Perhaps you have heard it sung in The Titanic Song, “So they put them down below where they’d be the first to go….” Contrary to the belief that Titanic’s Third Class was kept below in suppressed conditions, there was actually a level of comfort provided steerage passengers that put Titanic a cut above other ships.
Class divisions ran vertically down through the ship in basically four sections. In the bow section was one group of Third Class. These were single men, many of whom were immigrants, who did not mingle with the other group of Third Class. These Third Class accommodations ran from D Deck to G Deck. Although this sounds “below,” D Deck was the top deck level in this part of the ship.
First Class was situated on the ship just aft of the bridge beginning on the Boat Deck and down through E Deck, and was the largest section. Second Class was accommodated just aft of First, from A Deck down through to G Deck.
Then in the stern of the ship, the area that could properly be referred to as steerage, the second group of Third Class was berthed, from C Deck to G Deck (again, in this section, C Deck was the top deck). These were single women, mothers travelling with children, and men travelling with family or female friends. The purpose of dividing Third Class into two separate groups was to offer a degree of security to women travellers.
What does this have to do with Titanic’s Third Class piano? It is interesting to point out that the one piano provided to Third Class passengers was located in the stern, the back of the ship, for women and families.
Although Titanic’s band never performed in Third Class, it was believed that passengers had proficiency enough to provide their own entertainment. So a piano was installed in the Third Class General Room. This was the non-smoking public meeting place, located on the Starboard side of the ship (the Smoking Lounge was one room over, to Port). The walls were white, the floor was of red-and-white patterned tiles. There were potted plants here and there, travel posters on the walls, and wooden benches lined up as you would see in a train station.
Against the forward wall stood the upright piano. Records indicate that the White Star Line provided this piano (the First and Second Class pianos were contracted to Harland & Wolff), and it is possible it was a standard factory-made model purchased straight from a music store.
A photograph taken in Olympic’s Third Class General Room shows a large sheet of music open on the book rest and the top propped open. Large uprights can have the feature of opening the top across the length of the piano on hinges, similar to opening a grand piano, with the opening towards the player. A peg from inside the piano swivels and holds up the opened top to let the sounds out.
The presence of the piano in steerage was a physical testament to the White Star Line’s dedication to afford the utmost comfort for all Titanic‘s passengers; to exceed expectations.
- Titanic’s Third Class music
- March 1912: Titanic’s musicians and pianos in place
- Titanic’s Second Class pianos