers plunging about the decks and hear their cries.
 
Titanic Torn in Two.
 
“We moved further away from the Titanic. Suddenly there came two sharp explosions as the water rushed into the boiler room and the boilers exploded. The Titanic was torn in two and floundered. The explosions counteracted the effect of the suction made when the big boat went to the bottom.
 
“Following the explosions we could see persons hanging to the side railings of the sinking boat. It is my opinion that many persons were killed by these explosions and were not drowned. Others of the passengers were tossed into the water.
 
“For an hour after the explosions we could see them swimming about in the water or floating on the life belts. We could hear their groans and their cries for help, but we dared not go near them. To have done this would have swamped our own boat, and everybody would have been lost. Several persons did float up to our boat and we took them on board.
 
On Life Boat Two Hours.
 
“After we got on the Carpathia, and only until then did my wife or I realize what we had been through. We had been in the life boat, I should judge, about two hours, but the time went quickly as there was so much to see to about the passengers who were in our boat.
 
“We made the women as comfortable as possible, the men giving them their coats and other wraps.”
 
Mr. Snyder was asked if he saw any of the other Minneapolis or Minnesota survivors aboard the Carpathia. “Yes,” he said. “Mrs. Walter D. Douglass [the correct spelling is Douglas; her first name was Mahala] was saved, but Mr. Douglas went down. Miss Constance Willard and another woman from Duluth also were aboard the Carpathia. We met these people while on the Titanic, and coming from the same state, had naturally become friendly with them.”
 
Asked if he knew that he and Mrs. Snyder were, excepting one other couple, the only honeymoon couple aboard the Titanic that had both been saved, he said that he did not. “That is one more thing that I have to be thankful for,” was his only reply.
 
Mr. and Mrs. Snyder were interviewed a few minutes after they had come ashore from off the Carpathia. They said they would leave for their home in Minneapolis immediately.
 
Only two out of the seven passengers from Minnesota were lost, they being Wm. [Walter is the correct name] D. Douglas of Minneapolis, and W.B. Silvey of Duluth. Mrs. Douglas, Mrs. [Alice] Silvey and Miss Willard were all on the Carpathia. They came ashore immediately after the arrival of the liner and left the pier, probably taking one of the Pennsylvania railroad special trains for their homes right away.   
 
The Snyders were among the passengers who boarded the Titanic at Southampton, England. 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT