Down on the Titanic?
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/06/2012 (4023 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s a popular myth that the original furnishings for the Prince Edward Hotel were being shipped over on the Titanic, when they went down in the north Atlantic.
But a myth is all it’s likely to be. Most people point to Mary Hume’s 1982 centennial book, “Brandon: A Prospect Of A City,” a local best-seller that includes the Titanic connection and no doubt accounts for the myth’s widespread belief today.
But for a number of reasons, it’s probably not true.
The earliest record that could be found to link the Titanic with the Prince Edward Hotel furnishings is a 1975 column by Garth Stouffer, then the Brandon Sun’s associate editor.
“Before her very opening in 1912, as a matter of fact, she was connected with one of the most disastrous of all human tragedies, the sinking of an unsinkable ship that plunged into the depths of the Atlantic after hitting an iceberg.” Stouffer wrote.
“When the mighty ship went down, she carried with her the ordered-in-England furniture that was awaited in order to get on with the business of opening the Prince Edward.”
But Stouffer’s column doesn’t cite a source for his information. And an extensive search of the Brandon Daily Sun around the time of the Titanic disaster turns up no evidence of a contemporary connection.
It would have been easy to believe. Both the Prince Edward and the Titanic were noted for their first-class design. The Titanic sank in April 1912, while the hotel officially opened that June.
For months, Brandon front pages were filled with news of the both hotel’s progress and of the aftermath of the Titanic disaster. None of those 1912 stories connect the two.
Each new stage in the hotel’s construction merited front-page coverage, often with lavish, breathless details about the fine work that was being done and the quality material being used.
None of those stories mention the hotel scrambling to replace Titanic losses.
Originally, the hotel had planned to open on January 1, 1912. Anything shipped over on the Titanic would have arrived months late. Even had they been ordered with the actual June opening date in mind, that would have made for quick work, considering the furnishings would have had to have been delivered from New York to Brandon — plus installed — in less than six weeks.
When the hotel did open, pride in the local sources of the hotel’s interior was a big part of the story: “With very few exceptions, all the furnishings of this hotel were made in Canada,” the company wrote in an extensive description of the new building, printed by the Sun.
As a side note, the interior fittings of the depot (attached to the hotel) had been contracted out to a Brandon firm, McDiarmid and Clark, in 1910. The “pretty large” contract called for oak on the main floor, fir on the second floor, and was considered a bit of a coup for a local company, as “several large western firms tendered for the work.”
It’s possible, perhaps, that a small crate of dishes, maybe a couple of rugs, were being shipped over on the Titanic and the Prince Edward was just waiting for these finishing touches.
But an online copy of the Titanic cargo manifest doesn’t show any obvious material headed for Brandon.
And why would it? After all, by 1910 the Canadian Northern had purchased two steamships of its own, and would have been competing with the White Star line’s Titanic on trans-Atlantic shipping. Surely they would have preferred to use their own ships?
There’s just no evidence that anything on the Titanic was ever meant to furnish the Prince Edward Hotel. And there’s plenty of evidence against it.
Maybe Stouffer, who was a passionate defender of civic heritage, and who in 1970 was the founding president of the Assiniboine Historical Society, had good reason to link the Titanic with the Prince Edward Hotel.
But more likely, he was simply swept up with the romance of the idea: a doomed ship carrying furniture for a doomed hotel.
It would be quite a story. If it were true.
Added June 12, 2012 by Grant Hamilton.
Talk about re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
For years, it’s been an article of faith among Brandon residents that the original furnishings for the Prince Edward Hotel had gone down on the Titanic.
It was an easy story to believe — the Titanic was easily the biggest news story of the year, and would have lodged in peoples heads right beside the biggest local news of 1912, the gala opening of the Prince Eddy.
I’ve heard variations that the furniture was made in England, made in Ireland, or even — recently — that the Prince Edward was actually the beneficiary of furniture that had been intended FOR the Titanic.
But I just couldn’t find an original source for any of it.
For my ongoing history of the Prince Edward Hotel special feature (the hotel would have turned 100 this month) I’ve done countless hours of research about the history of the Prince Edward Hotel, and I’ve been privileged to go through early editions of the Brandon Sun from the 1910s.
Through all my research, though I found plenty of articles about the construction of the hotel, and plenty of articles about the Titanic disaster (Brandon residents were horrified, and pitched in a ton of charity donations), I couldn’t find anything that linked the two.
In fact, the earliest reference I could find was a Brandon Sun column from 1975 — the year the ‘Eddy closed — mentioning the connection.
There was no source for that anecdote, which was presented as fact, and none of my research had turned up a contemporary connection.
Plus, the circumstantial evidence seemed to be against it. The hotel had originally been due to open in January 1912 — anything shipped on the Titanic would have arrived too late. Even had the furniture been shipped over on the Titanic, it would have arrived in New York in mid-April — and the hotel needed it for its opening just six week later.
Enough time for stevedores to unload the furnishings, to ship them from New York to Brandon, and for them to be installed and set up? Maybe — but it would be tight.
Plus, and I considered this the nail in the coffin of the Titanic rumour, the owner of the Prince Eddy, the Canadian Northern Railway, was in the trans-Atlantic shipping business itself, wtih two steamers making regular crossings. Why wouldn’t the company have used their own ships?
Triumphantly, I figured that the balance of probablities was against the Titanic connection, and wrote it up as an urban legend.
But insert something about needles, something about haystacks.
Because today, checking a fact for this Saturday’s feature about the eventual demise of the Prince Edward Hotel, I came across this two-page feature from the Brandon Sun’s 75th anniversary edition, in 1957.
(Click here for a much larger, more-legible version)
This article contains a lot of neat details from the opening of the hotel that don’t appear in accounts from 1912. They add new details about the fashion worn by ladies of the time, plus details about the official ribbon-cutton that opened the building, and even the songs played by the band ("Casey Jones" and Irving Berlin’s "Easter Parade").
They had the ring of truth.
So, when I noticed that here, too, they mention that the original furnishings for the hotel had gone down on the Titanic, I sat up and took notice.
This was a reference nearly 20 years earlier than the previous earliest one I had found.
The reference, here, is in this lengthy paragraph:
Opinion was unanimous that the second floor Music Room (now designated as 121) was the latest word in elegance. The original furnishing ordered from abroad had gone down with the Titanic in the horror of that disaster three months before. The replacements were magnificent. Panelled in pale gold damask satin with matching draperies, the focal point was an Adams Fireplace in white. The furnishings were Louise Seize in gold velvet. A grand piano lent the final soigne note. Young ladies fresh from eastern finishing schools ere thrust upon the bench to prove publicly their acquired graces. Half a Chopin nocturne or a recognizable bar or two by Carrie Jacobs Bond would satisfy.
That, alone, wasn’t enough to satisfy me that I had been in error. After all, the hotel was 45 years old plenty of time for an urban legend to take root. But it was a much earlier reference than I had ever seen before, and it sent me hunting some more.
And what to my wondering eyes did appear? But this article, from the Brandon Daily Sun on April 24, 1912:
Note that this article doesn’t quite match with the information from 1957 — the furnishings reference here are for the dining room, not the Music Room, and it’s apparently chairs only, not "all the furnishings".
But still, it’s enough to make my thesis — that there was no connection, except through civic vanity — completely, utterly wrong.
So, mea culpa.
I’m sorry to have impugned the historial skills of people who, in 1975 and 1982, wrote of the lost furnishings. I was too stingy to give them credit without them citing a source.
Well, now I’ve found that source, and I apologize.
So, how did I miss it?
The short answer is, I don’t know. The article appears right in the centre of the front page from that day (although it’s just one of many smaller headlines). And I managed to find Prince-Edward-related articles from elsewhere that month.
I must have simply missed it.
It’s maddening, because I spent hours and hours looking specifically FOR a connection between the two. I did extensive searches through the Manitobia.ca archives, and yet didn’t find it.
Perhaps it’s because, by 1912, the hotel had alredy been named, and it was commonly called the "Prince Edward." Earlier that decade, references to "the CNR hotel" or "the new CN railway hotel" were common, but by April 1912, it was mostly referred to as the "Prince Edward." I must have missed the "CNR " connection while I was looking for the "Prince Edward" one.
Anyway, sad as I am that I didn’t manange to uncover this connection before that first section went to print, I’m glad that I did manage to find out the real truth, and have the opportunity to present it here.
Titanic myth: Confirmed.