A few months ago, my girlfriend and I sat down to watch the best movie ever made about the Titanic – and no, I’m not referring to the one rereleased this past weekend in 3D…
I think the world is divided into two camps: those who love James Cameron’s Hollywood epic, and those who never want to hear the word Titanic again because of it.
Regardless of where you fall, watch A Night To Remember, and I guarantee you’ll suddenly remember why the Titanic once held a sense of fascination for you.
Gone is the unnecessary love story, the endless cliches, the one-dimensional characters, the terrible acting; in its place is simply the true story of what actually occurred, moment by chilling moment (to this day, it’s considered the most accurate historical depiction of the tragedy).
As I was watching, I became curious: the Titanic’s intended destination was New York. What still remained in the city with a connection to the ill-fated voyage? Here’s what I could come up with – Part 2 to follow on Wednesday.
Below is a map to give you a quick overview of where we’re headed:
View The Titanic Guide To New York City, from Scouting NY in a larger map
The best place to start our tour is at the remnants of Pier 54, just south of 14th Street at the West Side Highway.
The Titanic was actually due at the White Star’s Pier 59, located just north at about 18th Street. Below, a photograph of the White Star piers taken in 1905:
Today, all of that is long gone, replaced by the sprawling Chelsea Piers sports complex:
However, one of the coolest remnants from the White Star’s former piers are the hundreds of dock posts still poking out of the harbor:
After rescuing the survivors, the RMS Carpathia, a Cunard ship, first stopped at the White Star’s Pier 59 to unload the Titanic’s lifeboats, then moored at Cunard’s Pier 54 for the passengers to disembark.
If you look closely at the central beam, you can still see overlapping lettering identifying it as both a Cunard and White Star pier (the companies merged in 1934):
Pictured below is the Carpathia, docked on the north side of Pier 54 just after its rescue mission to the Titanic:
The pier’s shed in the background suffered a fire in 1932 and was replaced by a second building, seen below, which was demolished in 1991.
Today, the length of the pier is used an outdoor event space:
Our next stop is the former “American Seamen’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute,” just a few blocks south on Jane Street, where surviving members of the Titanic’s crew were given free housing and food after landing in New York:
Founded in 1828, The Seamen’s Friend Society was a Christian organization offering room and board to sailors in an attempt to get them away from New York’s “dives, dancehalls, saloons” and other establishments of ill repute.
Designed by William A. Boring (also responsible for Ellis Island), the building featured a number of nautical motifs, including a lighthouse-like turret (seen above in a 1927 photograph) which flashed a beacon over the Hudson. Sadly, this was removed when the YMCA purchased the building in 1944.
However, a number of nautical bits still remain today…
…like the pair of roped anchors over the door…
…and two fish holding life preservers on the western facade:
The original 156 rooms at the Seamen’s Friend Society were designed to mimic a ship’s cabin rooms in both size and design, a tradition that The Jane Hotel has continued today (which is why rates are relatively cheap!):
The day after the survivors arrived in New York City, a memorial service was conducted here, with 125 crew members in attendance.
The Jane Hotel did a tremendous renovation of the lobby in 2008 (at the time, the hotel was basically a flop house), but there is one Titanic remnant that managed to survive. As you enter, a fountain on the left dates to the original Seamen’s Friend Society…
Beneath it is a gold plaque, which was once a memorial to the Titanic. Completely worn by age, there literally isn’t a single letter left.
In the days following the Titanic’s sinking, thousands gathered outside for word of survivors, as wireless communications were sent directly to the White Star’s offices from steamships on site.
The entrance to the White Star offices was this central door, which today leads to a Subway and a RadioShack.
Below, the entrance in its pre-$5-Foot-Long glory days, surrounded by crowds waiting for news of the Titanic:
Our next stop is just around the corner at the wonderfully petite “Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish,” located at 7 State Street. In 1912, it was simply the Our Lady of the Rosary Mission, and many women from steerage class were given temporary lodging here.
Normally, we’d head across the street to Battery Park to see the Wireless Operators Memorial, commemorating wireless operators lost at sea. However, IT IS NOT THERE! Despite just about every recent Titanic walking tour article mentioning it as a necessary stop, it was removed years ago for the on-going renovations to the park, and has yet to be returned.
However, stop by when it is restored, and you’ll find the name Jack Phillips listed with the S.S. Titanic.
Phillips was the Titanic’s senior wireless operator, and turned 25 a day before the journey. Though several messages warning of ice were received from nearby ships, Phillips had been told by Captain Edward J. Smith to ignore them.
After the Titanic collided with an iceberg and began sinking, Phillips worked tirelessly to send distress calls until the wireless room power was nearly dead. He was able to make it to an overturned lifeboat and survive the night clinging to its side, but ultimately died the following morning. The rowboat was later recovered, pictured below:
Incredibly, wireless operators lost at sea are listed on the memorial right up through 1994, with the sinking of the S. S. Salvadore Allende:
From Battery Park, follow Water Street north-east to the South Street Seaport and you’ll come across New York’s primary Titanic Memorial at its entrance:
Don’t feel bad if you didn’t realize this had anything to do with the Titanic – I passed it for years assuming it was just one of the many nautical flourishes added by the South Street Seaport Museum (complete, apparently, with what appeared to be its own miniature New Year’s Eve ball).
However, this lighthouse-esque monument is actually a memorial to the Titanic, paid for for by public donations in 1913.
Originally placed atop the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York & New Jersey at 25 South Street, it was equipped with a green light which could be seen from as far as Sandy Hook, NJ.
Perched above the lighthouse was a time ball, which lowered every day at exact noon to mark the time for navigators.
The time ball was restored to working order for a rededication in 1986, though I’m not sure if it still functions today. A clock and other mechanical devices can still be seen through its windows.
Often blocked by the hot dog vendor that set up shop in front of the monument, this is the memorial plaque mounted on its side:
The Seamen’s Church Institute, founded in 1838 to offer aid to sailors and mariners, still exists to this day, though in 1968, it moved to new headquarters and its 25 South Street location was demolished. The Titanic Memorial was donated to the Friends of the South Street Seaport group, and installed in its current location in 1976. Today, this…
…looks like this:
The Seamen’s Church Institute actually had quite a presence in the area once. In fact, as you make your way north to our next stop, take a moment to pause under the Manhattan Bridge at Pike Street for a quick diversion.
The Institute was particularly famous for its “floating churches,” and if you were able to travel back in time about a hundred years, you’d find The Floating Church of our Savior (1870-1910) bobbing in the water here!
Seriously, how crazy is that?
Inside the church in 1899 at Christmas, with decorations in place. This particular church burned down in 1910:
The Seamen’s Church Institute had floating churches in the harbor from 1849 through 1958, when its final location was destroyed in a fire. Below, the 1849 church, which I really, really wish was still floating around the harbor:
Speaking of churches, our next stop is Grace Church, at West 10th Street and Broadway:
As you head inside, turn to the left…
…and just below the stained glass window, you’ll see a memorial to Edith Corse Evans, “who in the midst of life gave herself for others on the Titanic.”
Edith Corse Evans was one of only four First Class women who died on the Titanic (according to legend, Evans had recently consulted a fortune teller in London, who warned her to “beware of the water”). Having missed the first round of lifeboats, Evans began searching for another with a passenger named Caroline Brown. A boat with one seat available was discovered, and Evans urged Brown to board, as she had children waiting for her at home.
This lifeboat was the last to be lowered from the Titanic. Evans’s body was never found; a memorial service was performed at Grace Church on April 22, 1912.