Stead Fast in the Titanic Library!

DATELINE:  Bookworms?

W.T. Stead & booksW.T. Stead, Spiritualist

Over 100 years ago, W.T. Stead was a big name in spiritualism.

He was one of the foremost proponents of life after death, and he used his pulpit of investigative journalism to publish many books and articles about the paranormal world. He was a man of steely gaze and intense demeanor.

Some historians credit him with being one of the founders of tabloid writing, in order to dismiss him as one of the age’s séance masters. Like Conan Doyle, he was an authority with the power of public support—and public ridicule.

So, what happened?

He booked passage on a ship across the Atlantic from his British home to lecture in New York about the occult topic of ghosts and spirits. Alas, the voyage was not a happy one: his accommodation was cabin C-89 aboard RMS Titanic.

Among the reports after the tragedy, his last night’s dinner table companions insisted that Stead told them how a medium friend had warned him that there was a chance of trouble on this trans-Atlantic trip.

Later, the witnesses to the comments were disparaged as exaggerating the story, though one wonders why anyone who survived the Titanic disaster would feel compelled to exaggerate their trauma or misremember a single detail of their vivid night to remember.

Among the survivor accounts, there was the stunning image: people saw W.T. Stead calmly sitting in the First-Class Reading Room of Titanic, smoking a pipe and perusing a book as it sank into the cold briny deep.

The image of the old man facing another world with singular and peaceful demeanor is striking amid chaos and panic of others unprepared to meet their destiny.

Like young Richard White, the elder writer loved the ambiance of a library—and chose to spend his last moments in such a haven. It is likely that Richard and Stead crossed paths, if not exchanged pleasantries at some point. They were both denizens of the Titanic library.

Poetic Richard may have been the only young man among the first-class passengers who might agree with Stead that the library provided a special comfort.

Years later, the daughter of Stead—herself a spiritualist—contacted a medium to conduct a session of automatic writing (Ouija board stuff) in which they contacted W.T. on the other side to give the particulars of the final moments of Titanic’s destruction.

He also provided a glimpse into the Blue Island, a dimension he called “beyond the veil”: a double metaphor for the Great Beyond, another part of the universe.

The saffron yellow sofa in the Library of the Titanic washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia several days after the sinking of the ship. Apparently, someone thought it might make a good life-raft.

Stead’s body was never recovered, like so many hundreds of his shipmates and fellow passengers who booked a date with destiny on Titanic.