Open Book History

SOS! She’s Hit an Iceberg!

108 years ago today, two twins, Michel and Edmond Navratil, saw their father for the last time as he lowered them into a boat full of strangers in a desperate attempt to save their lives. They were on Easter break with their father who unbeknownst to the twins, had kidnapped them, leaving their mother at home in France. Neither of the children spoke English and a few hours later, the twins, by all accounts, became orphans. Traveling under false names as not to be caught by French authorities, the boys later described their trip as enjoyable, despite the tragedy that had awaited them.

Once to safety, the boys were again given new names. Upon their arrival to New York harbor, newspapers around the world dubbed them the “Titanic Orphans”, Louis and Lola. Local authorities immediately began searching for any living relatives in which to return the children. In the meantime, another survivor, Margaret Hays, took the children in. Miraculously, on May 16, 1912, a month and a day after the Titanic sunk, the twins’ mother, Marcelle arrived in New York Harbor to be reunited with her sons.

108 years ago today, one of the most tragic accidents in history occurred off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Over 1,500 people met their fate in the icy waters of the Atlantic after the RMS Titanic struck an ice burg and began to sink with all of her 2,200 passengers, around 2:30 AM. 706 fortunate men, women, and children drifted away in the 20 lifeboats carried by the ‘unsinkable ship.’ Only 340 bodies were ever recovered from the wreck leaving around 1,160 families without closure or the opportunity to bring their loved ones home and lay them to rest. The Titanic, the once ‘unsinkable marvel’ now rests some two and a half miles down on the ocean floor of the Atlantic. All 52,000 tons of the most luxurious ship in the world has become a heap of rubble in an ever-changing underwater ecosystem.

Even though the Titanic sank over 100 years ago, it is still one of the most talked-about, studied, remembered shipwrecks of modern times. And sometimes, this world feels a bit like a shipwreck. We’ve hit the iceberg, we know we may be sinking, we won’t know the extent of the damage until it’s too late, and we lose all the people who don’t have access to a lifeboat. And to put that into perspective, 61% of first-class passengers survived Titanic’s wreck while nearly 75% of third-class passengers perished.

Despite all the numbers and the devastation, over 100 years later, the Titanic has become a legend. 108 years later, those who died are remembered and triumphant stories of heroism and the helping hand of the American people emerged to the forefront. This is especially true in the case of Margert Hays who took in and cared for Michel and Edmond and worked closely with authorities to find their mother. While I have had a difficult time adjusting to this quarantine, waking up on days like today and reflecting on these events, always puts things into perspective.

Today, I feel overwhelmingly lucky to have my children safe and happy at home. I am even more blessed to be able to share these histories with them and remember those who have lived and died before us. Even as we all feel lost in this uncertain climate, as I am sure Michel and Edmond did, we too, shall find our way home.

Marcelle with her sons, Edmond and Michel
Online archive for Titanic primary sources (newspapers, letters, books, survivor testimonies, etc.)
Online articles about Michel and Edmond-

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