Updated: May 10
As I made my way through Fairview cemetery in Halifax. Nova Scotia. I stopped at all one hundred twenty-one headstones, paying my respects for those souls lost one year earlier on the 15th of April 1912. Like me, they had been aboard the RMS Titanic. When I reached the last stone, it read: "Known only to God." I felt a particular sadness when I read those words. I looked out towards the ocean with my mind going back to the 11th of April, the day I joined the crew of the Titanic when she docked in Queens Town, Ireland.
My father had died two years earlier. We had a small farm north of Cork City. We did our best to keep it, but we lost it to the bank. Our mother moved us to an apartment in Cork City. It was in a shameful area, which we all knew our mother hated, but all we could afford. All of us did our best to help by earning money. That's why I took the steward's job. The money I made, I would send home. Once I got to New York, I would look for another job. That first day, Deck Officer James Moody informed me I would be the cabin steward for first-class passenger, Mr. Martin Rothschild. His valet had taken sick while with him in France. I headed directly to their stateroom. When I arrived, I found the door slightly ajar. Knocking lightly, I heard a female voice announce, "Come in." When I opened the door and stepped inside, there stood the most beautiful girl my eyes had ever seen. She had beautiful red hair pulled up, with fair Irish skin and freckles. But it was her sea-green eyes that caught my attention. I just stood there, taken aback by her beauty. When she said, "Are you a mute? Can yea talk?"
I came to my senses. "Hi, I’m Michael Twomey." "Nice to meet you, Michael Twomey. I am Hannah Fitzgerald. You must be Mr. Rothschild's valet? I am Mrs. Rothschild's maidservant." As Hannah explained my duties, my mind was only on her and taking in all her beauty. Any fears I had over my first voyage left me. Perhaps I was thinking too far ahead, but with Hannah, I saw a brighter future in America. I just knew there was something special in her; and in my mind, I hoped she felt the same about me. Just as she finished speaking, Mr. and Mrs. Rothschild walked into the room. Mr. Rothschild was considerably younger than his wife. He was only about five foot eight inches tall but had a deep voice of a man over six feet tall. They were nothing like I expected rich Americans to be like. Both were friendly, and each had a good sense of humor. I introduced myself to both. Both freshened up and headed out to enjoy the ship. Mrs. Rothschild told us they would not need us until dinner. With a smile, she said, "Why don't the two of you enjoy the ship as well?" As soon as they left, I looked at Hannah. "Well, you heard your boss. Let's enjoy the ship. I need to change out of my uniform. How about I walk you to your room?" With a smile, Hannah said, "Yes." On the way, she told me mine was next to hers. All I could think of was how much my life had changed simply by joining the Titanic crew. Once a poor Irish kid, with little hope of a decent life, I was now working for a rich American; and even though my pay was not discussed, I knew they would pay me enough that I could help my family. Then there was Hannah, a dream. When we reached her room, Hannah said she would be ready in half an hour. When I opened the door to my room, I could not believe my eyes. For a valet, it was amazing. I changed into my best and only suit, grabbed my hat, and went to Hannah's room and knocked on her door. When she opened it to come out, what I saw was an angel. Her beautiful red Irish hair was loosely pulled up to fit under a lace wide-brimmed yellow hat with a yellow rose adorning the left side. She wore a light-yellow dress and jacket. Both seemed to highlight her beauty. Once again, I just stood and stared blankly at her until brought back with the words, "Michael Twomey." Hannah smiled as I took her by the arm and headed to the deck. Although a semi-cloudy day, the temperature was in the low sixties. The weather was strictly secondary while holding onto each other as we strolled the promenade, feeling a gentle breeze and the smell of the sea, all made for an incredibly romantic day. As we walked the decks and explored the Titanic, we learned about each other. She came from Glanmire, Ireland, not terribly far from Cork City. Her family raised sheep for wool and meat. Yet, like the Irish of our times, it was a struggle to exist. She had been in London, working for a wealthy family. They were friends with the Rothschilds and had recommended her to Mrs. Rothschild, who was looking for a maidservant for the voyage across the Atlantic. Even though we had several hours together, the time seemed to go by too fast. I pulled out my pocket watch and saw it was time for us to get back and be ready for the Rothschilds. My heart almost gave way as Hannah squeezed my hand when we made it to her room.
"Michael, I have never been with anyone as sweet as you. I am looking forward to being with you every day of the crossing." I kissed her on the cheek. "I feel the same way as you." With that, she went inside, and I went to my room. As I changed into my uniform, my only thoughts were of Hannah and the future. I went to her room, and we walked to the Rothschilds' stateroom together. Hannah laid out Mrs. Rothschild’s evening dress. I got Mr. Rothschild's formal evening clothes readied. I heard laughing in the hallway. Hannah said that was them. Sure enough, the stateroom door opened and in entered the Rothschilds, still laughing.
She hugged him. "Martin, you are the funniest man I have ever met. I love you." They kissed. He looked at me. "Well Michael, while I dress, let's hear how you spent your day." As I assisted him in dressing, I told him about my day. I guess from the way I spoke, he picked up quickly that I had feelings for Hannah. "Michael, there is a dining area for servants. Call me a romantic, but I want you and Hannah to dine here in our stateroom. Order anything you want within reason. I may be a hopeless romantic, but I still work for my money." With that, he smiled. "Oh, by the way, you do not need to wear that damn uniform. A suit is alright." With a huge smile I said, "Thank you Sir, you are very kind." As we stepped into the main room, there was Mrs. Rothschild wearing a beautiful black evening gown with silver sequins, black forearm long gloves, and a dress hat that complemented her outfit. "Why, my darling, you could not look lovelier. You will be the prettiest woman sitting at Captain Smith's table," Mr. Rothschild said. She paused and said to him, "I hope you do not mind, but I suggested our two love birds order supper and enjoy it while we were out for the evening." "My dear, you must be physic; I said the same to Michael."
Both laughed while Hannah and I held back our laughs. They were truly a sweet and loving couple. It was easy to see from the way they spoke to each other and the looks they shared they loved each other. Married seventeen years and they remained like newlyweds. When the door closed, and they were off, I asked Hannah if she minded if we ordered supper now. I thought it would allow us more time after for talking. Truthfully, if you ask me what we each had for dinner, I could not even remember. I hung on every word Hannah spoke. I constantly caught myself looking at her beautiful sea-green eyes. When we finished, I stood up and asked Hannah for a dance. She just smiled and said, "We do not have any music." I reached out and took her hand. "Why, Ms. Fitzgerald, I will be your music this evening." She stood, and I put my arms around her and began humming an Irish favorite, "Molly Malone." Our dance was the finest of my life.
When I finished the song. Hannah looked at me and said. "Why, Mr. Twomey, surely you know more tunes. The night is young." With that, I hummed as I had never done before; and the two of us danced, holding onto the other, each not wanting to let the other go. But the sounds of the Rothschilds approaching made us scramble into work mode. I had already had Mr. Rothschild's night clothes out and on their bed. When he finished dressing, he told me I was to be back at 7:00am, as was Hannah. Even though we were both tired, neither wanted the night to end. I asked Hannah if she would like to take one more stroll on the upper deck. She grabbed ahold of my right hand and off we went. It was a chilly night, with the stars breaking through the openings in the clouds. I gave her my jacket and held her tight against me. Neither of us said anything. We just seemed to enjoy being with the other. When we reached the railing facing the bow of the ship, we stopped and just stared, both knowing in a few days we would be in New York. For those few minutes we stood silent, enjoying holding on to each other, gazing into the darkness of the North Atlantic until our future together was all that mattered. As she turned towards me, the light from a nearby room reflected off Hannah's face, giving it a glow. I leaned into her and kissed her soft lips as I pulled her tight into my arms. It seemed as if we kissed for an hour, not seconds. Hannah breathlessly whispered. "Michael, I know we just met; but I am falling in love with you." Those words meant everything to me. Looking into green eyes, I said, "I love you." We held each other tight and kissed again. Hannah and I had smiles bigger than a child on Christmas morning. I said to her, "I suspect we should go to our rooms and get some sleep." We made our way back to our cabins. We hugged and kissed for several minutes before saying our goodnights. I changed into my sleep shirt and got under my bedcover. I lay there, gazing at the ceiling. Hannah was my only thought. I thanked the Lord for bringing me onto the Titanic and bringing Hannah into my life. My future could not be brighter. Somewhere during the night, I fell asleep, only to be awakened by the alarm clock.
I had just finished dressing when there was a knock on my cabin door. It was Hannah. She wanted to walk together to the Rothschilds’ stateroom. Like the day before, Mr. Rothschild told us he and his wife would not need our services until dinner. Mrs. Rothschild asked how our day went yesterday. Hannah blushed, and I looked at the floor, which brought out a huge laugh from Mr. Rothschild. He looked at his wife and said. "Elizabeth, I foresee a wedding in New York." "Martin, I have a strong feeling you are correct." With that, the two smiled and headed for breakfast and socializing. Hannah looked at me. "Michael, isn't it exciting? The Rothschilds noticed."
We made our way to the dining area for the servants of the first-class passengers. After getting our breakfast, we sat at a corner table. Listening to us talk, one would think we had known each other for years. We finished breakfast and decided to explore the great ship. Our first stop was to see the Grand Staircase. One steward had told me about it when I boarded. When Hannah and I entered the grand lobby, the beauty of the Grand Staircase and the glass dome cover over it took our breath. I thought, how do you describe something so magnificent and do it justice? Hannah and I decided to go up the staircase to get a better view of the area below. I let her walk ahead of me and, in fact, stayed at the bottom. I could not help but watch as she made her way towards the top. Her light blue floral print dress and pure white brimmed hat glowed when the sun broke through the clouds and the glass dome let in sunbeams. To me, Hannah looked like a princess. When she realized I was not at her side, she turned and waved for me to catch up. I made my way up quickly, but with some manner of etiquette. After lunch, we continued our exploration of this massive ship. When we passed the Radio Room, I stuck my head in and asked if the Rothschilds had any messages. The Marconi operator handed me two slips of paper. I slipped them into my coat pocket and told Hannah we should get the messages to the Rothschilds. One would think in a ship with such a large first-class area, finding two people would prove difficult, but not so when you are looking for someone like the Rothschilds. I heard Mr. Rothschild's infectious laugh coming from the Café Parisian. We made our way in. I told the Maître d' I had a message for Mr. Rothschild and asked if he could deliver to him right away. I stood by to ensure Mr. Rothschild got the message. They seemed to have a conversation with the Maître d'. He pointed back at me, to which Mr. Rothschild waved me to his table. "Michael, thank you for getting these messages to me. Both were good news concerning my business. “Elizabeth and I were going to wait until we reached NewYork. Now seems to be the right time. Would you and Hannah stay on in our employ? You do not need to answer right now. Tell Hannah, and you two talk it over." I knew my answer and was sure I knew Hannah's. Before I left the table, he spoke. "Michael, we will be back in an hour to dress for dinner and dancing. Elizabeth and I want you and Hannah to enjoy another dinner on us." He smiled and with a laugh. "If that is alright with you?" Their kindness towards us was nothing I would have ever dreamed of from someone so wealthy. "Yes, Sir," I replied. When I went to the hallway and found Hannah, I told her we needed to head back and prepare the Rothschilds’ dinner clothes. As we made our way, I told her about the Rothschilds’ offer of employment in New York. We both agreed their offer was too good to refuse. Like the evening before, both were in a cheerful mood. I had to laugh when Mr. Rothschild attempted to be a tough guy. "Elizabeth, how many times have I told you I do not like to be late?" Not losing a second, Mrs. Rothschild barked back, "Martin, I love when you try to act like the boss. We all know who runs this family."
I thought the two were going to fall over from laughing. They wished us a good night and told us to take the rest of the evening off and enjoy each other's company. We could hear them laughing as they made their way down the hall. That night, unlike the night before, we ate supper, then snuggled on the sofa. We had fallen in love and enjoyed talking about our future. Both of us agreed working for the Rothschilds was a dream. We would tell them the next day. Our life and future could not have been brighter that Saturday night. Looking at the clock, I could see it was almost midnight and no doubt the Rothschilds would return soon. I asked Hannah for one quick peek at the stars and the fresh sea air. We stopped at her cabin so she could get a warm jacket. We made it up to the deck and walked to the spot where we had stood the night before. I held Hannah tight. As we kissed, the clouds peeled back, revealing a million stars, each sending their light down to the two of us. Hannah looked at me and spoke. "Michael, I always thought the love my parents share was unique to them. I was wrong. I know we have the same love, an eternally lasting love." We kissed and held each other tight. All my mind could think of was our future, marrying, raising a family, and growing old together. We stayed there holding onto each other, enjoying the breeze and stars for a few minutes longer, before the cold air drove us inside. Sunday, April 14th, started like any other day. My alarm went off, I jumped out of bed, shaved, showered, dressed, and went to Hannah's room. She was ready. We kissed in the hallway, much to the amusement of a passing crewman. When we arrived at the Rothschilds’ cabin, we could hear them talking. I knocked on the door and heard Mr. Rothschild yell for us to come in. Both were dressed and sitting in their chairs. Mr. Rothschild, a large clothing manufacturer, told us they would spend the day with the Strauses. Mr. Straus was co-owner of Macy's department store in New York. Mrs. Rothschild told Hannah what she wanted laid out for dinner. Mr. Rothschild asked that I have his tux ready for him. Then he handed me fifty quid. "Michael, consider this an advance of your pay. Elizabeth and I thought it might be good for you and Hannah to have a nice meal and some dancing tonight." "Thank you, Sir; that is so kind." He leaned over and whispered. "Even though I have been married seventeen years, I still remember what it is like to court a young lady." With that, we heard Mrs. Rothschild shout; "Martin, do not be telling Michael any of your stories. He is a good young man. I certainly do not want him acting like you." He looked at Hannah and me. "Save yourselves, kids; marriage is not all that it appears to be." He ducked as Mrs. Rothschild swung her umbrella at him. He took her by her arm as I opened the door for them; and what appeared to be normal for them, they began laughing. Hannah and I both loved being around them. They really loved each other and enjoyed their lives together. I saw it was four thirty on their clock. I had to get to Hannah's room so we could beat the Rothschilds to their room. When Hannah opened the door, she was just finishing her hair. I came in and looked out the window. I could not help but notice how calm the sea was. It looked like a sheet of green glass, so smooth. Hannah startled me. "A bit jumpy today," she said. I looked at her. "Why, yes, over your startling beauty." Hannah laughed. "Has anyone told you, Michael Twomey, you are full of blarney?" I opened the cabin door and smiled as I took her hand. "Why, I believe I have been told that a few times in my life." We both laughed and made our way to the Rothschilds. We made it in time and helped them get ready. Just before he walked out, Mr. Rothschild told me about the Café Parisian. It would be a perfect place to take Hannah. We walked to her room. As she unlocked the door and turned towards me, I took her into my arms; and we kissed, a long and sensual kiss. I so badly wanted to make love to her, but my conscience overruled my emotions. I let go and told her I will be back in a half an hour, and to dress her best because I had a surprise. I went to my room and got ready. I could not wait to take her to the restaurant.
As I knocked on her door, Hannah shouted, “It is open.” When I stepped inside, she was nowhere to be seen. "Michael, I am in the bathroom, just finishing dressing." Seconds later, she stepped out wearing a beautiful teal colored dress, a matching shoulder wrap, and a lighter green lace-brimmed hat. She looked absolutely beautiful. I said to her. "Hannah, you are too beautiful for this boy from Cork City." She came up to me, and we kissed. "Michael, you are too handsome for this girl from Glanmire." We both laughed at our foolishness. I opened the door and took her by the arm. When we arrived at the Café Parisian, she could not believe we were having dinner in such a stunning restaurant. I explained that nothing was too good for my girl. I had never tasted French food. Thankfully, Hannah had when working for her other employer. She did the ordering, and I was not disappointed. The food was great, and the atmosphere was something a poor kid like me had never experienced. When we were not eating, we seemed to always be holding each other’s hands. Hannah had those beautiful green eyes; but with the candlelight from our table and her teal dress, her eyes seemed to sparkle. When dinner was finished, we took a quick walk on deck. The weather that day had turned colder, so I gave Hannah my jacket to stay warm. Any cold I felt disappeared when we found our way to our usual spot, looking out over the bow of the boat, and held each other and kissed. When another couple came up and stood near us, we decided it was time to head to our rooms. When we got to Hannah's room, we kissed. I wanted so badly to go in with her and spend the night making love. Hannah pulled back from me. "Michael, stay with me tonight. I need you." I reached around her and opened her door. "I need you too," I said. For the next several hours, we made love, a hot and passionate love that several times made us shout with sexual pleasure. What we felt that night few couples ever do. As we lay back, Hannah smiled at me. "Michael, you are amazing. My body is still quivering." We snuggled and drifted off to sleep, only to be awoken by knocks on the door and someone yelling to get our life jackets on and head to the deck. Still half asleep, I crawled out of bed, opening the door enough to stick my head out. I saw a crewman coming towards me. "Sir, Captain's orders. Get your life jacket on and head to the main deck. Now!" The frantic tone in his voice told me this was no drill. I told Hannah to dress quickly and warmly. We needed to get to the Rothschilds’ stateroom and then onto the main deck. I grabbed my clothes and dressed. I found two life jackets, and as soon as Hannah dressed, I put hers on. Then mine. We ran to the Rothschilds and knocked on the door. Mr. Rothschild answered. "Michael, why are they holding a drill now?" I said to him, "Sir, I do not believe it is a drill. The crewman I spoke with looked terrified." I begged him and his wife to hurry. I got their life vests out. At first, he did not want to wear his; but I told him it was maritime law he had to wear it. I did not know if it was the law. I just wanted to be sure he wore his. Hannah and I led them to the main deck. I looked at my pocket watch. It was a few minutes after midnight. At that point, people were calm, most thinking it was a drill. From the looks on the crew's faces, I knew it was serious. I grabbed a crewman frantically running towards the stern and asked what was going on. He said, "The ship hit an iceberg and we are sinking." I replied, "Sinking? How can that be? The Titanic is unsinkable."
He broke free of my grip. "I don't give a bloody damn what you think. This ship is sinking."
I made my way back to the Rothschilds and Hannah and told them exactly what the crewman had told me. The longer we stood there, the more chaotic it became, especially when one officer announced the boats were being lowered. It was women and children only. I pushed them and Hannah towards the boat railing. "Mrs. Rothschild, you and Hannah need to get on the lifeboat." It was then reality set in for all of us. I held Hannah tightly and kissed her. "Michael, you get on the boat." I put on my best smile and said to her. "You heard the order. Mr. Rothschild and I will be on a lifeboat as soon as you and the others are safely away from the ship. I promise."
Tears began rolling down her face, freezing in the cold. I pulled off my father's ring. My heart was breaking. I knew if she got on the boat, she was safe; but my future was in doubt. I knew from training there were not enough lifeboats for everyone, certainly not for a poor kid. With my survival an uncertainty, I could no longer wait. I took Hannah's left hand. "Hannah Fitzgerald, would you do me the honor of marrying me?" Her eyes lit up, and her face seemed to glow. "Yes. I will marry you." She literally threw herself into me and kissed me over and over. Mrs. Rothschild cried, "We are so happy for you." I looked at my pocket watch as they lowered the first lifeboat. It was 12:45am. I made sure that Mrs. Rothschild and Hannah stayed near the boat rail. With the lowering of the boat, people became frantic. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. What disturbed me the most were the men trying to get onto the lifeboat. I thought to myself, "You shameless bastards." Mrs. Rothschild got onto the boat with her husband pushing his reluctant wife on board. She wanted to stay with him. I kissed Hannah; and as I started to help her on, we were both knocked over by two men that jumped into the lifeboat. With people pushing all around us, Hannah and I became separated. I finally could stand up but could not see Hannah. I frantically made my way through the crowd, calling her name and looking for any sign of her.
Making my way along the boat rail, I saw her lying on the deck with blood oozing from her right temple. I got down and lifted her head. "Hannah, Hannah," I called out. Her eyes opened, and she smiled. "Michael, someone knocked me over. The last thing I remember is hitting the railing. Thank God you found me." I lifted her up. "We need you to get on a lifeboat." "No, Michael. I will not get on a lifeboat without you." I tried and tried to change her mind,
but she would not listen. She grabbed my hands. "I could not live without you." The deck had turned into a brawl with cowardly men trying to get onto the last lifeboats. The ship's bow was going under. Our deaths were imminent. I asked Hannah if we should just go to our room and be together, away from the chaos. She pulled my hand, and we made it back to her room. Water was flowing down the corridor. It was plain to see it was only a matter of time. We made it to her room and closed the door. Sitting on her bed, holding each other tightly, she rested her head on my shoulder. We had lived more in those few days than most couples do in a lifetime. We watched as the water rose. It was only a matter of time before the door gave and the room flooded. We cherished those precious minutes. Hannah was shaking. I tried my best to calm her. The lights began flickering and then went out just as the door burst open, sending a tidal wave of water into the darkened room. Before the water consumed the room and us with it. I said this to Hannah. "My darling Hannah, our time together on earth was short; but we will share all eternity together." We kissed and held each other engulfed in sea water. I felt life leaving her. I opened my mouth and let the sea water fill me, so I would join my Hannah. I heard a voice calling my name; and as I looked, I saw fog rolling across the cemetery, coming in from the Atlantic.
A lone figure walked up and said, "Our time is over, Michael." I smiled, "I am ready, Hannah." She took my hand and together we walked towards the ocean; and, like our ship, we too disappeared into the night.