Mrs. Henry B. Harris
Another member of the Astor and Guggenheim crowd, Renee Harris, left historian Walter Lord with a record, in 1964, that would solve the Thorne Rosenshine mystery, some thirty years later, and would illuminate, with the ghosts of the past, rooms visited by the deep-penetrating robots Jake and Elwood early in the twenty first century.
Renee had met Henry during the summer of 1899, while studying law in New York City and taking part-time work as a legal secretary. Henry, a famous and successful Broadway producer, was impressed by her competence and intellect, and began to seek her opinions on the various plays submitted by agents. Soon, he discovered that he was deeply in love with her. In April 1912, they were traveling in cabin C-83, an outboard stateroom between the third and fourth smokestacks, next door to their writer friends, the Futrelles.
Mrs. Harris became friends with Walter Lord around the time A Night to Remember was being written and filmed though she found the film terribly right, terribly realistic, and was unable to sit through it. You got the title wrong, she quipped to her friend afterwards. AIt was a night to forget.
During the afternoon of May 31, 1964, at her room in 1977 Broadway, at 53 rd Street in Manhattan, Renee served up tea and biscuits for the historian. It was one of the rare occasions when she found herself willing to talk about that terrible night, and when Walter arrived home in the evening he jotted down notes:
Life on the Titanic was, according to Renee and as might be expected, expensive and lively. But Mrs. Harris doesn’t remember any dancing at all, and thinks 1912 was really too soon before the day of casual dancing. She recalls that the Castles and the Foxtrot were only then being invented. On the other hand, wrote Walter, if there had been dancing, she probably wouldn’t have known it anyhow. The Harris’ belonging to a set that loved to play cards all the time.
A Sunday afternoon, April 14th, Mrs. Harris was drafted to fill in at a poker game in one of the B Deck suites with a private promenade. [She] can’t remember the host’s name but says he was an Englishman. Mr. Harris asked Mrs. Harris to join the group because they already had seven and were suspicious that the most likely eight among this crowd was a [professional] card sharp. This was a way to keep him out.
There were two suites with private promenades, each outboard at the second smokestack on B Deck, just aft of the Grand Stairway and First Class reception area. The port side suite belonged to Bruce Ismay, and Mrs. Harris was familiar with him and was in fact one of the people who testified to seeing Ismay and the Captain dining together on the night of the disaster (an observation that, for some reason, Ismay publicly and vehemently denied in an April 22, 1912 letter published in the New York Herald). The other private promenade suite was occupied by Lady Cardeza, her forty-year-old son, and his valet. They were globe-trotting Americans who usually traveled between London and New York aboard there own private ship, but who thought, this time, that a maiden voyage in the Titanic’s most expensive suite might prove more interesting.
Thomas Cardeza was educated in Europe, and it is possible that Mrs. Harris mistook him for an Englishman, as easily as most people mistook his mother for’ Lady Cardeza – a title she was evidently not entitled to keep, and which she used anyway, in defiance of her ex-husband, James Warburton Martinez Cardeza, grandson of a Portuguese Count.
The Titanic’s Cardeza suite, with it’s beautifully gilded fireplace and even some of its oak, brass and marble furnishings preserved, was first photographed by the robot Snoop Dog, during the filming of James Cameron’s Titanic in 1995. It has been known as the Cal Suite ever since.
Some of the jewelry from this suite (detailed in Lady Cardeza’s insurance claim) turned up in the leather satchel of R. L. Beckwith – which was recovered from the Titanic’s debris field in 1987. Items from other staterooms clustered around the Grand Stairway were also found inside the Beckwith satchel, as if to suggest that someone with keys to the first class staterooms, beginning with the Beckwith’s cabin down in D-35 and working upward, entered the Cardeza suite sometime after mother, son and valet evacuated to Boat 3 (which departed about 1:00 am, an hour and twenty minutes after impact, and just as long ahead of the stern’s disappearance). A pink 7 carat diamond, one of the world’s largest, also lay amongst Lady Cardeza’s abandoned jewels, but it was absent from the Beckwith satchel and would not likely have been left behind, thus hinting that more than one key-bearing crew member entered the suite in search of loot. The Beckwith satchel also contains a silver box from the Duff Gordon’s suite on the deck above- which suggests that the satchel-bearer eventually made it to the Boat Deck, but lost hold of the satchel as the bow glided under- lost it, probably, to more important concerns.
Archaeological evidence, and archaeological thinking have populated the abandoned suite with one, possibly two looters. Renee Harris, through her conversation with Walter Lord, populates it again, hours earlier with card players during the sunny afternoon of April 14 Th. She was very clear about the game taking place in the suite’s private promenade (a room made infamous by a jealous Cal overturning a breakfast table in James Cameron’s film).
The game went along at a table out on the enclosed deck, Walter Lord recorded. Stakes were a dollar a chip ($30 in year 2002 dollars), and as the afternoon went by, Mrs. Harris did very well. Shortly after five she was ahead by $90, when she decided to go below to her stateroom for a minute. Going down the main stairs [the Grand Stairway] from AB [deck] to AC’ she slipped on a little piece of cream cake that someone had dropped at tea – [which had just ended]. She took a header and broke her arm.
The ship’s doctor [probably O’Loughlin, possibly Dr. Simpson] looked it over, but the break seemed bad enough to call in Dr. Freuenthal [a specialist], who happened to be >great at bones,’ and who happened to be a fellow passenger. He finally set it, doubled up.
The reputed card sharp [whom Renee’s presence had kept out of Cardeza’s game] was saved in a lifeboat and he was one of the first people who came to Mrs. Harris on the Carpathia. His greeting: God’s will be done. She told him to go away.
One who wasn’t saved, or even on the passenger list, was George Rosenshine, a friend from New York. He was traveling with a girl names Maybelle Thorne, and they were going under the name, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Thorne.’
According to Mrs. Harris, George and Maybelle Thorne were very much in love. They were also very much married, but each to someone else. Walter Lord wondered, as the 21 st century unfolded, if either of their partners ashore ever guessed; but after nearly a century, did it really matter?
Yes it did. To historians the dead always mattered. The Rosenshine story hinted at so many others that had disappeared into history without leaving behind a scrap of paper, or even a whisper, and about which we would know nothing, forever.
In 1993, paper recovered from the Titanic’s debris field raised the Thorne Rosenshine mystery. Mrs. Harris’s conversation, over cups of tea in 1964, provided a solution, nearly three decades before the mystery itself was born.
A leather carrying bag, enclosing several typewritten letters, was found lying near silver forks with hollow handles. The air inside the forks had compressed as they fell 2.5 miles to the bottom, giving them a strange flattened appearance. A leather cigarette carrying case was also found nearby, with the cigarettes waterlogged but otherwise intact, inside.
The typewritten letters were also intact, making Titanic the first shipwreck in history to produce readable paper. The letters identified George Rosenshine as an American importer of ostrich feathers. A travel agent’s letter and business correspondence revealed that he had visited Yokohama in Japan, and that he was, in April 1912, returning to New York from the same Paris fashion show attended by Edith Russell.
George Thorne Rosenshine, however, was not present on the Titanic’s passenger list. If not for Renee Harris, his letters would have remained an unsolved and (relative to the rest of the Titanic’s saga) bland mystery.
Taken alone, the legible portions of a letter George Rosenshine had received from his brother in New York merely hints that someone, somewhere, might have made an unwise investment, based on an apparent change in fashion against ostrich feathers at the Paris show.
From the 47 and 59 East 11th Street, Manhattan, Rosenshine to Rosenshine. . . The outlook for the coming year for ostrich feathers and staple goods does not look promising . . . I will have Betsy kiss the baby for your. She is looking and feeling well, thank God. . . . Received your letters from Japan . . I am more than pleased that you are having the time of your life . . I bought last week the following stocks. . I have Mamie’s child still up in the sanitarium [for an unidentified chronic illness]. . . getting along bad. She does not seem to recognize anyone. Outlook for next year for ostrich feathers not promising. There is a tendency for shaped hats that do not any (illegible) or French plumes, and what little ostrich will be sold will be in the way of simple little fancy stick-up effects, of which it will be very hard to make a season. I have been to Atlantic City and Philadelphia for the last week, and have had a good time. Felix promises me to straighten out Steurer’s account with him direct, and give me a part payment on my account which, after deducting Steur’s account , now stands on our books about $10,000 [Note: This is approximately equivalent to $300,000 when adjusted for year 2002]. It is a hard proposition to get any money from him. . . . Mrs. Seese was in yesterday. I lunched with her and took her out last evening. She a bill of about Y Y (directly copied from the letter, we do not know in this time what that abbreviated in their) hundred.
The man known to the White Star Line and to most passengers as Mr. Thorne, and to Mrs. Harris as AGeorge Rosenshine, was last observed abut 12:30 am, standing near a rail on the starboard deck, fretting to Maybelle about bad investments and the anticipated cut-off of cash flow back home. He was either unaware , at that time, or he was deliberately trying to distract himself from thinking too long or hard about the infinitely greater danger developing under his feet.
Renee’s verbal description was but a fractional first-person account of what happened after Titanic’s last sunset. About the time of her 1964 tea, Walter Lord convinced her to write a more detailed memoir. It arrived on six sheets of onion skin paper, typed on both sides.
A NIGHT TO FORGET
That I happen to have been the first woman theater manager and produced in America has never through the years, caused a ripple among the people whom I have met, but let them learn that I am a survivor of the TITANIC, then am I the center of attraction.
This unfortunately, is consistent with the public appetite for violence and horror, for without exception when question upon question has been put to me and my answer has always been the same, ‘I can’t talk about it without emotion, and I hate emotions,’ they lose their interest.
In 1959 when Walter Lord’s brilliant and skillful book, A Night to Remember was made into a moving picture, Mike Berger of the New York Times had a column and a half devoted to me. I received many requests to appear on television or radio, none of which I accepted. But when Moss Hart made me so important in his recent book Act One did I get one request to appear in either medium? I did not.
That fateful night that engulfed me fifty years ago has never entirely disappeared, though it has become buried under the many events that have accrued through the years. There is no doubt in my mind that what I went through that harrowing night in 1912 was a test to find out if I should go through life without my beloved or just give up. So through the years I have tried to forget and only on anniversaries will I let myself think about it. That day is sacred to me. It is a dedication to my wonderful husband, Henry B. Harris, who gave his life and gave me twelve of the most supremely happy years that one could ever hope to enjoy.
Fifty years! A lifetime. And yet when I allow myself to go back to that tragic night, it seems like yesterday.
I am in my stateroom playing double Canfield with my husband. I had taken a tumble down a flight of stairs the late afternoon of that tragic night and had a compound fracture of my elbow. The ship’s doctor seemed to be in a quandary as to how to set my arm when my husband suggested sending for a doctor, a passenger, of whom we had heard, who was a famous orthopedic surgeon, the head of the Joint Disease Hospital in New York.
He graciously came to our stateroom and after a long consultation with the ship’s doctor, finally set my arm, my right arm, with the fingers resting on my shoulder.
I mention all this because it is my broken arm that is responsible for my being here today.
It was half-past six when the doctors left our room and when I said to Harry, ‘Help me get dressed. I’m going up for dinner. I’m hungry.’ His surprise was no greater than was the Captain’s was when we were at our table just in front of the one that Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line, had reserved for a big party ‘ and the Captain was on his way to join the group, he stopped and praised me for my courage. I replied that I’d suffer just as much in our room as I would here and I wouldn’t have the gay [cheerful] surroundings that always obtained in the Ritz Restaurant where we had our meals.
In less than ten minutes the Captain passed our table again and again he stopped. I asked him why he wasn’t staying with the dinner party and he replied that he was going back to his bridge as we were among icebergs and that is where he belonged. The rumors that he had imbibed too much are absolutely false. After dinner Harry and I went to the smoking lounge for coffee, so it was about half-past nine, but I was in terrific pain, so I asked to go back to our room. Harry got me undressed, and cut out the sleeve of my bathrobe. It was freezing cold, he wrapped me in a blanket and we started to play our favorite game [double Canfield].
I can say here I have never played it since.
The door of the clothes closet had been left open and I noticed my clothes swaying to a marked degree so I said, ‘We’re going awfully fast to have my dresses sway like that ‘ much too fast among icebergs,’ when at that very moment the ship stopped. It was then exactly 11:20 [actually 11:40]. Harry said he’d go to find out what had happened. It is not an ordinary event to have a ship suddenly stop in the middle of the ocean so I was alarmed.
He had asked Mrs. Futrelle, whose room was opposite ours, to sit with me while he and Jacques Futrelle, a well-known writer, went to get some information. When they returned in about half an hour Harry was as calm as if nothing serious had happened. He said he was going to get me dressed as all passengers were told to go to the boat deck and all women and children were to be put in lifeboats. Again he cut our the sleeve of my dress ‘ put my fur coat on my with one sleeve dangling and together we went out of the room.
My jewelry, which we locked in the innovation trunk that we kept in our room, Harry put in his pockets. My pearls that I never went without were taken from around my neck when the doctor put my arm in a sling. So my pearls were among my jewelry. This too I mention for a reason that will follow.
As we reached the foot of the stairs where an armed officer was standing, he said, ‘Women only.’ Then Harry replied he was going to put me in a lifeboat as I had a broken arm and could not take care of myself, he allowed us to pass. When we reached the boat deck they were about to lower a lifeboat when Harry said, ‘Just a minute. I want to put my wife in the boat.’ I wouldn’t go. I said, ‘I’m safer here than in that little boat and I won’t leave you.’
So around the deck we walked, seeing boat after boat lowered from its davits, and at one John Jacob Astor was standing with his wife. He said to the officer in charge. ‘I’m going into the boat and I want you to life my wife, who is pregnant and place her in my arms. I will step right out again.’ He was allowed to get into the boat.
If ever there was an unsung hero, John Jacob Astor is that man. He need not have left the boat. The officer would not have taken a shot, for one person could not be distinguished from another, as it was pitch black. He immediately stepped out of the boat and joined Harry and me in our perambulations, the two of them urging me to get into a boat. I was feeling no physical pain ‘ as miserable as I had been all the hours before ‘ the mental’ torture I was going through numbed the physical misery. By this time the bow of the ship sank so low the lifeboats were practically resting in the water. It was not like an ocean but more like a big pond.
Now all the lifeboats had been launched and only two collapsible were left. They had filled the first collapsible and as she was being lifted off her davits when Isidor Strauss, who with Mrs. Strauss had joined us, left the rail with my husband and me. I did not know until much later that the boat turned over and all the occupants were thrown into the ocean [from a later boat, A ‘ which left from Boat C’s davits; Boat C was Ismays’ boat.]
On going to the port side we crossed the Captain’s bridge. I can still see the hands pointing to two twenty [actually, this must have been 2:00 AM]. Standing with the Captain [were] Major Archibald Butt, the aide-de-camp to President Taft and the doctor who had helped in setting my arm. The Captain in a very angry tone said, ‘Why aren’t you in a boat? How can your husband save himself and you too, with a broken arm?’ I replied, ‘I don’t want to leave him.’
‘You get into that boat – it is the last one. And lose no time ‘ give your husband a chance.’
That’s all I needed to hear. As we reached the port side where the Strauss’s had gone, I asked Mrs. Strauss to go with me. When I heard her say, ‘I won’t leave my husband.’ Then Mr. Strauss added, ‘We’ve been together many years so when we must go, we’ll go together. You are young ‘ you have your whole life ahead of you. You go and may God go with you.’
His words still ring in my ears.
Harry lifted me in his arms and threw me into the arms of a sailor and then threw a blanket that he had been carrying for me through the hours. The moment I was in the boat they pulled off and as I looked up five ribbons of [port hole lights] that converged from the stern to the bow quickly became four, then three, then two, then one and then I knew my beloved and all those fine men and women who had become so close to me during those trying hours hadn’t a chance. My one thought was, had I only waited another minute I too would have gone with the one whom I so deeply loved instead of now in this little boat, for I felt certain we would be pulled in my the suction. The screams of ‘look our for the suction’ appalled me. All I could think of was if we could only go quickly. Strangely I had no fear ‘ evidently I was benumbed. Then the screaming suddenly ceased. The TITANIC was completely submerged and all danger of suction had passed. Then the ship went so quickly I knew that not one on board had a chance to get on the rafts. I doubt that there were any rafts [for them, even] if they had had time to use them. Then the words of Mr. Strauss had so warmly uttered came back to me. ‘God be with you.’ ‘No,’ I thought, ‘no, God is not with me. He is with you and my beloved and all those hundreds of beautiful souls who have gone down without a fighting chance. He too went down with the TITANIC.’
We were not ten feet away from the ship when we heard from the water a cry for help. The oarsmen stopped rowing and pulled a man aboard. [This boat, collapsible D, was lowered at approximately 2:05 AM, only minutes before the final plunge.] [He was] one of the first class passengers [Frederick Hoyt] who had put his wife in the collapsible, dived from the deck and followed our boat until he was picked up. He is one of the very few male survivors who was honorably saved. Sitting next to me were two little girls whose mother doubtless had thrown them into the boat. I wrapped the blanket my husband had thrown to the sailor around their little bodies as they were shivering from the cold. She doubtless was among the steerage passengers who had been kept back by ropes stretched across the deck manned by armed officers. This was done no doubt to lessen the weight in the bow that was already sinking.
Then the rescued man and his wife and I were the only first-class passengers in the collapsible, which was filled to capacity. We hadn’t gone very far when the boat began to fill with water. I hadn’t noticed it until I heard the little girls cry. And then the women started screaming again. The water was above our ankles and as fast as it was bailed out it would fill it up again.
How long this kept up I can’t remember ‘ interminable hours it seemed to me ‘ when a voice from a distance resounded, ‘Keep yelling ‘ we will locate you.’ It was impenetrably dark, so not until there was a little ray of daylight wee we found by a lifeboat.
They lightened our boat by taking a few of our women. They were not filled to capacity as were most of the life boats, and the officer in charge tied us to his stern ‘ and together we rowed on a sea as calm as a pool ‘ until daylight.
Then we saw the ice [berg] ‘ some like mountains ‘ thousands of smaller pieces that no doubt had been broken by the impact of the TITANIC. Then we saw a gigantic figure looming from the water at a great distance. The officer in the lifeboat shouted to us. ‘A ship! We will make from it and be there in a little while.’ Except for the gentle crying of the little girls there was ‘Silence as deep as death’, which lasted until we reached the ship. It was an hour, perhaps longer, before we lay alongside the big ship. The CARPATHIA that had risked the danger of sailing through the field of ice had come to our rescue when other ships much closer had ignored the TITANIC’s call for help.
I was hoisted in some contraption in which I was sitting and in such a complete daze I didn’t know that I was put among the steerage passengers, not that it mattered ‘ until a ship’s officer came to me and apologized for their error.
Then I was led to a stateroom that had been given to me by an artist and his wife. This I shared with a French girl ‘ a beautiful woman who didn’t know one word of English. I learned from her that she was being brought to this country by one of our outstanding financiers who was one of the lost ones.
It would not be fair to his family to mention his name, although his wife has long since passed on, but his children and grandchildren are important enough to be mentioned occasionally in society columns. After all these intervening years it amazes me that many incidents are still fresh in my memory. One that stands out strongly was when after dinner the survivors were summonded to the dinning room for a check-up. I noticed a couple all dolled up in evening clothes. They appeared so incongruous to me among all the women who like myself were only half clothed that I asked my neighbor who these weird creatures were. I learned that they were Lord and Lady Duff Gordon, who had not only saved themselves but had gone into a lifeboat with much luggage. [Pellegrino: The Duff Gordons, and especially their maid, ‘Mrs Franks,’ had spoken on the Carpathia about seeing the First Officer open fire on men charging Boat A. The Harris account provides the first evidence that the smear campaign against the Duff Gordons began on the Carpathia, days before they reached shore. There are no recorded instances of luggage aboard the lifeboats. Ismay intervened in exonerating the Duff Gordons publically, after they recanted the account of having seen one of his officers shooting passengers, and then himself. It would not be out of character, under the circumstances, for the man who later exonerated the Duff Gordons to have also originated the smear, hoping to extract the desired denials.]
They [the Duff Gordons] lived, yes, but how much joy out of living could they have had? They were ostracized from England, as was Bruce Ismay. And the doctor who set my arm [Frauenthel]. I’m afraid I was not very kind when he came to my cabin to see what he could do for me. He started to explain how he was saved when I interrupted him to say that I wouldn’t have my husband back at the cost of a woman’s life, and he made such a hasty exit I didn’t see him again either on the CARPATHIA or ever after. But I did hear that when he went to the Lambs Club of which my husband was the treasurer until the time of his death, when he entered a room the members present walked out. Later is was rumored that the doctor had committed suicide. And this incident is unbelievable but factual. I had written out a radiogram to send to my father-in-law to try to gently break the news to him. I said, ‘I am saved and praying that Harry may be rescued.’ I knew, of course, that he was lost so when I was met, when we landed, by Harry’s father, my brother and our doctor, I said, ‘I have come back alone.’ They knew that I knew.
After that, for a period of two months, my mind was a complete blank. Memorial services for my beloved were held at the Hudson Theater, the theater that was built for him, which I attended, but of which I have no recollection. Harry’s body was never recovered, although all those with whom I left him had been found. I have always believed that when the divers found his body and discovered my jewelry they must have realized its worth and have taken it and put his body back at sea. My first awareness was when I was taken to my doctor and a nurse to the theater and was seated at his desk and for the first time, (so I was told), went into a paroxysm of hysteria. The first tears I had shed.
I knew then exactly what I was going to do. I was going to carry on his work and make the theater a monument to his memory. I carried on for twenty years, doing the things that I thought he would have me do. The first play I produced was ‘Damaged Goods.’ My father-in-law, an executor with me in the will, felt that the play was too daring for a woman to present so I produced it under the auspices of the Medical Society, as the Richard Bennett (he was the star) players. Today that play would be considered a Pollyanna production.
In 1928 I took a trip around the world and in July 1929 I was cabled to come home as a depression had set in and my business manager was in a state of collapse as he couldn’t get an attraction to fill the theater.
From 1929 until 1932 I could get nothing but ‘turkeys’ to put into the theater. The one great chance I had to save my theater was when Marc Connelly produced ‘Green Pastures’ and asked me to see a rough rehearsal as he wanted to put the play in the Hudson.
I went off the deep end after seeing the rehearsal and had Marc’s business manager at the officer the next day to sign contracts. I loved it.
Another tragedy in my life: In the play there was a treadmill that played a very important part in the production so when they started digging and found solid rock underneath the stage they were afraid it would injure the foundation of the building, so I had to cancel the contract. That play would have carried me over the tough years but it was not to be my fate.
In 1932 I was forced to give it up. The bank that held the one mortgage that I had, foreclosed and got a judgment against me for half a million dollars which, of course, was never met. But they had my beautiful theater, which is still in my mind a monument to Harry b. Harris.
So that this may not be an appeal for sympathy, for I have had a great deal of happiness out of the life that I have been forced to live, I should like to end with this amusing note.
Every year until World War 1 the newspapers on the anniversary of the sinking of the TITANIC would always observe the day and would print the names of prominent passengers, among which mine would appear.
On one of those anniversaries I was entering the front door of the apartment house where I lived when the doorman who was talking to some woman stopped me and said, ‘Mrs. Harris, I didn’t know you were on the TITANIC. I saw it in this morning’s paper.’
‘You were on the TITANIC?’ the woman asked.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘Were you saved?’
‘No,’ I said.
Since then I have often wondered. I have tried through the years to make it a night to forget; otherwise I would not have had the will to live.
After the Titanic, Renee Harris continued her husband’s work in the New York Theater, seeking out young actors and playwrights and nurturing them in their career’s. Among these was an aspiring writer/director named Moss Hart, in whom everyone except Renee saw a man whose work was utterly lacking in signs of talent. She ignored everyone’s advice and produced his first play, A The Beloved Bandit, which failed to find a home either on or off Broadway, or even off-off Broadway. In Rochester, New York, he ended up, in Broadway parlance, playing to the gas. The ninety-percent empty auditorium reached one hundred percent before Intermission.
Afterward, Renee lit a cigarette and said, I’ll tell you something boy. The way it went tonight doesn’t bother me a bit. You know why? First, this is Rochester – and what the hell does Rochester know about anything except Kodaks? Renee’s encouragement and good humor meant a lot to Moss Hart. He went on, resolving never to give up no matter what the critics said, went on to another project he had in mind, a musical piece that he called My Fair Lady.
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