A Tale of Two Titanic Survivors

DATELINE: Never Told Story?

Emilio Portaluppi.    &     Charles Joughlin

One of the segments of the recent TV series UnXplained featured the mysterious survival story of Charles Joughlin, the chief baker on the Titanic. It went so far as to suggest that supernatural forces were at work when it came to this man’s miraculous escape from death.

The story of Joughlin was made famous, or infamous, on the movie A Night to Rememberwhen notable character actor George Rose played him for comic relief. When he discovered the ship was sinking, baker Joughlin started drinking heavily and was totally drunk as the ship went under.

He spent his last minutes aboard ship, in his chef’s white smock, throwing objects into the ocean for those in the cold water to hold as buoyant rafts. He himself went into the frigid waters that killed people after ten minutes. Only he did not die.

After a short time in the North Atlantic among chunks of ice, he was pulled aboard the lifeboat of Officer Lighttoller and lived.

How miraculous was that?

Not quite as amazing as the story of Emilio Portaluppi, a second-class passenger who lived in Milford, New Hampshire, and worked there as a stonemason. He too was tossed into the ocean as Titanic sank, and he too survived being in the frigid waters that killed so many so quickly. Yet, his story has not really been told.

What’s the difference?

Perhaps, the key ingredient was nationality: Joughlin could readily speak to journalists and told a tale that bemused even other survivors. Portaluppi was an Italian immigrant who moved to Milford, New Hampshire, likely spoke poor English and returned to a small New England town and lived unobtrusively for years. No movie character ever depicted his intriguing story.

Joughlin was older by eight years, and he was in his mid-30s, married with two children, when he was chief baker on the White Star Lines. Portaluppi had no listed famiy in America. In fact, he was on a holiday in Italy to see his parents when he booked passage on Titanic in France to return to America.

Both men lived years after Titanic became folklore, but Joughlin was British and managed to find his tale in Walter Lord’s famous book, A Night to Remember.Portaluppi, by that time, had left New Hampshire to work in Brooklyn for a contracting company. Though Joughlin died in the 1950s, Portaluppi lived until 1974—and was available to talk to anyone interested in Titanic.

Apparently, he never did. The few news stories about him seem to offer details and dismissive skepticism. He said he was in the water for about two to four hours, and he floated among dead bodies until a rescue vessel came by after dawn and found him. He was one of four still alive in the waters. This superseded Joughlin by many hours!

How did Portaluppi survive the hypothermia? There are no tales of his drunkenness being the root cause. The officer who led the rescue claimed he never spoke to those whom he saved, and they never spoke to him even after being fished out of the water. No thanks, and no explanations. One could presume they were half-dead, in shock, and perhaps Portaluppi knew little enough English.

Thus, Portaluppi’s tale was truly supernatural, but for over fifty years, he lived quietly, even as films were made and TV specials passed him by. Perhaps he blacked out and did not recall what happened. Perhaps he suffered from post-traumatic syndrome and never wanted to discuss it. He went into a kind of seclusion usually afforded New Yorkers like Greta Garbo. He was in the biggest metropolis of media for 35 years, and when he died, his body was sent to Italy for burial.

You mean no journalist found a story here worth telling?