First-Class Disaster

A Germantown heiress’ Titanic tale.

The following article is an excerpt from “Charlotte Cardeza: Titanic Survivor” by Linda Greaves (Germantown Crier, Spring 1998). Cardeza was a resident of Germantown (Morton St. and East Washington Ln.). We’re publishing the story in honor of the 110th anniversary of Titanic’s launch on May 31, 1911.

On April 10, 1912, the new White Star liner Titanic departed from Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage to New York. Along the way, the ship stopped at Cherbourg, France, to take on mail and several noted first-class passengers. The Titanic’s last stop was at Queenstown, Ireland, to board the remaining passengers and mail, and then out to sea.

Titanic at Southampton Dock before departing on its maiden voyage. The photo shows eight lifeboats along the starboard-side of the boat deck and four lifeboats near the bridge wheel house. The ship had 20 lifeboats in total but they could only accommodate 1,178 people, despite the fact that there were approximately 2,224 on board.

Among the first-class passengers embarking at Cherbourg were Charlotte Drake Martinez-Cardeza of Germantown, her son Thomas, maid Annie Ward, and Thomas’s valet, Louis Lesneur.

Charlotte booked the most luxurious suite on the ship. The Millionaire’s Suite, rooms B51-53-55 (actually the more expensive suite of only two on board), boasted a sitting room with fireplace, two bedrooms with lavatories, servants’ quarters, a trunk room and a 50-foot private enclosed promenade deck with ivy trellises adorning the walls. It cost $3,300 for the one­-way trip (about $92,000 today). Charlotte, an heiress, was one to settle for nothing but the best.

Sitting room of Cardeza’s parlor Suite B-51. One of the private promenade deck suites.
This photo was taken April 10th 1912 at 9:10AM by the press (per the mantel clock).

(Her father, Thomas Drake, had made a fortune from his textile mills. In 1860 Drake retired. He, Matilda and their two children, Clarissa and Charlotte (born in 1854), moved into a splendid mansion on East Washington Lane in Germantown. (Of the Drakes’ seven children, five died in childhood. Shortly after they moved to Germantown, they lost Clarissa as well.) Montebello, as Thomas called it, sat on approximately seven acres of ground. Additions to this vast estate included botanical gardens, dog kennels, where the family raised a valuable pedigree of about seventy Great Danes (each dog with its own bedstead and mattress), and the largest private zoo in the City of Philadelphia, consisting mostly of elk and bison.)

Charlotte spent years traveling the world as a big game hunter (along with her son Thomas) occasionally returning to Germantown. In 1912, after a season in Africa on safari, Charlotte and Thomas spent several weeks resting in a castle-like estate called Radmer in Austria-Hungary. During this time Thomas’s health took a turn for the worse and doctors recommended he seek immediate medical treatment in the United States.

First-class sleeping cabin. First-class suites were decorated in period styles, and came equipped with telephones, heaters and steward call bells. Many first-class cabins had doors connecting their rooms to other rooms so they could walk directly from one room to another without going into the hallway.

The Titanic
Charlotte urged Thomas to accompany her on the Titanic and he reluctantly agreed. With twenty pieces of baggage, including tray trunks and hat and shoe trunks safely on the ship, Charlotte and Thomas embarked for what promised to be a magnificent and restful maiden voyage.

The Titanic was everything the press touted, and more. Her impressive appointments included posh restaurants, a fully equipped gymnasium, a racquetball/squash court, an indoor heated swimming pool, a Turkish bath with cooling rooms, and the most majestic grand staircase in all the world. So great was her splendor that the Titanic rivaled the best of hotels in Europe and America.

Titanic’s indoor swimming pool. Third-class passengers were not allowed to use it.

On April 14 the weather was beautiful and the voyage extremely pleasant. For one reason or another, a boat drill for the officers and crew, which was scheduled for that Sunday morning, never took place. These were the days when passengers had no boat assignments, and the largest number of lifeboats required by any ship over 10,000 tons was sixteen. The lackadaisical regulations had been unchanged since 1894.

The Titanic, however, carried twenty lifeboats. Fourteen were full size, and could each carry sixty-five persons. Two were emergency boats which were at all times hung in the davits and were swung out, as a precautionary measure. The four remaining were a type of boat called an Englehardt collapsible boat.

The First Class gym: Thomas McCawley, the Titanic’s fitness instructor, demonstrates a brand new rowing machine to Frank Browne. First-class passengers had the use of the gymnasium which included dumbbells and rowing machines, as well as a mechanical horse and mechanical camel.

Throughout the voyage, ice warnings had been received from passing ships, some by Marconigram, others by way of Morse lamps.

On April 12, the French liner La Touraine sent an ice warning and, on April 13, the small steamer Rappahannock indicated to Titanic by Morse lamp that it had passed ice.

Passengers using “Cycle Racing Machines” in the Titanic’s gymnasium.

Due to a temporary breakdown of the wireless Marconi radio equipment the previous day, the personal passenger messages became quite backlogged. On this Sunday afternoon the radio operators were so busy trying to relay these private messages for paying customers that many ice warnings received were put aside for later delivery to the bridge officers. Only two or possibly three messages ever got to the bridge, and these messages suggested that the Titanic’s position was well to the south of the indicated ice field. An ice warning received that evening from the steamship Mesaba implied that Titanic was being led directly into the path of the ice field, but the message was never sent to the bridge.

At 11:40 PM., from the crow’s-nest, lookout Frederick Fleet spied a huge dark mass directly ahead of the Titanic. He quickly took action as the iceberg came ever closer. With three tugs of the bell and a quick telephone call to the bridge, Fleet shouted the warning, “Iceberg, right ahead!” First Officer William McMaster Murdoch, a capable officer by every account, made perhaps the only fatal mistake in his otherwise impeccable career.

The Cafe Parisien was on the starboard side of the ship and was was connected to the À la Carte Restaurant, with which it shared a menu and servers. The cafe – only available to first class passengers – was most popular among younger passengers.

He immediately ordered the wheel “hard-a-starboard” (starboard being the right side) and the engines “full astern.” The wheel was then ordered “hard-a-port” (left) in an effort to “port” around the iceberg. Murdoch, acting on instinct, fatally turned the Titanic’s starboard broadside toward the iceberg, while at the same time, in reversing the engines, making the Titanic slow down considerably.

By 11:40 P.M., most passengers had retired for the evening although some could be found in the first-class smoke room still playing cards. According to Charlotte’s maid, Annie Ward, “We were in bed when the ship struck. The jar awakened us. Mrs. Cardeza dressed in a few articles of clothing as did her son and myself, and we went on deck. We were assured that there was absolutely no danger; that the Titanic could not sink. Every officer we approached told us the same thing. We went back to our berths, with a safe feeling.”

On the bridge, Captain Smith sent for Thomas Andrews, chief draftsman and one of Harland & Wolff‘s “guarantee group” aboard the Titanic. The carpenter was also notified to sound the ship. By 12:15 A.M. it became clear that, in Andrews’ judgment, the ship had about an hour to live. Five watertight compartments bad been damaged. Because of the Titanic’s design and the fact that these watertight bulkheads were not capped off with longitudinal bulkheads, there was no hope of saving the ship. Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats uncovered.

Frederick Fleet (lookout)

More passengers arrived on deck, curiously watching the officers and crew uncovering the lifeboats. Many felt the seriousness of the situation, but many didn’t believe the ship was in mortal danger.

The Cardeza party was not quite as confident now as before. According to Annie Ward, “Very shortly after retiring again the list of the ship aroused us. We slipped on overcoats and went on deck a second time.”

Everywhere, passengers were milling around deck, waiting for orders from crew members. About this time, a cacophony of sound issued from the Titanic’s funnels. The sound was created by the force of steam being let off from the boilers in order to keep them from exploding should the icy sea water reach them.

The first lifeboat to be lowered was boat #7, from the Titanic’s starboard side. This boat was only half full since most still could not believe that the Titanic was actually sinking.

Photo taken on RMS Olympic 1911, the older sister ship to RMS Titanic. Far left is Murdoch and at far right, Captain Edward J. Smith. Photo from Wikipedia.

Eventually, boats on both sides were being filled and lowered. On the port side, Officer Lightoller did not allow men to get in until the women and children were safely in the boats. As time progressed, Lightoller finally refused altogether to allow men and boys into the boats. On the starboard side, Officer Murdoch allowed men into the lifeboats if no women and children were at hand.

As boats on the starboard side were being filled, the Cardeza party waited in calm silence. It was still early yet, with no clear indication that it was unsafe to remain on the warm, beautifully lit decks of the Titanic. The sea was flat calm; the sky, moonless, was crystal clear and cut with glittering crystal stars and there was absolutely no breeze. No general alarm was sounded that would suggest that the Titanic was indeed doomed.

Lifeboat #3 was subsequently uncovered and the Cardezas were told to enter this boat. According to Annie Ward’s statement to a Philadelphia reporter, “We were ordered into a lifeboat. Mrs. Cardeza, Mr. Cardeza, his valet and myself were placed in one of the largest lifeboats and sent away, with a number of women and crew to row.”

2nd Officer Charles Lightoller survived the Titanic sinking in 1912 (the most senior officer to survive). He would go on to sink U-Boats in WWI and eventually volunteered in the Dunkirk evacuation. Sailing his motor yacht Sundowner (while dodging German aircraft), he rescued more than 120 servicemen. (The boat was licensed to carry a maximum of 21 persons.)

Thomas Cardeza later noted that as lifeboat #3 pulled away from the ship “It was not until the lifeboat was in the water that I understood the full gravity of the situation – the port holes in the bow were under water. These port holes were about halfway up the side of the vessel, but when we started to pull away from the Titanic the lights were clearly shining from under the surface of the sea.”

The Titanic’s slant became steeper. The band, which had moved to the boat deck, was now playing somber hymns. This was confirmed later by Thomas Cardeza, who reported that the Titanic’s orchestra continued playing as the liner sank. “The music could be heard plainly across the waters as the Titanic settled and almost up to the time when, bow foremost, she disappeared beneath the waves.”

For the remainder of his life, Thomas Cardeza would never forget the sight of twenty or thirty pageboys he’d seen on the Titanic’s decks that night. “These little chaps were mustered together by a stewardess and marched on deck. They were spoken to there by an officer, who told them they were sailors and that they must take their chances with their vessel. Without a murmur they marched back to their posts and waited their fate.”

The Titanic sank at 2:20 A.M. on April 15. The rescue ship Carpathia (of the Cunard Line), which dodged icebergs all night while driving full speed after receiving the Titanic’s distress calls, came upon the first boatloads at 3:00 A.M. By 8:30 A.M., all the survivors were taken aboard. Those who were either found dead in the lifeboats or died subsequently as a result of exposure were reverently buried at sea.

The Carpathia quickly and quietly steamed for New York, with 705 survivors. Because of the outdated British Board of Trade regulations, there were enough lifeboats for only half of the people on board the Titanic. The sea temperature was a frigid 28° Fahrenheit. Over 1500 passengers and crew, including children, had been lost.

On April 19, the Carpathia steamed into New York harbor amid thunder and lightning. While Charlotte and Thomas remained in New York for a time, Annie Ward traveled back to her mother’s home in Chestnut Hill.

When interviewed by reporters, Mrs. John Craig, Annie’s mother, stated that “Anna is still suffering from shock. She has been abroad many times, and she said that she never wants to see or hear anything like the wreck of the Titanic again.” Annie later returned to New York to attend to Charlotte until she was strong enough to come back to Germantown and Montebello. Thomas remained in New York, consulting with doctors and eventually being treated for his illness. He soon rejoined his mother at Montebello, where they spent weeks recuperating from the disaster.

Eventually, Charlotte drew up a list of personal property which was lost when the Titanic went down. The list is impressive, and Charlotte filed the largest claim for loss of property of any of the survivors. The claim totaled $177,352.75 (about $4,985,000 today) and was brought against the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Ltd. Her loss included the contents of fourteen steamer trunks, four leather bags, three packing cases and a jewel case. Jewels listed included a pink diamond, valued at $20,000, a ring at $14,000, and a pendant at $14,000.

In filing suit, Charlotte, as well as many other claimants, didn’t realize that maritime matters were not regulated at that time. There were either inadequately set rules or there were no rules at all governing passenger vessels at sea. Subsequently, no negligence was found on the part of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company.

Further, the Titanic, a $7.5 million vessel, was insured for only $5 million. The claims submitted totaled $16,804,112 (about $472,000,000 today). The total amount paid out, to be distributed among claimants, was $97,772 ($2,748,463). With additional deposits made by the White Star Line the total to be disbursed came to $544,475 ($15,305,708). Charlotte, who received the largest distribution, was only paid $8,750 ($245,970) as her share of the settlement.

Read the full article at

The Germantown Crier
The Germantown Crier has its origins as a newsletter first published in 1946 by the Germantown Historical Society. It was reworked into a journal format, and the first issue was published in the winter of 1949. Since then, a new issue has been released multiple times each year, and features articles covering various aspects of Germantown history. It occasionally features the works of Germantown writers and artists. The Crier is currently released twice a year in spring and fall. For more info, click here.

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