Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Forgotten Empress
As the Empress of Ireland sailed into the St Lawrence River, May 29, 1914, Laurence Irving lay awake in his first class cabin. He and his wife, Mabel, were returning from a successful stage tour. They were becoming quite a popular pair of actors. While he lay there the ships engines began to change directions. Suddenly, at about 2:00 a.m., the ship leaned drastically over to her port side. The sound of grinding metal echoed through the first class corridor. All at once the ship lunged to her starboard side, and the Irving’s cabin was plunged into a silent darkness.
The impact had been so great, it threw Laurence and Mabel to the opposite side of their cabin. Frantically, Laurence groped in the darkness for the lifebelts. Mabel staggered to her feet. She slipped her lifebelt on over her fur coat. As the two left the room, the floors became almost unbearably steep. The Irvings joined the 1,000 passengers running from the rising water that was drowning third and second class. The death sounds of the ship as she sank lower were almost obscured by the terrified passengers screams. The crew hastily lowered the sixth lifeboat. Worriedly, as they loaded the seventh life boat, the ship lurched too far to her starboard side making it impossible to lower it safely. The panic stricken passengers could do nothing but helplessly watch the boats float away from the sinking vessel.
Inside, water gushed through open portholes and into the first class dinning room. Unexpectedly, the ship toppled over onto her starboard side. Laurence and Mabel clung to the port side railings. Many other passengers did the same. Laurence hoisted himself onto the ships black hull. After doing so, he helped Mabel over the railing. For what seemed like hours, the ship sat there, still and quiet. It seemed to some passengers that she had run aground and would stay afloat. However, just as hope was rising, the bow lurched forward. For a brief moment, the stern rose out of the water then disappeared beneath the surface. It took only fourteen minutes for the beautiful ship to sink in the frigid St. Lawrence River carrying with her one thousand and twelve souls.
Laurence swam with all his might for safety thinking Mabel was with him. As he crawled to safety, he realized that he had lost Mabel in the confusion. Hysterically, he called her name out over and over. Then remembering that she could not swim, he jumped back into the icy river to search for his beloved wife. The two were never seen again.
The Empress of Ireland would soon become a forgotten legend being overshadowed by the Titanic and soon to follow, World War 1. Her heroes live on in the hearts and minds of those who still seek them.