Myth Trivia: Crash, burn, sink or swim 20th century tragedies

Nothing brings home our myth trivia better than three major catastrophes in the early 20th century: the Lusitania, the Titanic, and the Hindenburg.

The Titanic, The Lusitania, The Hidenberg - Historical Images

CHARLOTTE, NC, February 7, 2017 – Sometimes, when major world events combine over time and space, they create fascinating trivia which might even surprise “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” Nothing brings home the point better than three major catastrophes in the early 20th century: the Lusitania, the Titanic, and the Hindenburg.

In many ways, it is perfectly logical that so many celebrities of that era would have their names attached to such calamities since all three involved what was regarded as the most luxurious form of travel of that day.

Therefore, the rich and the famous would certainly be counted among passengers.

Among the notables who dodged the German torpedo which sank Cunard’s Lusitania in 1915 was conductor Arturo Toscanini who had shortened his concert season by a week due to illness. Other reports included a budget dispute, a poor performance, and a rumored affair, but for whatever reason, the maestro sailed a week early and missed the Lusitania.

The Lusitania



Another famous name from the world of music, Broadway composer Jerome Kern, overslept when his alarm clock failed to ring. Kern wrote such classics as “Ol’ Man River”, “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”

American-born dancer Isadora Duncan was another celebrity who planned to sail the Lusitania, but her latest tour of the States was a financial disaster and Duncan was forced to depart several weeks later.

Twelve years later, Duncan was killed in a freak automobile accident when one of her well-known flowing scarves got tangled in the wheel of her car.

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Other noted passengers who did not board the Lusitania in 1915 were Millicent Fenwick who became editor of “Vogue” magazine, actor William Gillette who was best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and British actress Ellen Terry, considered the greatest actress of her day. Terry promised her daughter not to take an English ship over concerns about the war with Germany.

William Morris, the founder of the world’s oldest and largest talent agency, not only missed the Lusitania, but also the first and only voyage of the Titanic in 1912. In both cases, Morris canceled at the last minute to take care of pending business.

Oddly enough, there are other similarities between Cunard’s Lusitania and the White Star Line’s Titanic. At the time of their debut, each was the largest ship in the world. Lusitania measured 787 feet while Titanic was 883 feet.

In an age which many writers regard as the “Golden Age of Travel” the two ships were by far the most luxurious ships afloat with maximum comfort to accommodate the rich and famous passengers of the day across the Atlantic.

The Titanic

One Minnesota newspaper created a group called the “Just Missed It Club” to bring awareness of noted figures who had planned to sail on the Titanic but had to change their travel plans at the last minute. Among that list was Theodore Dreiser, Guglielmo

Among that list was Theodore Dreiser, Guglielmo Marconi and J.P. Morgan.

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius Vanderbilt and heir to the family fortune, did not journey on the Titanic but was a hero on the Lusitania.

Prior to sailing, Vanderbilt received a message informing him the Lusitania was doomed. He chose to travel anyway, and during the disaster, gave his lifebelt to a young woman passenger though he could not swim.

Well-known theatrical producer Al Woods had been booked on both ships but canceled.

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High society fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon, actually survived the Titanic only to be unfortunate enough to be aboard Lusitania in 1915.

Banker Robert W. Daniel and his wife Eloise, both survivors of the Titanic, canceled passage on the Lusitania. Eloise lost her first husband in the Titanic disaster and met Robert in the lifeboat when he was pulled in from the North Sea. They married two years later.

The Hindenberg

Later in the century, in May of 1937, another famous disaster took place only this time in the air. The German airship Hindenburg crashed while landing in Lakehurst, NJ.

Of the 97 crew and passengers, nearly two-thirds survived the horrible explosion.

Reporter Herbert Morrison was on the scene describing the landing, but though he was recording at the time, he was not broadcasting. His audio was later added and synced up with newsreel footage.

Oddly enough, despite using hydrogen for fuel, which is highly flammable, the Hindenburg actually had a smoking room with specially pressurized double air-lock doors. Cigars and a single lighter were controlled by the crew.

Designer Hugo Eckener refused to yield to pressure from Joesph Goebbels to name the Hindenburg after Adolf Hitler. Eckener didn’t approve of the Third Reich and named it after the former German president Paul von Hindenburg. Later, Hitler was delighted his name was not associated with the disaster.

Later, Hitler was delighted his name was not associated with the disaster.

And finally, tying our trivia into a nice little bundle, designer Philip Mangone, canceled his trip aboard Titanic for unspecified reasons. Years later he was aboard the Hindenburg on its last flight. Mangone was among the survivors though he was seriously burned.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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