Amongst the passengers in the 1st class on board of the Titanic there was a couple of the high society of America, famous in their country as well as in Europe, always in the middle of mundane events. Lucile Stewart Polk and William Ernest Carter, both coming from rich and well known families. She was a descendent of a president of the US and he was the son of a powerful businessman working in the mining sector. The couple got married in Baltimore on 29th of January 1896 and the event attracted lots of mediatic attention, with her wearing “a beautiful white princess dress of heavy satin with a train”
Lucile Stewart Polk- 1900 circa
Rich, beautiful and known, the couple led a privileged life between parties, meetings, sport events and some extravagance. Lucile often wore dresses which would make tabloids and fashion magazines talk, drove a 4 horses couch by herself for the congested roads of Baltimore and was the very first woman to play polo.
William inherited his fortune by his father when he turned 18, at 20 he dropped University because he preferred to go hunting and play polo.
William Ernest Carter
The couple lived between Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Washington and their summer house in Newport. They had two children and were used to travelling a lot. They were often in Europe, especially invited in England to the Royal Court, even though William preferred hunting. He was also very passionate about the news of the beginning of the new century: the car. He owned two Mercedes and right on the Titanic he embarked a Renault 25 HP, for which he asked to be refunded 5,000 dollars. In March 1912 after almost a year spent in Great Britain, the family decided to come back to the US and bought the tickets for the RMS Olympic, twin of the Titanic along with the Britannic, supposed to set sail from Southampton on the 3rd of April.
Last minute though the Carters changed their mind and decided to attend the inauguration of the Titanic. So the couple along with two children, three servants and two dogs got on the massive ship.
Lucile Carter and the departure from the Titanic
The family occupied two cabins in first class, the B-96 and 98. The evening of the 14th of April the Carters took part in an exclusive dinner in honour of the commander Edward Smith organized in the restaurant à la carte by the tycoon George Widener, who died in the shipwreck. At the end of the evening the women retired to their cabins whilst men gathered up into the smoking area to play cards and they remained there until the collision with the iceberg happened. At that point Carter went back to the cabin to his wife and told her to get ready and prepare the children while he would have gone looking for a lifeboat for the family.
The official version that the Carters gave to the press was that William escorted the family to the lifeboat number 4 and then he moved away with other men.
Shortly before the sinking, Carter managed to find a boat for himself, the collapsible C one and the public opinion accused him for not having respected the rule of “women and children first”. To the accusation he replied back “Mr Ismay and me as well as other officers have walked back and forth through the deck asking “are there any other women?”. We have asked for several minutes and there was no answer, so then we got on the lifeboat ourselves. I can just say that Mr Ismay has got on the boat after having verified that no other woman was on the deck.”
On January 1914 Mrs Carter asked for divorce, charging the husband for a “a cruel and barbarous treatment”. Only a year after, a new version of the events of that night of the 14th of April of two years before came out. Carter was gone to wake up wife and children, but then he had disappeared out of the blue.
Lucile went out with her children and, in the chaos of that night, she went around the deck more times, looking for that man that she had decided to share good and bad times with, the father of her children. In the meantime, many lifeboats had been lowered and were quickly filled up. Moved by desperation the woman found the second to last one and decided to get on. She commented later on that moment:
“When I went over the side with my children and got in the boat there were no seamen in it. Then came a few men, but there were oars with no one to use them. The boat had been filled with passengers, and there was nothing else for me to do but to take an oar. We could see now that the time of the ship had come. She was sinking, and we were warned by cries from the men above to pull away from the ship quickly. Mrs. Thayer, wife of the vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was in my boat, and she, too, took an oar. It was cold and we had no time to clothe ourselves with warm overcoats. The rowing warmed me. We started to pull away from the ship. We could see the dim outlines of the decks above, but we could not recognize anybody.”
A lifeboat of the Titanic
The morning arrived and after a night of cold and tears, of fear and uncertainty the Carpathia approached, the ship which went to rescue the 700 people who managed to find a seat on the lifeboats. The other 1500 between passengers and crew (esteemed value) had all died drowned or, in most cases, of hypothermia.
Lucile perhaps thought that her husband had died, remained on board of the Titanic along with the many other men who observed the protocol “women and children first”. Instead, when the Carpathia arrived, she noticed the man overlooking from the bulwark and when the two were face to face what he said was that he had a brilliant breakfast and that he would have never thought that her and the children would have survived.
That’s how the relationship between the most known and envied couple of that time ended, in the East of the US. Lucile got married with another tycoon of the American industry, while William had a bad accident when playing polo and this led him to a retired life until his death.
There is no sign whatsoever of what happened to the servants of the couple but it is known that the dogs died since William asked for a refund of 100 for one and 200 dollars for the other.