A Titanic survivor’s tale
Titanic survivor Neshan Krekorian. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAMELA SABOUNJI
BRANTFORD, Ont. - Neshan Krekorian spoke no English in 1912. But he understood fear. He understood terror. And the Armenian emigrant had a will to live.
In the desperate panic during the wee hours of April 15, 1912, Krekorian, 25, did not know what instructions frantic Titanic crewmen were shouting. He did not comprehend the words spoken by doomed men as they placed wives and children into the descending lifeboats.
He could not make out the gasping, futile cries for help from those flailing in the icy sea.
Perhaps it was just as well. For more than 65 years, Krekorian lived with memories no one would want yet everyone wanted to hear.
He was one of only about 700 survivors of the sinking of the Titanic. Some 1,500 people died. Krekorian also belonged to an even smaller fraternity – that of male survivors from third class.
When Krekorian boarded the Titanic to embark on a new life in the new world, he had already escaped an uncertain fate.
A Christian, he had fled the political strife and religious persecution of his homeland on the advice of his father, who instructed him to go to North America and start a new life.
In April 1912, he was headed to Brantford, Ont., where, in the years before the First World War, a small but vibrant Armenian community had formed.
Krekorian, and five other Armenian men from his community, found their way to France and booked third-class passage at Cherbourg for a voyage to New York aboard the much-heralded Titanic.
Krekorian had no idea of the hype that preceded the luxurious liner’s maiden voyage. As a non-English-speaking steerage passenger, he was also unaware of the lavish amenities afforded to those on the upper decks.
That Krekorian survived was a miracle in more ways than one. He was one of only about 75 men, 76 women and 27 children from third class to survive the sinking. The death toll of third class passengers numbered more than 500.
“It was secluded down there,” says grandson Van Solomonian, of Toronto. “He talked about breaking a locked door. There was a chain on the door.”
During the voyage there was no mingling between steerage passengers and those in first or second class.
Somehow, in the horrific chaos of the sinking, Krekorian made his way on deck and into lifeboat No. 10. “He saw an opportunity and he jumped in,” Solomonian said.
As years passed, Krekorian’s tales of the experience became less specific and more visceral.
“He talked about how cold it was. The chunks of ice (in the water). And the noise. He heard screaming and yelling,” Solomonian said.
After being plucked from lifeboat No. 10 and taken aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, Krekorian joined the hundreds of bewildered, unbelieving strangers whose notoriety for simply being alive would grow with each passing generation.
On arrival in New York City, Krekorian spent four days in hospital being treated for pneumonia. He was finally sent on his way and arrived in Brantford on the evening of April 25, 1912.
A Brantford Expositor reporter learned of his arrival and hurried to an Armenian boarding house for an exclusive interview.
The reporter entered a large room set with tables. Four Armenian men sat at each table entertaining themselves with some type of “game peculiar to the country whence they came.”
The interview was a convoluted affair, conducted with the help of two interpreters, Mr. Mosoian and Mr. Ouzounean. The latter, Ouzounean, did not speak English either and interpreted Krekorian’s words into French.
As reported in the newspaper, as Krekorian related his experience, the other Armenians – about 20 or so - crowded around to hear the harrowing tale.
“Everybody was running every way, downstairs, upstairs,” he told the newspaperman. “It was about 11 o’clock and I was quite asleep. One of my companions woke me up and told me something happened. He then went up on deck to see what. They tell him to go right down and get his things on and to get ready to get into lifeboats.
“At first we had no idea that anything bad happened and then little by little we began to see ship was sinking. Then everybody got excited, running, shrieking, shouting. I saw little boats and big boats being lowered and I began to feel bad. I saw two men try to get into a boat. (An) officer shot them. I felt stunned, and knew that something must be done. As a little boat went down I jumped right into it. I then hid under the cover at the front.
“I remember twice they looked to see all who were in the boat and none saw me. Then they came again, a third time, and found me. I was too listless to care, and just sat and looked around. We stayed in the boat perhaps three hours, perhaps more and then came the big steamer. We then went to New York.
The Expositor heard another account that Krekorian might have been found dressed as a woman when he was picked up by the rescue ship. Although Krekorian denied the rumour, the newspaper ran with the headline the next day: Armenian Who Dressed in Women’s Clothes to Get Off the Titanic Arrived Here Last Night – Interviewed by Expositor Man.
According to records, Krekorian was in lifeboat No. 10, launched at about 1:40 a.m. It is believed it carried about 30 people, less than half of its capacity of 65.
Also aboard the lifeboat was two-month old Millvina Dean, her two-year-old brother and their mother. Millvina, who died in 2009 at the age of 97, was the last living Titanic survivor.
Krekorian remained in Brantford for several years before moving to St. Catharines, Ont., in 1918.
He raised three children and died in 1978.