For Philip A. S. Franklin, the 41-year-old Baltimore-born vice president of the International Mercantile Marine Co., owner of the White Star Line -- which owned the Titanic, the agony began in the early hours of April 15, 1912, when the phone rang at 1: 58 a.m. in his East 61st Street residence in New York City.
Awakened from his sleep, Franklin was stunned by a reporter's inquiry about a report that the Titanic had sunk on its maiden voyage.
"I went to the telephone, and a reporter -- I could not tell from what paper -- said that they had just heard that the Titanic was sinking, and she had sent out a call for assistance," Franklin testified before Sen. William Alden Smith, chairman of the U.S. Senate investigative committee that held hearings into the loss of the liner.
Franklin called the Associated Press inquiring as to the source of the reports.
"I then asked them whether they could not hold the matter and not give out such an alarming report until they could see whether it could be confirmed. They said, 'No; it has gone out,' " he testified.
Dressing quickly, Franklin summoned steamship-line officials to the company's offices at 9 Broadway. He instructed that a
Marconigram be sent to the Olympic, the Titanic's sister ship, asking for her position.
Arriving at the office, Franklin found a memo on his desk: "Received from Associated Press from Cape Race 3: 05 a.m. Monday, April 15. 10: 25 p.m. E.S.T. Titanic called C.Q.D.; reported having struck iceberg and required immediate assistance. Half an hour afterwards, reported they were sinking by the head. Women being put off in boats and weather calm and clear. Gave position as 41.46 north, 50.14 west."
By 8 a.m., newsmen were gathering at the White Star office demanding confirmation or denial of reports that the liner had gone down. "We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe that the boat is unsinkable," stated Franklin.
However, newspapers wasted no time in joining in the frenzy. The Herald in a carefully worded headline proclaimed: THE NEW TITANIC STRIKES ICE AND CALLS FOR AID. VESSELS RUSH TO HER SIDE. The New York Evening Sun stated: ALL SAVED FROM TITANIC AFTER COLLISION.
Carr Van Anda, managing editor of the New York Times, convinced of the validity of the wireless messages, went out on a limb and reported the ship sunk.
"By mid-morning friends and relatives of the Titanic's passengers were pouring in: Mrs. Benjamin Guggenheim and her brother De Witt Seligman Mrs. Astor's father W. H. Force J. P. Morgan Jr. hundreds of people nobody recognized. Rich and poor, they all got the same reassuring smiles -- no need to worry -- the Titanic was unsinkable; well, anyhow, she could float two or three days certainly there were enough boats for everybody," wrote Walter Lord in "A Night to Remember."
Commander Haddock of the Olympic finally replied that since midnight "when her position was 41.46 north, 50.14 west, have been unable to communicate. We are now 310 miles from her, 9 a.m. under full power. Will inform at once if hear anything."
At noon, in an atmosphere of gathering doom, another message arrived from the Olympic. "Parisian reports Carpathia in attendance and picked up 20 boats of passengers and Baltic returning to give assistance."
In his Senate testimony, Franklin said it wasn't until about 6: 20 or 6: 30 p.m., April 15, that he received a telegram confirming what White Star officials had so vociferously denied throughout that long Monday. The Titanic had sunk, taking 1,500 souls with her.
'Boats and wreckage only'
It read: "Carpathia reached Titanic's position at daybreak. Found boats and wreckage only. Titanic had foundered about 2: 20 a.m. in 41.16 north, 50.14 west. All her boats accounted for. About 675 souls saved, crew and passengers, latter nearly all women and children. Leyland Line S.S. Californian remaining and searching position of disaster. Carpathia returning to New York with survivors; please inform Cunard [which owned Carpathia].
Shaken, Franklin waited three-quarters of an hour before calling the press.
Standing before the reporters, he said, "Gentleman, I regret to say that the Titanic sank at 2: 20 this morning." All he would say then was that "probably a number of lives had been lost." It wasn't until 9 p.m., with the strain now showing, that Franklin began sobbing as he informed the reporters there had been a "horrible loss of life."
In his Senate testimony about that day, Franklin explained that at the 7 p.m. press conference, "I got off the first line and a half, where it said, 'The Titanic sank at 2: 20 a.m. and there was not a reporter left in the room -- they were so anxious to get out to telephone the news."