Today, the pier is home to a golf driving range, a digital studio and a microbrewery. In 1912, it was the pier for ships of the White Star line.
The Carpathia stopped at Pier 59 to drop off White Star property: lifeboats from the R.M.S. , which it had collected from the North Atlantic three days earlier, when the Carpathia rescued 705 passengers and crew members. The lifeboats were all that was left of the unsinkable Titanic.
Then the Carpathia turned back to its own pier, 54, just south of 14th Street. Thousands of people had gathered to watch it come in and find relatives, or in the case of newspaper reporters, to find stories.
Before any of the passengers had gotten off, a United States senator from Michigan rushed up the gangplank and went directly to the cabin of J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of White Star and a survivor. As the Carpathia approached New York, Mr. Ismay had sent wireless messages to shore, trying to arrange a ship to take the surviving crew and himself back to England immediately.
But the senator, William Alden Smith, informed Mr. Ismay that he was heading a special inquiry with the aim of learning what had happened and why 1,517 people, most of the Titanic’s passengers and crew, had perished. The next morning, those hearings began in the East Room of the Waldorf-Astoria.
The Titanic had sunk far from land, three days’ sailing from New York, out of sight. But it was here that its history was hauled from the ocean.
The tragedy has never lost its power, and ABC will be showing a new fictional series set on the Titanic. A screening next week will be held in the Jane Hotel, which was once the American Seamen’s Friend Society, where a memorial service was held not long after the survivors reached land.
A number of women who traveled in steerage class on the Titanic were housed farther downtown, at the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary. Their stories are included in a powerful exhibit at what is now the Shrine of and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary at 7 State Street, near Battery Park. The immigrant women, most of them Irish, were given shelter there for decades, beginning in the late 19th century.
One of the young Irish survivors, Ellen Shine, would marry and move to northern Manhattan; her granddaughter, Christine C. Quinn, is now speaker of the City Council. Ms. Shine is quoted in several 1912 newspaper stories about the rough treatment of steerage passengers, but it appeared that the reporters took some liberties. One wrote that the young Miss Shine had spoken of third-class passengers being shot and thrown into the ocean, rather than permitted to board a lifeboat, and in another account, she is quoted saying that those same passengers were simply forced away, according to a in Irish America magazine by Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University.
That demonstrates the at the Waldorf, which quickly got people to tell their recollections and stories under oath, with all the tatters of human memory flapping in the breezes of history. The transcripts of those hearings were edited by Tom Kuntz, an editor at The New York Times, and published in 1998 by Pocket Books.
They are compelling, first-person narratives. In them, you can learn of the heroic work of the Titanic’s wireless operator, who stayed at his post until the end, flashing S O S messages, and of the epic moment of devotion when Ida Strauss refused to stay in a lifeboat without her husband, Isidor, and the cruelties of class rigors, which meant death for the poor.
And those hearings also established that the Titanic had set sail with space on its lifeboats for only a third of the people on board and that there had been no drills on how to evacuate.
The outcropping of that history is present in modern life. Just think of the instructions that flight attendants give on every passenger airline flight, in every language: your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device; follow the lighted path to the exits; there are two emergency doors over the wings. But the blame for the policy that only credit cards will be accepted for cocktails cannot be laid with the Titanic.