April 10, 2012
On the evening of April 11, 1912, Carlos Hurd and his wife, Katherine, embarked on the trip of a lifetime. In New York City, they had boarded the Cunard liner Carpathia, which was now steaming towards Europe. As the couple settled into their berth on the liner, Hurd, a newspaper reporter, had no idea that he was on the verge of scoring what some would later call the greatest scoop of the twentieth century.
Carlos Hurd from Drury's archives
Hurd, then 36, had graduated from Drury College in 1897. While at Drury, he had served as editor of the campus newspaper, the Mirror, and had also worked part time as a writer for the Springfield Leader. After graduation, he took a job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a paper that was at the time owned by Joseph Pulitzer.
The Hurd’s trip was uneventful until early on April 15th. When the Hurds awoke at 5:40 on that Monday morning, they noticed that the Carpathia’s engines had stopped. There seemed to be a commotion on the ship.
Hurd went on deck to investigate, and a crewmember told him that the White Star liner Titanic was “at the bottom of the ocean.” The Carpathia had received her distress call, and was picking up survivors. Looking out alongside the Carpathia, Hurd could see a line of lifeboats from the sunken liner.
As the survivors came on board, stories of individual tragedy began to unfold. Hurd noted “a bride of two months” who “moaned her widowhood,” and an Italian woman who “shrieked the name of her lost son.” Wealthy women dressed in “the costliest of fur coats” walked about, asking others for news of their husbands.
Unbeknownst to Hurd, his boss Joseph Pulitzer had sent a series of frantic radio messages to the Carpathia, urging Hurd to interview the Titanic’s survivors and get the story of the tragedy. But the Carpathia’s captain, a man named Arthur Rostron, had not passed the messages on to Hurd, and had declared a news “blackout” on the event. He even went so far as to confiscate all of the stationary on the Carpathia so that Hurd would not be able to write the story down.
Yet even though he never received Pulitzer’s radio messages, Hurd knew the importance of the story. As he later put it, “the story was on the Carpathia and nowhere else.” He set to work interviewing the survivors of the Titanic, including Quartermaster Robert Hichens, who was at Titanic’s helm on the night of the sinking.
Carlos Hurd from Drury's archives
Hurd wrote notes down on any scrap of paper that he could find, even toilet paper. Fearing that the Carpathia’s crew would confiscate his notes, Hurd would hand them to his wife, Katherine, and she would hide the notes by placing them on the bed in their cabin and sitting on top of them. Finally, Hurd was able to piece together a 5,000-word story detailing first-hand accounts of the sinking.
There remained the problem of how to get the story to Pulitzer’s representatives. The Carpathia had turned back to take the survivors to New York, but Hurd knew that the ship’s crew would not let him leave the ship with the written story. So he and a Titanic survivor named Spencer Silverthorne put the manuscript in a cigar box, waterproofed the container, and attached champagne corks to it so that it would float.
When they arrived in New York Harbor on April 18th, a tug hired by Joseph Pulitzer pulled up alongside the Carpathia, and the editor of the New York Evening World, Charles E. Chapin, shouted to Hurd, telling him to throw the box down to him. Hurd did so, but the box became entangled in one of the Carpathia’s guy wires. Fortunately, someone on one of Carpathia’s lower decks reached up, grabbed the box, and tossed it down to Chapin.
The story was immediately published in the New York Evening World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Among other details, Hurd was the first to report that the ship’s orchestra had played “Nearer My God, To Thee” as the liner went down. “The serene strains of the hymn,” he wrote, “and the frantic cries of the dying blended in a symphony of sorrow.” Hurd wrote several other stories about the Titanic disaster in the following days; his wife, Katherine, also wrote a story entitled, “Stories of Women Who Survived the Titanic.”
In a biographical note that accompanied Hurd’s initial story, the Post-Dispatch boasted that their reporter enjoyed “an exceptional reputation for accurate and thorough reporting, as well as descriptive power in writing.” To show his appreciation, Ralph Pulitzer gave Carlos Hurd a $1,000.00 bonus, and told him to take an additional three weeks of vacation.
Several days later, the Hurds boarded the Carpathia again and went on to Europe, where they spent two months travelling about. But the tragedy they had chronicled cast a pall over their trip. As the ship entered the Mediterranean, Hurd wrote to his parents, “I feel sure none who was on this ship will ever forget the four days we had the Titanic people aboard.” He added, “I doubt whether these days will ever seem remote to us.”
Story written by Bill Garvin. Drury University archivist.