Titantic at 100, and the GH connection

"Iceberg ahead!' One hundred years ago tonight, at 11:40, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg directly in the path of the RMS Titanic from the ship's crow's nest. Two hours and 40 minutes later, the White Star's luxury liner, on her maiden voyage, slipped beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
Kevin Collier
Apr 15, 2012

 

Exactly 1,517 people lost their lives and 710 survived. Legend has it that Capt. Edward Smith stood in the wheelhouse until the bitter end.

But another captain also went down with the ship — Capt. Edward Gifford Crosby, the founder and owner of Crosby Transportation Co., which operated out of Milwaukee, Muskegon and Grand Haven ports.

The Crosby family

Crosby was born near Rochester, N.Y., in 1842. He came to Michigan in 1856. He was a Civil War veteran, serving with the 1st Michigan Calvary. He married Catherine Halstead in 1868, fathered three children and lived in Muskegon by 1871.

“At the end of his service in the Civil War, (he) developed an interest in ships,” Grand Haven historian and author Wallace Ewing explained. “He obtained a small tug (in 1881) and picked up logs that had gone adrift until he was able to buy the steamer Nyack, a passenger ship that made frequent calls in Grand Haven Harbor.”

No fewer than three vessels bore the name E.G. Crosby and were in service between 1892 and 1931.

“Crosby formed a marine construction business which built piers and dry docks,” Holland-area shipwreck author Craig Rich said. “The company was quite successful, even being awarded numerous government contracts for several navigational projects, including the construction of the Muskegon channel and piers.”

In 1897, Crosby and his family moved to Milwaukee, where he formed the Crosby Transportation Co. — a cross-lake passenger and cargo ship line serving the ports of Milwaukee, Muskegon and Grand Haven. Crosby, well-known and admired in Grand Haven, maintained an office in the city until his death.

Edward, Catherine and their adult daughter, Harriette, were vacationing in Europe in March 1912 and had booked return passage to New York aboard another ship. They ran into Charles M. Hays and his entourage, who were on business and vacationing in England. The Hays group had been invited aboard the Titanic by Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman and manager of the White Star Line steamships.

Hays was president of the Grand Trunk Railway, which served Grand Haven, among many stations. The Crosby and Hays were good friends and business associates, as Crosby held a long-term contract with Hays regarding delivery and shipment of freight.

"It is reported that Mr. Crosby had intended on coming back on a ship leaving Europe on March 28, but that he afterwards changed his plans in order to sail on the Titanic," the Grand Haven Tribune noted in an April 19, 1912, front-page article. "The fact that Mr. Hays was also crossing on the Titanic no doubt had something to do with Captain Crosby's presence on the ill-fated ship, as they were personal friends and associated in a business way."

The Crosbys bought three first-class tickets aboard the Titanic at Southampton, from where the ship set sail April 10 and into history.

Disaster strikes

According to published reports, the Crosbys were awakened in their cabins by “an awful jar” that shook the Titanic just before midnight, April 14, 1912. Edward Crosby quickly escorted his wife and daughter onto the deck of the ship, where he became lost in the crowd. It was the last time his wife and daughter saw Capt. Crosby.

The last words Crosby was reported to have said to his wife and daughter was: “I will stay here. You go. If it be my fortune to get out of this alive, I will see you again. If not, goodbye.”

Ironically, one hour before the Titanic struck an iceberg, Crosby, Col. Archibald Gracie and Hays relaxed in the Gentlemen's Smoking Lounge discussing technological advances in transportation and if they posed a danger. Hays reportedly commented, “The trend to playing fast and loose with larger and larger ships will end in tragedy.”

Crosby didn't see it that way, and assured the two that vessels such as Titanic were the wave of future transportation. Apparently, Crosby convinced Hays of his confidence that the Titanic was a safe ship.

After the Titanic impacted with the iceberg, evidence suggests Edward Crosby and Charles Hays believed there was little peril when they bid their families goodbye and stayed aboard the crippled ship.

Maj. Arthur G. Peuchen, a survivor who boarded a lifeboat, told a reporter he had spoken to Hays moments before he departed and the men believed they would be rescued. The conversation was published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on April 19.

“I feel it is good (to stay afloat) for eight hours longer, and by that time, we will have help,” Hays said to Peuchen. “I have just been talking to Capt. Crosby, of Milwaukee, a shipbuilder, and he says she cannot possibly go down.”

Catherine and Harriette Crosby were ordered into one of the ship's 20 lifeboats, joining 36 other passengers, and two White Star line crewmen, who rowed a safe distance from the ocean liner.

Charles Hays' wife, Carla, and daughter, Orian, also boarded a lifeboat. He assured them, “Titanic will stay afloat for at least 10 hours.”

By 2:20 a.m., the ship vanished beneath the black surface of the Atlantic.

“I heard the terrible cries of the people that were on board when the boat went down, and heard repeated explosions, as though the boilers had exploded,” Catherine Crosby recalled. “The cries of the people and the explosions were terrible. Our boat drifted around in that vicinity until about daybreak, when the Carpathia was sighted and we were taken on board.”

The Carpathia picked up many survivors from the Titanic's lifeboats, one of the first being Catherine and Harriette Crosby. Charles Hays' wife and daughter were rescued by the Carpathia, as well.

While aboard the rescue ship, Catherine was informed by female survivors from another lifeboat that they had witnessed Edward Crosby struggling in the water, but he had “refused to accept aid” offered by the women and children.

The aftermath

Catherine Crosby and her daughter arrived at the New York port shortly after 9 p.m. April 18. The same day's edition of the Grand Haven Tribune released a grim report.

“Capt. Crosby's name does not appear among the lists of those saved from the shipwreck of the Titanic,” the Tribune reported. “It is feared that he went down with the ship.”

Upon her arrival in New York, Catherine Crosby learned her father, Joseph Y. Halstead, 82, had died during the family’s vacation. Relatives did not inform the party as they did not wish to spoil their trip abroad.

On the morning of April 19, a telegram was received at the Crosby Transportation Co. office in Grand Haven that eliminated all hope. The message, published in the Grand Haven Tribune, read, “It is now certain that Mr. Crosby was among those lost.”

“One of the pathetic effects of the deep-sea tragedy was in evidence today,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported on April 19. “At the Crosby line wharf, the steamer E.G. Crosby, the pride of her missing owner, flew her colors at half-staff from the foremast; telling a silent, somber story of the death of her managing owner.”

 

On the morning of April 25, activity ceased entirely at the Grand Trunk terminal in Grand Haven for five minutes while employees paid silent tribute to the memory of Charles M. Hays.

In memory of the late Capt. Edward Crosby, all operations at the Crosby line were suspended April 26. Flags flew at half-mast across Grand Haven that day; such was at City Hall, the courthouse, schools and several retail establishments.

Crosby’s body was one of 306 recovered by the crew of the vessel MacKay-Bennett. The vessel Minia recovered the body of Charles M. Hayes.

A memorial service in honor of Crosby took place April 28 in Grand Haven aboard the Crosby flagship steamer, Nyack. Dignitaries, servicemen and mourners from Milwaukee and Muskegon attended. Hundreds turned out for the event, which included a procession down Washington Avenue.

On the afternoon of April 30, 46-year-old Christian Reformed minister Frederic Schuurman, his wife and their four children arrived in Grand Haven to depart aboard a steamer for Milwaukee that evening. Peter Dornbos, aware of the reverend's arrival at the Grand Haven train station, met the party to greet them. Schuurman and his family had crossed the Atlantic Ocean weeks earlier on the steamer SS Bremen, which had cruised through the debris field of the Titanic.

Dornbos relayed what Schuurman told him to the Grand Haven Tribune.

"The steamer Bremen passed through a mass of wreckage and debris from the lost ship, and the passengers (aboard the Bremen) saw many bodies of the Titanic victims floating on the surface," the Tribune reported in its May 1 edition. "Bodies of men wearing life jackets drifted into view and passengers lining the rails of the German liner looked down upon the upturned faces of the dead."

The steamer Schuurman and his family took out of the Grand Haven harbor bound for Milwaukee was one owned by the Crosby Transportation Co.

“I think it is both ironic and apropos that Edward Crosby went down with the Titanic,” said Grand Haven historian Wallace Ewing. “His life was devoted to passenger boats.”

Craig Rich and Wallace Ewing contributed to this article. Rich is the author of the soon-to-be-released "Through Surf and Storm: Shipwrecks of Muskegon County, Michigan," and the 2010 book "For Those In Peril: Shipwrecks of Ottawa County, Michigan." Ewing has authored many historical titles about Grand Haven and Ottawa County.

 

 

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