Gracie: The truth about Titanic’s last number

Survivors from the Water Part II

The story of Titanic’s band playing Nearer, My God, To Thee had several vocal detractors amongst the survivors, none as adamant as Colonel Archibald Gracie. He wrote a book (published posthumously) about Titanic’s maiden voyage and sinking. In Chapter II, Struck by an Iceberg, he set out his thoughts on the matter.

Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor. 1913

The Truth About the TITANIC:
“If, as it has been reported, ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ was one of the selections, I assuredly should have noticed it and regarded it as a tactless warning of immediate death to us and one likely to create a panic that our special efforts were directed towards avoiding, and which we accomplished to the fullest extent. I know of only two survivors whose names are cited by the newspapers as authority for the statement that this hymn was one of those played. On the other hand, all whom I have questioned or corresponded with, including the best qualified, testified emphatically to the contrary.”

According to Walter Lord, Titanic survivors Peter Denis Daly and Richard Norris (Dick) Williams II were two who agreed with Gracie about the hymn. Both were First Class passengers and would have been in the same First Class area of the ship where the band’s music was heard.

It is certain that Daly and Williams were on the ship to the last and were close enough to have heard whether the band played the hymn or not. The band was playing at the top of the Grand Staircase, at the Boat Deck level near the forward part of the ship, and the men who were working to launch the collapsible boats were within earshot, at the forward corner of the Boat Deck or on top of the officers’ quarters. Even if they were busy with the task of survival, strains of the band’s music would have been audible.

Both Daly and Williams were saved on Collapsible A, the last boat away from Starboard. It was swamped with water as Titanic’s Boat Deck became flooded, cast off so late that the men ran out of time to raise the “collapsible” sides.

It is known that Gracie was on board Titanic in the First Class area until the end; in fact he held on to a rail as the ship sank and was pulled deep under the water before he let go and swam back to the surface. In his last speaking engagement before he passed away, Gracie reiterated his stance on Nearer, My God, To Thee at the University Club in Washington DC.

Archibald Gracie, Titanic survivor. November 23, 1912. University Club, Washington DC:
“If the band had played that familiar hymn, panic would have resulted. Fixing in the minds of the passengers on the possibility of their being nearer to God, and I say it seriously, would have been the last thing they wanted.”

Related Posts

Peter Denis Daly
Richard Norris (Dick) Williams II

10 thoughts on “Gracie: The truth about Titanic’s last number

  1. Well, only partly. In my opinion, from the evidence I have seen, Titanic's band did not perform Nearer, My God, To Thee. BUT people heard it from their lifeboats (the part of Songe d'automne that sounds identical led them to believe they had heard it). It is an interesting situation where on the ship Songe d'automne was the true number being performed, but from a distance, it sounded like the hymn. Nearer, My God, To Thee was experienced that night and gave comfort to many, and will always be part of the story. But the sad news is that the musicians didn't play it. Sorry – and you can keep believing it if you want to.


  2. Do you have their names? I'd love to see this list. Unfortunately, the press was very good in 1912 about making up survivor reports, and it seems, quite often put words in the mouths of survivors. Because there is such a wide variance in the reports from passengers who claimed they had heard NMGGT, it sounds as though the accounts were made up by the press who were looking for a story that would captivate readers. There is a grain of truth to NMGGT – the first three notes of Songe d'automne carried over the din of people struggling to cast off the last lifeboats, and two women thought they had heard the hymn. They were the only two Carlos Hurd knew of, and he was on Carpathia talking to all the survivors for days. Even those two weren't certain. If there really were 167 who heard the hymn, then I need to see that list and figure out which lifeboats they were on and whether they were close enough to have heard anything. All things are possible.


  3. Well, Caroline brown, Molly Brown…Look, my freind, not to be rude but what i meant was a newspaper said: 167 survivors said the band played rag/hymns Is it possible that they played NMGTT after Songe D' Autumne? It was Hartley's fav. hymn after all


  4. Yes, one of my theories is called the \”Hartley Solo Theory\” and here is the link: the beginning it has been the press, and now the media, who love to perpetuate the NMGGT story. If the article made the claim that 167 people heard the hymn, and a person had gone to all the work of researching all those names, surely they would list them? Does that newspaper have an online version you could give a link for? I'm always curious to see new information, who said it, where they did their research. It sounds to me that you are very keen. I recommend that you begin reading with my very first post and read straight through. I have tried to write them in a somewhat logical order, though when my readers ask questions I often custom-design new posts to answer them. If you read my posts in order they might answer some of your questions.


  5. Researching this can give one a great headache I discovered years ago. I would have been better off just taking Gracie's word for it and moving on, but, I was not that smart. Carlos Hurd, a reporter of the Post Dispatch, was on the Carpathia at the time the Titanic sank. His first article mentioned the song being played but he named no names. In a subsequent article, he basically had people stop drowning to sing. That wasn't enough to stop me. Hardly 167 said they heard it, going from memory it seems that maybe 6 or 7 would later be paid by papers and said they heard it. Reading their stories, the band is either marching deck to deck and the wave covers their head at the last note, everyone on the ship fell to their knees (including the band) and sang to it, people dying in ice cold water starting singing to it. The stories come from people who left the ship by 1:30, from the stern area of the ship and were at least 1/2 mile away. They heard the song but didn't hear Captain Smith..when he used his megaphone.. to order the boats back. And of course they had more to say about the sinking than the song… The majority of the people who recalled hearing music heard lively music.. jazz, waltzes and ragtime. The rest, if they heard anything, said nothing. You can find actual articles online, Library of Congress or Newspaper archives is the best as others are usually \”quoted\” No one knows what the last song was and given the circumstances its very understandable.


  6. Genie, Interesting observation about the megaphone! I believe there were only two survivors, both women, who actually did believe they had heard NMGGT, though, saying that I must clarify that that's not what the band was truly playing. I do hope you will read my Three Note Theory, think about it for a few days, then leave a comment. I have a whole series of posts on this subject. for leaving your comment!Rebekah


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