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A Distinctly Second Class Column

100 years ago, a certain famed ocean liner struck an iceberg, and sank into the North Atlantic.

Most of you know the story… or at least the mythology.

The ship was divided into the wealthiest and the poorest, with the wealthiest living in the lap of luxury and the poorest living in the bowels of the ship.

A compelling story… but is it the whole story?

Of course it’s not! In fact, there’s an entire class of passengers seems to be completely ignored… passengers who were, quite literally, “Second Class.”

Perhaps it’s the fact that Second Class is in some way, the “Middle Child,” the Jan Brady, eternally stuck between Marcia and Cindy, with neither the lush opulence of the richest passengers, nor the often-romanticized hopes and dreams of the immigrants in steerage.

“Why does Marcia get an iceberg?”

And this is a shame, because an examination of Second Class reveals some interesting tidbits, and some quite compelling stories.

Let’s start off with the debunking of a common myth, namely that the passengers with the lowest survival rates were in Adult Males in Third Class, while those with the highest survival rates were in Adult Females and/or Children in First Class. Here are the actual statistics.

First Class                   Total                Survived          Percent
Men                             175                  57                    32       
Women                        144                  140                  97
Children                       6                      5                      83
Second Class               Total                Survived          Percent
Men                             168                  14                    8
Women                        93                    80                    86
Children                      24                    24                    100
Third Class                  Total                Survived          Percent
Men                             462                 75                    16
Women                       165                  76                    46
Children                      79                    27                    66
All Passengers            1,316               498                  37
Department                  Total                Survived          Percent           
Deck                            66                    43                    65
Engine Room              325                  72                    22
            Men                 471                  77                    16
            Women            23                    20                    87
All Crew                      885                  212                  23
Total On Board           2,201               710                  32

Looking at the statistics, it is clear that both highest and lowest survival rates are found in Second Class; all 24 children survived (survival rate: 100%), while only 14 of 168 Men survived (survival rate: 8%). Incidentally, as an Adult Female your best chance was traveling in First Class (97%) (no surprise there), while as an Adult Male your best chance was as a member of the Deck Department of the Crew (survival rate: 65%) (being the department in charge of steering lifeboats probably helped).

Looking beyond the statistics, who were these Second Class passengers?

According to James Cameron, Third Class knew how to party.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Of all the groups onboard Titanic, they were the fewest, with 285 in total; compare that with 325 in First Class, 1,316 in Third Class, and 885 in the Crew.

Looking at the a little deeper reveals that it was a diverse group. Among the Second Class was only known passenger or crew of African descent, a Haitian engineer by the name of Joseph Laroche (he died). Scanning the passenger list, one finds clergy, skilled workers of various trades, a few who identified as “gentlemen,” and some who were servants of the First Class passengers (and were probably enjoying a break from their employers).

Eight of the “passengers” were actually members of the Titanic’s famed band (No removing the band from survival calculations does not change the fact that Second Class men fared the worst; I already did the math).

The band played on, and apparently the cartoonist left asap

Furthermore, the stories of Second class are some of the most compelling.

One, a schoolteacher named Lawrence Beesley, would write the first eyewitness account of the sinking. Another, Michel Navratil, was traveling under an assumed name in order to take his two children away from his estranged wife; after his body was recovered (with a loaded revolver, no less) his two children’s pictures were circulated around the world to see if anyone could identify the two “Titanic Orphans.” The members of the band famously played until the very last, comforting their doomed fellow passengers in the final moments of the sinking.

In my (not so) humble opinion, any of these stories would have been a far more interesting focal point than the hackneyed, paint-by-the-numbers love story in Cameron’s film.

My point in all of this is simple.

In the midst of the 100th anniversary of the sinking, we do poorly to forget that all of the decks of that ill-fated ship are chock full of interesting, compelling, horrifying, and inspiring tales. Piercing through the shrouds of myth and memory reveals some surprises, even today.

None of these stories are, if you’ll forgive the pun, “Second Class.”

Your Obedient Servant,

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