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Response from Charlotte Collyer, survivor of the Titanic
Mrs Charlotte Collyer’s article, “How I Was Saved from the Titanic,” printed seven weeks ago in the Semi-Monthly Magazine Section, still holds the record of being the most graphic and most intensely human document relating to that shocking disaster that has yet been published. We felt that it would be so, when we first heard the story from her lips; and on the spot we obtained from her the exclusive right to use it for the benefit of our readers.
Other magazines and many newspapers, learning from other passengers something of the dramatic and harrowing nature of her experiences, sought to anticipate us. But Mrs Collyer loyally refused to listen to them. The house where she was staying, before she went West, was besieged by reporters and camera men. Efforts were made to interview the servants by reporters posing as tradesmen.
Little Marjorie was unable to play in the yard in front of the house on account of the persistent attempts to photograph her. It was under such disturbing conditions that this heartbreaking narrative was written for us.
The telling of the tale
And when it came to us, and we read it, preparatory to having it put in type, we ourselves, who were already familiar with its main outlines and incidents, were so moved by it — so touched by the personal note of tragedy in it — by its unconscious revelation of devoted heroism, that it seemed impossible not to believe that others who read it would be affected in the same way. And we believed that, feeling that way, some, at least, of them would desire to give substantial expression to their sympathy for the writer and her fatherless child.
And so we could not resist the impulse to add to her story of the wreck an editorial note, telling of our readiness to forward to Mrs Collyer any contributions of money that the feelings excited by reading her account might evoke. It is absolutely contrary to our policy to make appeals of any sort in this Section; and we were careful to make it clear that we were not departing from that policy on this occasion. It was to emphasize that fact that we suggested that only those who could afford to send at least five dollars without self-sacrifice should send at all. We believed that there were enough persons of abundant means among our readers who would wish to express their sympathy in tangible form, and who could do so without feeling it — who would, in fact, feel it more of a hardship not to be permitted to do so — materially to lighten the burden that the loss of her husband and their fortune, under so distressing circumstances, had thrust upon the none too strong shoulders of that brave woman.
Grateful for the public’s support
Our confidence in this regard has been more than justified. On account of our large edition and the requirements of careful printing, The Semi-Monthly Magazine Section must go to press a month before the date of issue. It is accordingly only three weeks, at the time these words are written, since Mrs Collyer’s article appeared.
It will, we are sure, be gratifying to our readers — whether they are included in the list of contributors or not — to know that, up to date, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five dollars have been received by us for the benefit of Mrs Collyer and have been forwarded to her. It is certainly gratifying to us; and how gratifying this generous and spontaneous outpouring of aid and encouragement has been to Mrs Collyer she tells you in the letter that we print on this same page.
It will, of course, be impossible for Mrs Collyer to acknowledge personally all the letters and checks that she has received. Many of them came without addresses. But everyone who sent a cheek will receive it back through the bank with Mrs Collyer’s endorsement. We print the signature to her letter of acknowledgment in facsimile for purposes of comparison.
On only one point can there be any possible sense of disappointment to those who came forward so liberally to assist Mrs Collyer in her brave determination to carry out her dead husband’s plans, and to make a home for herself and Marjorie in the West. Mrs Collyer has been compelled to return to the home of her parents in England. Any disappointment that any of our readers may feel on this account is as nothing compared with the disappointment felt by Mrs Collyer herself, when she realized that her strength was not equal to the task that she had set herself, and reluctantly turned her back on the country.
When Mrs Collyer landed from the Carpathia, she was absolutely without a penny and without resources. Everything that she and her husband possessed, with the exception of some furniture, also on the Titanic, had been turned into money, and that money was in a wallet carried by Mr Collyer. The money we paid for her story, however, gave her the means to complete her journey to Payette Valley, Idaho, where her husband had arranged to go into fruit-farming, and left her enough for her personal expenses for some time to come.
She found there a hearty welcome from her friends from the old country, and every one offering kindly aid and encouragement. The owners of the land that Mr Collyer had contracted to purchase were willing to make every possible concession that would enable the widow to carry the property until it should be on a self-supporting basis; and all her new neighbors were ready to turn to and to help her place it on that basis.
Her eventual return to Britain
It did not take long, however, for Mrs Collyer to find that not all the help she could expect would suffice to make her task one that she would be able to accomplish.
There was only the bare ground to start with. The forest growth, indeed, had been cut down, and the roots removed; but that was all. There was no house to live in. There confronted her, then, the problems of housing, of preparing the soil, of buying cuttings and trees from the nurseries, of setting them out, of caring for them, and of support for herself and her child until the trees came into bearing.
It must be remembered that it was his wife’s failing health that was the principal consideration that led Mr Collyer to seek a home in America. He hoped that, in a wholesome, outdoor life in a more congenial climate, she might regain her strength. He had, of course, never contemplated her taking up the active pioneer work of making a fruit farm from the very beginning. He would not have dreamed her equal to it.
Mrs Collyer, however, did not lack courage. Those who have read her article do not need to be told that. Earnestly she set to work to seek a possible solution to each problem she had to face. Some of them did not appear to be insuperable; but there were others that, with her lack of money and strength, daunted even her. And her strength, none too vigorous when she left England, had been sadly impaired, she soon found by the exposure and the suffering she had been through. For a time, the excitement of her terrible experiences had given her a nervous energy that she misread as renewed vitality; but, as the excitement wore off under the stern realities she encountered in the West, she began to realize her physical capital had been almost as much depleted as her financial capital.
At last, she received unmistakable warnings that already she was overtaxing her powers. To go on would be surely fatal. Only then did she sadly relinquish her hopes and ambitions and decide to brave again the perils of an ocean voyage, and to return to her own country — there to seek among those nearest and dearest to her, rest for herself, and a home for Marjorie.
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Source publication: The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California)
Publication date: July 21, 1912