Sixty-three years ago this week the “unsinkable” Titanic struck an iceberg off Newfoundland and disappeared beneath the sea with 1,513 of her 2,224 passengers. Among the lost were such glittering names as John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Thomas Andrews, who built the magnificent vessel.
“When she finally went under,” recalls Edwina MacKenzie of Hermosa Beach, Calif., one of the lucky 711 survivors, “that scream of death was worse than any siren.” The memories of that night have not faded for Mrs. MacKenzie, who at 90 is one of a handful of survivors still alive. She sailed second-class under her maiden name, E. Celia Troutt, bound for New Jersey to visit her sister for the second time. Ironically, she had booked passage on the Oceanic, due to sail April 13. “My friends thought it wouldn’t be lucky to sail on the 13th,” she recalls, and she switched her booking to the Titanic, which left the next day.
The night of the sinking she was in bed when the engines stopped, awakening her. By the time she reached the deck from her cabin, she remembers, most of the lifeboats were gone. “A man was there with a baby in his arms and said, ‘I don’t want to be saved, but save my baby.’ I jumped into the life boat holding the crying baby, and I thought we were going right into that icy ocean. As we rowed away, we could see the lights of the Titanic disappear. The man in charge of our boat got us to sing, ‘Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore.’ ” Six hours later the survivors in the 13th lifeboat—the last to leave the doomed ship—were rescued by the Carpathia. In 1972 Mrs. MacKenzie appeared on the Today show, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the sinking. “After the show,” she remembers, “the sister of that baby called. She told me his name was Assud Thomas, and that he had passed away of the flu at 20.”
In spite of her terrifying part in one of the most extraordinary of all maritime tragedies, Mrs. MacKenzie considers the experience the high point of her life. “I felt I was saved for something,” she says, “so I vowed never to quarrel and always to be kind to the sick and the elderly.” The spry Mrs. MacKenzie appears to be neither. Now a widow (her third husband died in 1968), she lives alone in a modest cottage. Speaking on the average of twice a week to groups about the sinking of the Titanic, she zips along the California freeways at the wheel of her own red Pinto. “I try to make it educational,” Mrs. MacKenzie says. “I tell them that she was 11 stories high and four blocks long, and that she was the most beautiful ship I’ve ever seen.”
Mrs. MacKenzie lives with her scrap-books, still has her landing card, and over the years has collected obituaries of survivors as they died. In 1957, when J. Arthur Rank was producing A Night to Remember, the film company heard about Mrs. MacKenzie from the local newspaper and invited her to visit the set. Nonetheless, Mrs. MacKenzie has resisted the current crop of disaster movies, and a copy of The Poseidon Adventure given her by a neighbor has gone unread.
In 1923, when she and her first husband visited her family in England and had to travel by ship, she had a nervous collapse. But that fear of the sea passed in time. Mrs. MacKenzie made her last sea voyage in 1961, to Australia, and says she would rather sail than fly. “Flying doesn’t suit me.”