It was a disaster that never should have happened.
The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world with all the advanced safety features that its builders could think to include. Unfortunately, what the ship didn't have was an adequate number of lifeboats for the thousands of passengers and crewmembers on board (though it actually had more lifeboats than the maritime law of the time required). When the Titanic began its maiden voyage from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912, it was carrying 2,227 passengers and 899 crewmembers. The ship's luxurious features and the excitement caused by its launching ensured that maximum capacity. The passengers included some of the most prominent socialites of their day with millionaires, celebrities, politicians, and sightseers in abundance.
After striking an iceberg on April 14, emergency measures went into effect when Captain Edward Smith realized that the ship was sinking. While lifeboats were prepared, it was readily apparent that there weren't enough places available. Despite massive panic, the heroic crew managed to launch the twenty lifeboats and the ship was completely underwater within hours. Only the passengers in the lifeboats and those who managed to survive on makeshift flotation devices managed to be rescued. The rest had either drowned or died quickly of hypothermia in the frigid Atlantic water. Although two of the lifeboats managed to pick up additional survivors, more than fifteen hundred people died that night. The trauma of hearing drowing victims scream for help would stay with the survivors for the rest of their lives.
Survivors like Henry and Clara Frauenthal...
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1863, Henry Frauenthal obtained his medical degree in 1890 and went on to become one of New York's most prominent orthopaedic surgeons. After opening his own clinic in 1904, he eventually founded his own hospital (now the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases). A bachelor for most of his life, he married Clara Heinsheimer at an intimate ceremony in Nice, France in 1912. Joined by Henry's brother Isaac (who had attended the wedding), the three of them arranged passage on the Titanic for what would be a honeymoon cruise (which probably seemed like a good idea at the time).
Interestingly enough, Isaac Frauenthal would later report that he began experiencing a disturbing, recurring dream after the ship departed from Southampton. In describing the dream, he later stated that:
It seemed to me that I was on a big steamship that suddenly crashed into something and began to go down. I saw in the dream as vividly as I could see with my open eyes that gradual sinking of the ship and I heard the cries and shouts of the frightened passengers."
On the evening of April 10, Isaac got out of bed and heard the news that the Titanic had struck an iceberg. Although there was little panic at the time, he went to his brother's cabin and insisted that the three of them proceed immediately to the lifeboats. Henry was skeptical that the Titanic could ever sink but he gave in to Isaac's urgings. By the time they reached the lifeboats, the crew was in the process of filling Lifeboat Number Five. Clara was allowed on but Henry and Isaac were not (the "women and children first" policy was in effect). As the lifeboat was being lowered, Henry, noting that there were two empty spaces next to Clara, persuaded Isaac to jump aboard with him. Although Isaac landed safely, the portly Henry was not so lucky. He landed on top of another passenger, Annie May Stengel, knocking her unconscious and breaking two of her ribs (under the circumstances, having a doctor on board the lifeboat was probably not much of a comfort to poor Mrs. Stengel). After witnessing the Titanic's sinking and the death throes of those passengers who couldn't be saved, the survivors were picked up hours later by the U.S.S. Carpathia. They eventually disembarked in New York City on April 18.
Despite their unwanted celebrity status, Henry, Isaac, and Clara did their best to get on with their lives. Henry and Isaac Frauenthal also had to deal with criticism for jumping onto the lifeboat instead of waiting on deck with the other male passengers. Given the obstacles that they faced, Henry and Clara seemed happy enough and his medical career flourished. Henry's hospital was expanded in 1914 with 45,000 patients being treated in the first year alone. His practice included numerous polio patients (then known as "infantile paralysis") and he was widely known as a pioneer in treating paralysis cases.
In later years however, both Henry and Clara developed nervous problems of an unspecified nature. By 1925, Henry was no longer able to practice medicine and Clara had gone to a rest home upstate. On March 11, 1927, Henry Frauenthal died following a fall from his seventh-floor bedroom window. His death occurred in the early morning and was only discovered when the night nurse went to check on him and found his bed empty. After a search, his body was found at the foot of the apartment building. An inquest held by Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris concluded that Henry Frauenthal's death was caused by "a fall from window due to his mental derangement". He died just short of his 65th birthday.
According to Henry's obituary, colleagues attributed his nervous condition to overwork. In addition to Clara and his brother Isaac (who died in 1932), Henry was survived by his adopted daughter, Natalie. As for Clara Frauenthal, her husband's death unbalanced her further. She was eventually sent to Blythewood Sanitarium in Greenwich, Connecticut where she remained until her own death from heart failure on March 30, 1943. As an odd footnote to the story, Henry Frauenthal's will left most of his sizable estate to his hospital but also included an unusual condition: his ashes were to be scattered from the roof of the hospital on the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. The bequest was carried out by his nephew Herman, a trustee of the hospital, along with other hospital officials in a solemn ceremony on October 4, 1955.
Did the trauma of their experience on board the Titanic contribute to the tragedy in the Frauenthals' later lives? It may not be a coincidence that many Titanic survivors committed suicide in the years following the great boat's sinking. Trauma counseling was unknown back then and the Titanic survivors were obliged to deal with the obvious survival guilt any way that they could. Whatever the posttraumatic effect was of their experience that night (and the tremendous media frenzy that followed) that followed the survivors afterward can only be imagined.