The voyage on the Titanic was lovely. Indeed, Sylvia was not
seasick. Albert talked a crewman into giving him a private tour of the engine room. He took photos of the stokers throwing coal into the ship's furnaces. Albert posed with a shovel for a photograph.
Albert never dreamed that the photo would save his life.
On April 14, the devout Presbyterian missionaries joined most everyone else in second class for a church service, whose topic was "For Those in Peril on the Sea." Of course, they were not in peril. The sermon was just a metaphor for life. They were on the unsinkable ship, after all.
But after Albert had crawled into bed that night and drifted off to sleep, he woke with a start and realized at once that the Titanic had stopped. He threw on his raincoat and rushed out on deck. "What happened?" he asked a sailor. "Oh, we've just bumped into an iceberg. It didn't do any harm, I guess," the fellow answered, advising Albert go back to bed. So Albert did just that.
Finally, they were called on deck. The Caldwells were utterly shocked to see the crew lower lifeboats. Everyone knew the Titanic was unsinkable. To Albert it was clear -- he could not possibly put his still-sick wife and helpless infant off on a lifeboat.
But then a gang of stokers appeared on their deck. One of them recognized him from the day he took the photo with the coal shovel. "Mr. Caldwell!" the man called. "If you value your life, get off this ship! I've been below, and it's going to sink. The hold is filling up with water."
Albert could visualize that hold -- he had been down there. Suddenly he understood something of the danger. The stoker saw Lifeboat 13 passing their deck and stopped it, beckoning them on. The Caldwells were the last three onto the boat.
As Albert always said, "13 was not an unlucky number for us," although for awhile they thought it might be. The ropes to the lifeboat didn't flow smoothly through the pulleys. The passengers on 13 were pitched forward and then backward. They were drenched in spray from water spurting from the Titanic's pumps. The outflow of water pushed them under Lifeboat 15, which nearly smacked into them. A stoker and another sailor finally used knives to cute Lifeboat 13 free from the side of the Titanic.
They had rowed a half mile away before they looked back and realized, for the first time, that the Titanic really was going to sink.
The photo above is a contemporary artist's conception of the sinking of the Titanic. Sylvia included it in a booklet she wrote in summer, 1912, Women of the Titanic Disaster,
available as an e-book from NewSouth Books.
Photo is copyrighted.