The Green Light at the End of the Dock. The Great Gatsby and Titanic

April 10, 2023 marks 98 years since the publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and 111 years since the RMS Titanic left Southampton’s White Star Dock on its ill-fated maiden voyage. This article explores the meaning and symbolism behind the green light and its possible inspiration in the Titanic disaster.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then but that’s no matter. Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further . . . And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The first glimpse we have of Jay Gatsby is of a silhouetted figure emerging from the shadows of his palatial Long Island mansion to stand with his hands in his pockets looking up at the “silvery pepper of stars” above him. Suddenly he pulls a hand out of his pocket and raises it above the deep, dark waters of the Long Island Sound, the waves lapping wistfully around the decking of his timber quay. Almost involuntary, he reaches out toward a single green light at the end of the dock on the other side of the bay, his hand trembling. Whether you saw Jack Clayton’s 1974 film adaptation of the novel starring Robert Redford or Baz Luhrmann’s more pulsating 2013 version featuring Titanic-star, Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a scene that you probably fell in love with instantly. For many, Fitzgerald’s Green Light represents all the things we want but cannot have. It might be the dream we dare to dream, or the faint, pulsing sensation of hope beating beneath our shirt as we go on that date or attend that job interview. For the more religious, it is quite literally a light in the darkness—a beacon of hope for all mankind. For Jay Gatsby, the green light is the ‘enchanted object’ at the end of the dock, representing his hope of reclaiming his first love, Daisy Buchanan, and by doing so, repeating one glorious lost moment of his past. It’s Gatsby’s talisman, his guiding light.

People have often said that we will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. The light from the nearest stars twinkling above Gatsby’s head that night would have taken some five years to reach him. Stars, too, are a distant memory, a glimpse into the past. And the same is true of the author’s Green Light, a light that we can now use to reclaim some small part of the novel’s past.

Enormous Power

For F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby was the story of a skyrocket millionaire sacrificed at the altar of the American Dream. In this respect, the book’s publication on Good Friday 1925, the day commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, was a symbolic and fitting time for its release. Shortly before Easter 1922, Scott’s mentor and friend, Shane Leslie had been made Chamberlain to the Pope. If anyone would have twigged its significance it was Leslie who was in London that week to give a talk on decadent Catholic sensualist, Baron Corvo — another master of controversy. The previous year Leslie had caused a stir among traditionalists with The Pope’s Temptation, a gothic twist on the old morality tale that sees him elicit sympathy for both the Pope and the Devil. Both writers were looking to stir debate and trigger discussion within the church. Shane was the church’s progressive landlord weaving his Poe-esque gothic fantasies against the “shadowed tapestries of the past” and Scott was its youthful challenger — its Morning Star — maddening and delighting in equal measures.

Whilst Leslie’s faith in the Church was firm, Scott’s own feelings were more divided. The dreams he had of becoming a priest had been frustrated in no small way by his discovery of the atheist philosopher, Nietzsche and the sudden death of his much loved counsellor and guide, Monsignor Fay, just as he was completing his first novel. On learning of his premature death in January 1919, Scott would write to Leslie and in a fit of histrionics would tell him that the death of Father Fay had left him wanting to die. The man who had made the church a “dazzling, golden thing” was gone. The “peculiar brightness” emitted by the priest had been a constant and reliable beacon in the young man’s life, giving it meaning and direction. The writer’s “little world” had been left shattered. His count of “enchanted objects had diminished by one”.

Responding to his increasing estrangement from the church of his youth, Scott had originally planned to preface the story of Gatsby with a short, uneasy tale about a young boy’s confession and the troubled Catholic priest who hears it. Feeling that it might have ruined the general “neatness” of the book’s design, the author ditched it before publication, retaining only the parts about the bright, hypnotic lights that mesmerise the priest and intrigue and disturb the boy. But the lights weren’t green at this stage, they were yellow — the colour of the giant Ferris Wheel at Coney Island. The story would eventually be published by The American Mercury in June 1924. Within days of its release, Scott was sharing his delight at the offence it had caused within sections of his old church with his editor, Max Perkins: “Two Catholics have already protested by letter”, he enthused. Despite removing the prologue, the eventual novel would retain the strong ‘Catholic element’ he had promised his publisher originally. And the reason for this was simple; Scott had ended his dramatic letter to Leslie pledging that one day he would like to “recreate the atmosphere of Father Fay” and the faith that had come “shining thru” for the great number of people who had benefited from his counsel (and his charm) over the years. It wouldn’t be immediately obvious, but Fay would remain with the book in spirit, Scott finally managing to capture the “mystical note” that his friend Leslie thought he had missed in his memorable portrayal of Fay as Monsignor Darcy in his debut novel. In Jay and the Green Light, the priest’s “peculiar brightness” wouldn’t just shine, it would take on the brilliance and the magic of an utterly spellbinding aurora.

His new novel, as it turns out, was the author’s own ‘Green Light’. Unlike Gatsby, however, Scott wasn’t reaching out for a girl, he was reaching out for recognition as a serious artist. “I think at last I’ve done something really my own,” Scott would tell his editor in October 1924, “but how good ‘my own is’ remains to be seen.” [1] The overnight success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and his less critically well-received, The Beautiful and the Damned were now some five years in the past. Scott was fading from memory. For a few tantalising moments the author had dazzled. Between 1920 and 1922 he had been the blond, blue-eyed and precociously talented poster-boy for the ‘Jazz Age’ generation. Unimaginably great things had been expected of him, and just sometimes (but not often) he’d done unimaginably great things. Now his light was dimming. A lethal mixture of laziness, hard-partying and literally ‘dozens of bad habits’ had been threatening to bury that brief moment of triumph forever. The Great Gatsby was set to change all that. Confident that his form was returning, the author scribbled an excitable few lines to his publisher: “I feel I have enormous power within me now.” His new novel would be a purely “creative work”, not the “trashy kinds” of stories Scott had been writing for newspapers and magazines, but “the sustained imagination of a sincere and radiant world.” [2]

True to his word, The Great Gatsby would be published on April 10, 1925, thirteen years to the day that the RMS Titanic set off on her maiden voyage. And it’s not as crass an analogy as you might think. In Gatsby you can almost smell the brine, whether it’s Jay’s outstretched hand reaching out at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, his plucky teenage rescue of Dan Cody’s boat from a storm or the sultry, settled calm of the Long Island Sound — “that most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere.” Water means a lot in Gatsby, so it may come as no surprise to learn that the inspiration for the enchanted ‘Green Light’ that his mysterious hero sees at the end of the dock, may have been inspired by the sinking of the Titanic and the little ‘green lights’ of hope that many of the survivors clung to as they awaited the arrival of the rescue ship, The Carpathia.

A Tower, a Green Light and A Great Ship

For Gatsby, it was a blinking light at the end of the dock. For Fitzgerald, it was his new novel, The Great Gatsby, and for the survivors of the Titanic it had been something far more commonplace but no less compelling. Floating almost lifeless in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean, men and women of all ages and all classes had reported seeing ‘greenish beams’ pulsing out on the horizon. Second Officer, James Bissett, watching the tragedy unfold from The Carpathia, had been convinced that these were the lights of the Aurora Borealis, glimmering like moonbeams and shooting up from the Northern horizon. [3] But it wasn’t the only green light that had been visible that night. Reporter Carlos F. Hurd, who had arrived at the scene on The Carpathia, reported that one of the more experienced stokers who had been operating one of the lifeboats was in possession of a green lamp which had provided a “pillar of fire by night”. The claim was duly backed up by Archibald Gracie IV at the Senate Inquiry and Captain Rostron of The Carpathia in his own account of the rescue in Scribner’s Monthly the following year. Hurd’s report, republished as a ‘Special Dispatch’ by the San Francisco Call, described a chaotic scene. There had been many confusing lights dancing around the boats that night, but stoker John Bardsley’s small green lantern offered unity and reassurance to the scattered and bewildered flotilla. Waving it at regular intervals, Bardsley’s little green light had kept the sixteen lifeboat procession focused and together. As the evening wore on, the boats were drawn to safety by this “beacon”  of green light — the only symbol of hope they had beneath a starry, remorseless sky.

The logic that the stoker had applied to the situation had a simple scientific basis: the energy produced by green light means it easier to distinguish over a much greater distance than red, white or yellow. Bardsley’s 25-years at sea had seen him involved in other shipwrecks. The lanterns (which are likely to have been hand-held flares) would provide an instantly recognisable and constant point of reference to the lifeboats bobbing about on the ocean and inching their way through the dark to the rescue ship. In the year that followed the disaster, something of a silent tribute would be paid to the foresight of the stoker when a fixed green light was placed at the top of the Titanic Memorial Tower in Manhattan — although no reference was ever made to the genius of the Titanic crewmember whose actions had inspired it. [4]

Despite the confidence of the claims being made in the ‘special dispatch’, the identity of the green light ‘saviour’ remains uncertain. According to the official crew listings there wasn’t a stoker called ‘John Bardsley’ on Titanic. There was a 28 year-old seaman called Tom Bradley, but poor old Tom didn’t survive. Of the 214 members of the ship’s crew who survived, only around 45 of them were stokers. Titanic enthusiasts have also been unable to agree on what kind of green light was being used: a hand held flare or roman candle? The original report writes that it was “like the fuses used on railroads and cast a powerful green illumination”. These are likely to be the lighted ‘fusees’ that were regularly being used as warning signals on steam trains to avoid collisions. The fusees would burn brilliantly for indefinite periods of time and were impervious to the effects of the wind or rain. Until now the man’s identity has remained a mystery, but a fresh ‘dive’ into the archives may have helped solve the riddle. The secret of the man’s identity will be revealed a little later.

‘Follow the green light’ — the story of Titanic Stoker, John Bardsley

When it was finally unveiled on the anniversary of the disaster the following year, project organiser, Edmund L. Baylies, explained that the Lantern Memorial Tower, a weathered green copper tower and time-ball standing on top of the 12-storey Seaman’s Church Institute on South Street, had been erected in memory of all the heroic officers and engineers who had gone down valiantly with the ship and to “those poor souls in steerage who perished without ever realizing their hopes in the new land — the America of endless possibilities”. On April 15, 1913, Baylies, the President of both the Edison Electric Company and the Seamen’s Church Institute, stood before three-hundred rain drenched New Yorkers and backed-up the beliefs of his religious colleagues, Reverend Merrill and Bishop Greer: the green light they had erected was “not a dead thing” or a “closed thing”. It wasn’t a reminder of the past but a symbol of the human energy that would give “power to the present”, not just now but perhaps for forever. The tall solid structure that now loomed above them stood at the gateway of the New World and the light that pulsed across the horizon would remind all those who approached its shores of the brave and unselfish spirit that had helped so many survive.

Baylies was among the first to point out that the old time-ball that had been placed on top of the Western Union Building in Broadway now lay cruelly submerged beneath the multi-tier skyscrapers of Manhattan’s financial district, the evil grey spread of Wall Street having quite literally grown around it. Any hope or encouragement that its light had once offered, had been rendered “invisible”. Project organisers like Catharine S. Leverich of the Seamen’s Benefit Society knew only too well that in “a busy, careless city the average person soon forgets”. The Lantern Tower Memorial on South Street had been conceived to change all that. What they now had standing before them was a “sacramental sign” to keep that light visible. The time-ball which would drop every day at noon would be a daily reminder that it was not only humanity’s duty to survive and make progress, but also its duty to care for one another. It was a monument that had been built on sacrifice. [5] The Tower, they envisaged, would rise out of the mist “impressive, dignified and somewhat detached” from the behemoth skyscrapers of Wall Street which formed its background.

The SCI’s monthly journal, The Lookout remarked that a year of high-pressure living had not blurred the memory of that disastrous night in April 1912. Here was something that would commemorate not just the things that had been “lost” that night, but those “priceless human values” that had been “found”.  It was a sad coincidence indeed, they lamented, that the news of the sinking had come the very day that work had been due to commence on the charity’s multi-million dollar South Street mission. On April 15, 1912 the same group had come together to lay a celebratory cornerstone. It was meant to have been a joyous day. But all that had changed when the news came through of the disaster. The day’s celebrations had turned into an impromptu mourning ritual. The whole city was brought together in grief. And for a time at least, the class divides between the sailors and the dockers working the Manhattan waterfront and the city’s wealthy philanthropists, melted into the lapping waters of East River.

Titanic Anniversary Issue of the SIC’s The Lookout unveiling the ‘Green Light’ tower memorial
The Lookout May 1913, Vol. 4 No. 1 (click to enlarge).

Glancing back over his shoulder to Wall Street, Bishop Greer narrowed-in on the significance that their new green light might have. In a world in which we were all too easily distracted by “competitive ambition”, the lantern would remind us of the even greater things we might achieve when it was done not for recognition or “human applause” but for the pure, unselfish love of others. Those looking at the green light would be reminded that it was the nobler, truer qualities that should steer and guide the American people when they entered its Port of Destiny. Looking up at the stormy, black heavens above him, and perhaps recalling the Good Friday sermon he had given some weeks before, Greer stood before the crowd and told them that the man who can suffer and die “honourably” was to be afforded much greater respect than the man who can do ‘great’ but selfish things. The light wasn’t for the thousands who had died honourably that night, but for the few who had lived. The powerful green light of their lighthouse wouldn’t stand for sadness but for inspiration. [6]

As fundraising got underway and the building work on the Tower commenced, The SCI’s Lookout newsletter, published a monthly reminder of the progress and intentions of the fund; the lantern was to be “a monument to every person without regard to rank, race, creed or color” who had lost their lives in the disaster. Its fixed green light would be the one that sailors watched as they steered cautiously by night. Among the Old Money patrons of the fund were Edward H. Harriman, J.P Morgan, Mayor William Jay Gaynor, Jacob H. Schiff and Felix Adler, each of them determined that the lantern should be among the most conspicuous sights that one could behold when approaching their emerald city, and each of them equally divided, no doubt, on what the green colour actually meant.

Among those holding memorials in the immediate wake of the disaster was millionaire missionary, Frederick Townsend Martin whose nephew, Townsend Martin would eventually come to play a key part in the life of a young Scott Fitzgerald. Just months before the tragedy, Martin Snr had published, The Passing of the Idle Rich. The book was a barbed, satirical and occasionally quite comical account of the rise of the nouveau riche, the scourge of nepotism, idle privilege and the gradual loss of American integrity during its rapturous ‘Gilded Age’. The chapters of the book are packed with descriptions of often ludicrous, extravagant wealth and the switchblade corruption and vice that kept it’s controllers in place. Townsend starts by saying that he ‘knows’ Society. He was born into it. A tyrannical oligarchy was now in place. New York had become a city of selfish and careless individuals. The book’s author had found himself championing a form of ‘Noblesse oblige’, of privilege balanced by duty and duty upheld by sacrifice. In the final chapter of his book Martin had shared a vision of the tragedy that was approaching:

“I cannot believe that the nation as a nation is to sink into the depths as England sank in the middle of the eighteenth century. I take it for granted that the wiping out of the idle rich is to be one of the first steps in a programme of national advancement, greater, more splendid, and far more universal than any other period of advancement and progress in the history of the nation. The idle rich are an obstacle in the way; therefore they must be eliminated or destroyed.” [7]

The seafaring metaphor he used couldn’t have been any more apt. The people of America and Great Britain were faced with two options: either they could join the idle rich in their ‘blind and careless’ destruction or they could put an obstacle in their path. For Frederick Townsend Martin, the fate of the Titanic played out these choices at the most dramatic level: you could save your own skin and be damned, or the save the skin of others and be spared damnation. Among those spotted waiting anxiously at the offices of White Star offices at 9 Broadway was Frederick’s nephew, Bradley Martin Jnr, a close family friend of the Astor family who declined to say whose welfare he was asking after. [8]

Speaking at the Bowery Mission in Manhattan on April 28, just hours before leaving on an ‘idleness-busting’ mission to Paris and London, Martin told of the heroism and selflessness that had been shown by those who had died: “There was not one coward among all those who went down. When people say that our species is going down, think of those noble, splendid mortals. They’re in bliss.” [9] Standing beside him that day was Mr and Mrs Edmund L. Baylies, who in little more than 48 hours would announce plans for the building of the Titanic Memorial Tower. [10] A week before his address, Martin had led one of largest memorial services for victims of the disaster in New York. At a packed Broadway Theatre on 41 Street, Martin and Baylies demanded more preventative action from shipping lines. Some sorrows were too great to dwell on, the men lamented, but commerce had grown too greedy. There were things that had to be said. Baylies’ commitment to the cause had been compounded by two things: he was not only a close personal friend of Titanic’s wealthiest victim, Jacob John Astor, he was also head of the law firm handling the $150 million Astor Estate. Standing above banks of pretty flowers and a long black pall with purple ribbon, the pair related a story in which a lawyer had once told them that there could be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood. The lawyer believed that no great wrong could be corrected until somebody was killed. People may occasionally have talked about the dangers, but it always took a tragedy on an epic scale to make us listen. This was indeed a moment to seize. It was a tack they repeated at the Bowery Mission.

As he introduced its speaker, Williams Jennings Bryan, Martin spoke of the challenges we faced in the pursuit of wisdom. “Sorrow is a great educator”, he told the crowd. Sometimes we saw “further through a tear than through a telescope.” After being introduced, Jennings, standing at a table draped in the American and British flags, described an old Greek game in which the prize would go to him that carried a lighted candle to a goal. Shipowners had to learn that the race is “not to the swift, but to those who can carry the light of life all the way over and not extinguish it on the way”. The giants of the shipbuilding industry and their investors had preferred to spend its millions in “extravagances and pennies” at the expense of safety. Warnings had gone unheeded. Caution had been ignored, and people had woken up on the morning of April 15 to the consequences of that inaction. [11] Perhaps inspired by the serendipity of the event, Martin’s cousin, Margaret Townsend Tagliapietra debuted a stage production of his book at the Garden Theatre in Midtown Manhattan on the first anniversary of the disaster. Sadly, the play’s reception provided the clearest yet that Martin had been right: New York’s blithe and insensitive audience didn’t know whether it was a tragedy or a comedy and the production sank as emphatically as the ship.

How much Fitzgerald knew of any of these things, remains unknown, but it’s interesting to think that the Lantern Memorial Tower’s distinctive and ‘beckoning’ green light, which had required special permission to be used from Washington, had always been intended to be one of a kind — a big, bright “homecoming beacon”. The light would shine brilliantly across the bay and be visible to all the lower anchorage down through the Narrows to Sandy Hook and to the endless procession of cars creeping across Queensboro Bridge. When Scott moved to Long Island to start work on Gatsby in October 1922, he would have been driving one of those cars on a regular basis. Perhaps creeping along in his second hand Roller, his interest had been piqued by the brilliant green light of the tower as it “shed its penetrating rays across the nose of Manhattan”. An archivist working at the Seamen’s Church Institute today tells me that line of sight from the Queens end of the bridge runs almost straight down Second Avenue and Pearl Street. The 1913 Standard Guide to New York also describes how the light could be seen as far north as Hell Gate, some two miles up the river from the bridge. As there were no buildings taller than 25 South Street on that line between 1913 and 1924, it’s likely that the author would have an uninterrupted view of the 240 feet tower as he shuttled back and forth from Great Neck to the city. Perhaps on one dark December evening it had triggered his memory of Titanic and the madly epic tale of love, loss and hope that had gripped him in his youth. There was the Tower and there was the dream. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world”, Scott writes in Gatsby. The Tower, like the city, wasn’t just for sailors but for everybody — and it wasn’t just the colour of hope or the colour of money, it was also a grim reminder of just how easily enormous fortunes and enormous success can all be lost in a matter of moments. [12]

The Mocking City

The month following the unveiling of the Memorial Tower on South Street, The Lookout shared its obvious pride in its lighthouse mission: “the green light shone vividly in the harbour.” So unique was the Institute’s tower that by 1925 letters were arriving at its offices addressed simply, ‘The Sailor’s House with the Green Light’. One woman whose husband had been a long-time supporter of the Institute told how it had been a habit of the couple to look nightly for its “lovely soft green light” pulsing away in the lower right hand quarter of Manhattan from the window of their home. Now, in her “sad loneliness” she looked for it still. [13] A few months later, The Lookout reported the observations made by three people “fond of using their pens” as they stood on Brooklyn Bridge looking back at the New York skyline. It was “like a stairs for the Gods”, said one. Gatsby expresses a similar sentiment when he looks back at the blocks of the sidewalks that form a ladder to a “secret place”. It was here, high above the trees, that he would let imagination romp like “the mind of God”. A similar allusion is made in Homer’s Odyssey when the poet writes that it was the intention of the twins Otus and Ephialtes to pile Mount Ossa on Olympus, and wooded Pelion on Ossa, to make a stairway up to heaven. Another of the writers observed that you could start at the Seamen’s Church Institute on South Street, and from there step onto the Telephone Building on Dey Street. Before them was a city of opportunities. Not just for some but for everyone. New York had been called everything from a “disease” to a “dream”. It had been called “the greatest thing in the world”, but what was it? On the waterfront they could see the “brilliant green light” of the Seamen’s Church Institute shed its “penetrating rays across the nose of Manhattan”. For many of the people who arrived here, it was “home” — just as it was for Odysseus arriving back at Ithaca. Baylies hoped that men from all over the world would arrive in safely in the bay and then go home and spread the story of “the green light in the tower” that had welcomed them to America. [14] By the mid-1920s practically all of New York’s seafaring folk from mariners to rum-runners were familiar with it, even if they couldn’t actually agree on what it meant.

Printed in the first anniversary edition of The Lookout was a poem penned by author and critic, Edward Hale Bierstadt. Writing from the point of view of the green light tower itself, Bierstadt offered a stiff rebuke to the carelessness of a city that devoted its life almost entirely to monetary gain:

“The mocking city lies, far, far below me, constant I hear the cries and puny protests, of those small bits of God I know as men, Restless, increasing in their poor endeavour, To turn their lives to gain, but not to beauty, loving a little, but pursuing always.”

Martin and Baylies might have expressed it in less lyrical terms, but it is clear that what Bierstadt was saying was on point with them both: the power brokers of the world had turned their eyes to monentary gain at the expense of ordinary lives.

In 1920, Bierstadt would be appointed Vice Secretary at the Emergency Committee organized to protest against the suppression of James Branch Cabell’s book, Jurgen. In April that year, censorship hawk John S. Sumner had attempted to have Cabbell’s book banned on the grounds that its ‘suggestive lewdness’ was a violation of New York publishing laws. Joining Bierstadt in the group were authors and social reformers H.L. Mencken, Theodore Dreiser, Hugh Walpole, Barrett H. Clark and Bierstadt’s good friend, Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy — the former sister-in-law of Daisy Winthrop (Astor) Chanler. The book soon became a particular favourite of Scott’s and at Christmas that year his wife Zelda would gift him with an autographed copy. Bierstadt would continue his fight to the support the liberties of the American nation with the Foreign Language Information Service. Here that he would join his wife, Josephine Roche, whose ferocious work in civil liberties was equalled only by that of her New Deal associate (and Scott’s Long Island friend), Mary Harriman Rumsey. Bierstadt’s work as director of the FLIS’s press section at 1107 Broadway gave him practical hands-on experience of the challenges faced by immigrants assimilating into American culture. Backed by Federal Government and the American Red Cross, the agency’s objective was to inform and educate all those arriving in the bay of dreams about the complex character of the great nation. Printed on the back of its 1920 press sheets was a clear mission statement:

“The Foreign Language Information Service is non-partisan and non-political, but it is not impersonal. It stands for a united country, for a “square deal”, and for the truth always. It believes in “America for the Americans”, but it believes that all, regardless of race, who are in sympathy with the fundamental principles upon which our nation was founded are Americans in the truest sense.”

As Eugenics supporter Albert Johnson, Labour leader James J. Davis and Senator David Reed set their Immigration Bill in motion, Bierstadt and the FLIS started to provide grim warnings about the creeping menace of ‘Bootleg Immigration’. The phrase had been in circulation since the end of the war and the introduction of Prohibition. Those campaigning fiercely against immigration, like Lothrop Stoddard, saw it as a means of fusing in the imaginations of the American people the twin evils of organised crime and the challenges being faced by a predominantly white and Nordic nation from Italians, Chinese and the ‘human dregs’ of Southern Europe. For Bierstadt and the FLIS, the immigration measures being proposed by Johnson, Davis and Reed would only upscale the problem. The bill would lead to an increase in illegal pathways and raise the profits of organized crime.

For Stoddard, the measures being proposed weren’t nearly enough. Like Donald Trump in 2016, Stoddard and his supporters were talking of walls being built and gates being closed. The routes through Mexico and Cuba needed to be shut down, and shut down fast. The Sons of the American Revolution would observe the threat in the starkest terms: “a man who would become a rum runner would not hesitate to transport aliens across the border illegally”. The FLIS , on the otherhand, were advising that tighter screening and selection measures would raise the calibre of immigrants be enough to starve the bootleggers into extinction. From their headquarters in Broadway, the FLIS explained that bootleg immigration was ‘fleecing the alien’ by selling him a steamship ticket and a false tip on how to evade the American immigration laws. Thousands of desperate individuals in Europe were being induced to leave their homes and sail for ports in Cuba, Canada and Mexico. The practice of ‘Immigration Bootlegging’, they explained, was “International in scope and simple in process”. A particularly unscrupulous agency in Cuba was believed to be sending out circular letters to Yugoslavia advertising non-existent jobs on coffee plantations. Once there the men would be were fed-out to New York, destitute and homeless.

In 1922, Bierstadt would publish Aspects of Americanization, in which he shared his increasing frustration with the “furious hysteria” of bigotry and chauvinism that was turning the nation’s first settlers against its new settlers. The ‘glorious land’ dreamt of by two thirds of the Titanic’s passengers was changing beyond all recognition. It was immigrant against immigrant, the author grieved. Bierstadt’s book, reviewed the same year by Scott’s friend H.L. Mencken, asked what it meant to be ‘one hundred percent’ American? What was ‘American Idealism’? A new kind of American was being created, but who was he? Intriguingly, Bierstadt’s description of an immigrant arriving in a Pennsylvanian steel town bears a grim and unsettling likeness to Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes: “the smoke from the engines mixed with the smoke rising from the steel mills in the valley … it was as though one were in some strange world, swinging in soot instead of ether.” [15] The American flags that had welcomed them at the station, Bierstadt writes, were little more than a “mockery”. The end of their journey was the grime. Despite knowing this, the writer lamented, these people would never lose faith in the dream itself — “what they were denied they would still hope and struggle for.” The New York Herald wasn’t totally impressed by Bierstadt’s book, believing that he had taken a very pessimistic view of America’s evolution, before advising, no less pessimistically, that for an adequate picture of the probable outcome of unrestricted immigration we might study the economic and social history of the Roman world at the time of the fall of the Empire in the Fifth Century AD.

Pessimistic or not, the message that appeared in the dedication of Bierstadt’s book left nothing to the imagination: “To a 1776% American”. The reference was clear. It was on July 4, 1776, that the thirteen colonies of America severed their political connections to Britain and declared their independence. Fitzgerald makes a thinly veiled reference to the date in Gatsby:

“Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table the names of those who came to Gatsby’s house that summer. It is an old time-table now, disintegrating at its folds, and headed ‘This schedule in effect July 5th, 1922.”

For the next three pages, Nick proceeds to list the hundreds of refugees who poured through the gates of Gatsby’s mansion to enjoy all the liberties and freedoms that his Long Island home had to offer. July 5th — the day after Independence Day — was the day that the Declaration of Independence had been dispatched to the various revolutionary factions for consideration. According to a popular history of the Declaration written by William H. Michael in 1904, an empty space had been left in a copy of the rough journal used by the Continental Congress on the 4th. The very next day on the 5th, the Irish printer John Dunlap had carefully “wafered in a blank space” a more formal printed copy. That was the day that America’s new republic really began in earnest, the day that its gates opened and its people walked free as equals.

In 1922, the year in which The Great Gatsby is set, July 5th was also the day that the terms of the Nansen Passport were agreed at a meeting of the League of Nations. This radical travel document would offer instant freedom and independence to the thousands of refugees fleeing persecution in Soviet Russia. The passport would also be a mitigating factor in the Restriction of Immigration campaign led by Eugenics supporters, Arnold Johnson and US Senator David Reed the following summer. Take another look at the language that Fitzgerald is using: “Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table.” It’s the language of travel. Bus, train, tram or ship, it doesn’t matter which. The dog-eared brochure that Nick holds in his hands isn’t a school timetable, or a work timetable but one that you have used when using transport or planning a journey. The names he jots down are being squeezed into the tiny areas on the page where the times have been left blank. Despite a jotter or a diary being far more practical options, Nick uses the timetable he had probably used to plan his various journeys around Long Island and New York. Why? Because the author wants us to think about what he is doing at a figurative level. The gates at Gatsby’s house are like those at Ellis Island. Gatsby’s house is like a processing station, a travel terminus.

The empty spaces of a timetable that Nick uses to record the names of Gatsby’s visitors during the summer of 1922.

Cast your eyes over the next three pages and you will notice that the names on his list are predominantly Jewish, Irish, German, Dutch and English — the nations that made up America’s first wave of settlers. “They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door … came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.” The names — which include men and women called Beaver, Ferret, Flink, Hammerhead, Baluga, Blackbut, Orchid and Lilly — are also broadly representative of the flora and fauna that make up the local region, extending (or perhaps even satirising) a belief that was common among some Eugenicists that one’s regional or national identity was often intensely related to one’s environment. For men like Francis Galton, Charles Davenport, Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant, the land that we grew up was what gave us our unique character; that even the very soil on which we farmed had had its impact on our genes. The author provides another clue: “This schedule in effect July 5th, 1922.” It’s a phrase that was commonly found in ads promoting not only local rail schedules but also steam liner routes and timetables of ‘proposed sailings’: “The Great Ship ‘Seeandbee’: Cleveland and Toledo Line Daily — this schedule in effect July 23”. Perhaps Scott had made a mental note of the phrase when he left New York on the SS Minnewaska in May 1924 to complete the novel in Europe. It was a trip that would follow, albeit in reverse, the same Southampton-Cherbourg-New York route undertaken by Titanic. The original Minnewaska, built by Titanic builders Harland and Wolff in Belfast, had assisted the Carpathia in communicating the names of survivors in the wake of the disaster. [16]

It didn’t matter whether you were an American Patriot on July 5th 1776 or an East European immigrant on July 5th 1922, the day that came after Independence Day would mark your first full day of freedom. The author never actually reveals how Gatsby maintains his wealth but as the novel reaches its climax, the private ‘investigations’ peformed Tom Buchanan may provide a clue: “That drug-store business was just small change … you’ve got something on now that Walter’s afraid to tell me about.” Were the ‘guests’ who arrived at Gatsby’s mansion “with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission” representative of what Bierstadt and Foreign Language Information Service had caustically referred to as ‘Bootleg Immigration’?

When Scott sat down to write the initial rough drafts of The Great Gatsby in summer 1923, the first furious screams of support for the Restriction of Immigration bill were being heard in America’s press columns. The idea of what it was to be an American, and whether the dream was alive or dead, was not just of interest to a small number of culturally savvy authors like Bierstadt and Fitzgerald, but to the whole of America. The anaesthesia of wartime was wearing off, and suddenly the whole nation was feeling the first painful aches of a long-term identity crisis. As his friend H.L. Mencken rightly observed, Scott’s new novel was worth any social historian’s study. For the third time in his life Scott’s book had, quite simply, captured the zeitgeist.

Well-Forgotten Dreams

Bierstadt, who had just been appointed Secretary of the Emergency Committee on Near East Refugees, hadn’t lost faith in the dream. In fact, he had no doubt at all about the dream was still very much intact for the people most desperate to dream it. It was those who now considered themselves to be the nation’s ‘top tier’ settlers and patriots that really worried Bierstadt. When it came to remembering the nation’s constitution it was the immigrant who had remembered it and the rest of us who had forgotten it. In his final summary, Bierstadt noted that in the years between 1912 and 1922, a sizeable number of men in America had been arrested for distributing the Declaration of Independence. The principles enunciated in these documents, Bierstadt lamented, we were no longer “living forces”. [17]

The constitution wasn’t the only thing being forgotten. Somewhere amongst all this, the name of the Titanic stoker ‘John Bardsley’, whose little green lights had kept the tiny, bobbing lifeboats glued together after the Titanic had gone down, had also been forgotten. More powerful brokers had moved in on the story and had seized control not only of the symbol’s meaning but also its evolution. Whether you agree or disagree with maritime historian Johnathan Thayer when he writes that “mythmaking is a fundamentally conservative process in that it is most effectively used by an ascendant class to justify ascendancy and to reinforce a dominant world”, there’s no denying that many of the tales of gallantry that grip the Titanic legend like barnacles, generally favour those who occupied senior social or maritime positions. [18] At the formal Senate investigation in Washington that year, the man taking all the credit for Bardsley’s initiative with the green lanterns had been Fourth Officer, Joseph Groves Boxhall who claimed that it was he who had tossed the “tin box of green lights” into the boats. Neither was there any mention of Bardsley’s actions at the launch of the Lantern Memorial Tower in April 1913. This is a little more surprising, as the significance of the lights had certainly been picked up by the press of time.

The nation’s memory loss is probably not helped by certain inaccuracies in the report. The name of the stoker (John Bardsley) only appears in the San Francisco Call, and there is certainly no mention of his name in the official list of the crew. Carlos F. Hurd’s original eyewitness account for the St Louise Post-Dispatch and the New York World, which predates The Call’s report by some 24 hours, refers to the man as a ‘steward’, not a stoker: “a steward that explained to one of the passengers that he had been shipwrecked twice before, appeared carrying three oranges and a green light.”  Everything else about Hurd’s report mirrors that of The Call with the exception of a few minor embellishments. There could be several reasons for this. The Captain of the Carpathia, Captain Rostron, had given Hurd specific instructions not to talk to the crew, and the crew had been given instructions not to talk to Hurd whose presence on the ship had been an incredible stroke of luck for the news-hungry editors back home. The Mens’ jobs were on the line, and the man’s name had probably been changed to protect him from any future disciplinary action. All we know for certain is that it wasn’t Fourth Officer Boxhall who had the foresight to grab the lights before entering the lifeboat. If we to take Hurd’s first report at face value and focus on what we do know — that the man was a ship steward from Lancashire, England, had oranges in his pocket and had been shipwrecked twice before — then the hero of the hour was most likely to have been First Class Saloon Steward, James Johnstone, a long-term White Star employee who had been in Emergency Boat 2 with Fourth Officer Boxhall. Unusually, Johnstone wasn’t called as witness at the Senate Inquiry but his account before the British Inquiry on May 8th that year would provide a tantalising glimpse of escalating tensions below deck moments after she struck the iceberg and the caution the lifeboats took in approaching the RMS Carpathia. Johnstone would also go on the record as saying that the behaviour of White Star pariah, J. Bruce Ismay had been exemplary: “he had done everything an Englishman could do”.  

Although born in Scotland, Johnstone was now living in Lancashire. Just like ‘Bardsley’, Johnstone had stuffed four oranges in his pocket and had been involved in other shipwrecks (Olympic). [19] The editor’s decision to swap the man’s job title in the San Francisco Call may have been politically motivated. The Titanic had gone down during the ‘Great Unrest’. The ship wasn’t the only thing moving at full throttle in April 1912 — so were the coal strikes. Just weeks before it sank, the ship’s stokers had been under considerable pressure to join the millions of men laying down tools in the mines. On March 26, Hurd’s New York Evening World had been reporting that the union of railroad stokers was calling on 100,000 of its members to come out in support of its engineers. A few weeks prior to this, New York’s Matthew Tearle, Secretary of the US Seamen’s Union, had been in London where a conference had been called on behalf of the National Sailors and Firemen’s Union of Great Britain. Tearle was certain that cooperation with British workers could help settle their demands. Just ten days after the disaster the stokers on the White Star’s sister ship, The Olympic came out on strike, leaving thousands of passengers stranded in Southampton. The men were promptly arrested for mutiny. [20] The stokers weren’t the only ones with grievances  either. Just weeks before the Titanic was due to sail, the Musicians Union of England tried in vain to stop its band from sailing. According to union officials, the musical agency that was paying the men’s wages was paying well below the minimum rate. A few days before the Titanic’s sister ship, The Olympic set sail on March 13, a small delegation met with White Star Line’s J. Bruce Ismay to discuss the issue. Ismay’s response to the matter was as blunt as it was effective: if the union wasn’t happy with The Olympic and Titanic carrying the musicians as members of its crew at one shilling a month, then the company would carry them as passengers. But for Ismay’s intervention, the fate of the band who continued to play their own ‘immortal requiem’ right until the very last moment might well have been very different. [21]

In the end, the decision by the editor of the San Francisco Call to make the man with the life-saving green light a stoker would, had it gained wider traction with the wider reading public, have provided a substantial moral boost to the efforts of the striking workers and heaped even greater pressure on the White Star Line to settle the pay and conditions disputes.

Whilst the identity of the man holding the green lights might be in question, there is no doubt at all about the lights themselves. Multiple witnesses would come forward, each claiming that the conspicuousness of the brilliant green lights had been the one vital factor in the survival of those on the lifeboats. Speaking to Carlos F. Hurd in New York, Charles Henry Stengel, a survivor from Lifeboat No.1 reinforced the claim that it was only the quick-witted actions of the boat crew in front of him that saved the lives of those adrift in the tiny boats: “These green lights”, he said, “shining through the darkness” were nothing short of a lifesaver. If it hadn’t been for the green lights, the other boats in the procession would almost certainly have not have made it to the safety of The Carpathia. [22] In a subsequent report for the St Louis Post-Dispatch, Carlos F. Hurd would write:

“None of us had any idea which way to go but we followed the man with the green light. He was a ship’s officer, who had been twice shipwrecked before, and he took an armful of green calcium signal lights with him. They are like the fuses used on railroads and cast a powerful green illumination. We followed this weird green light until dawn.”

Was it possible that the White Star Line, anxious to preserve its reputation and reassure passengers that its officers had been following standard emergency procedure, had carefully crafted a narrative that made it look like they knew what they were doing? Carlos F. Hurd would later report that he had been under strict orders from Captain Rostron of The Carpathia not to interview witness or make notes of what he’d learned. Within 48 hours of Hurd being back in New York, the stoker had been changed to a steward and then finally, to an Officer. [23]

When I quizzed the South Street Seaport Museum about the decision to use a green light for the memorial beacon, they only knew that green had been chosen because red could not be distinguished from white or yellow beyond a certain distance. They did concede, however, that it was a distinctive departure from traditional lighted navigational beacons. Plans for the building of the tower and the lantern that would sit inside it had been under discussion since 1908. Flying from the tower would be the institute flag, the American flag and the signal flags. The only reference to the light itself was the “distinctive colours” that would “shine in friendly rivalry” with her sister torch in the uplifted hand of Liberty just across the harbour. There was certainly no mention of the light being green prior to the disaster. If the colour had been intended as a tribute to the lantern used to lead the lifeboats to safety, that information has been lost to time. Like some of the names on Nick Carraway’s old and disintegrating timetable and the ‘tragic achievements’ of those who went down with the ship, these things have been forgotten. In the end, the truth behind the man with the green light turns out to be as vaporous as the clouds on Prospero’s Island. A saviour at a time of confusion had become a victim of confused time. Steward or stoker, the man’s actions, like the great ship of dreams itself, have simply vanished into thin air.

More Trips To New York

It’s impossible to say what, if any impact the sinking of the Titanic had on the mind of the young Fitzgerald. At that time that it all took place Scott was entering his final year at the Newman School for Boys, a Catholic prep school in New Jersey. He would have been just fifteen years old at the time and the April entries of his ledger record only his boyish interest in playing baseball that month. However, the “more trips to New York” that he mentions in an entry for April that year offer the tantalising possibility that Scott may have been in the city as news of the tragedy spread and the stories of the Stoker’s compelling green light began to emerge in the press. The rescue ship, the RMS Carpathia, arrived in New York on Thursday April 18. When it did, stories told by the survivors, many of them hopeful immigrants, sat adjacent to pictures of Lady Liberty bearing the caption: “The first sight seen by returning survivors”. New York would have been buzzing with tales about the Titanic’s tragic losses and ‘thrilling details’ of the stoker’s dramatic escape on Lifeboat No.2, with the Cunard Pier in mid-Manhattan, where The Carpathia docked eventually, quickly emerging as the catastrophe’s Ground Zero.

The Carpathia Docks in New York, April 18, 1912.
F. Scott Fitzgerald visited New York that month.

Shortly before the unveiling of the ‘Green’ lantern memorial in April 1913, Scott’s future publisher, Scribner’s had published a full account of the rescue mission in their regular monthly magazine. This brilliant green star, where it stood on South Street would have visible to Scott as he made his way on the Hudson steamboats to the ‘Arabian’ lights of Broadway from his final year lodgings at Newman and his freshman digs at Princeton. The report, written by Captain Arthur H. Rostron of The Carpathia, had also focused on the vital role played the green light in helping the ship navigate safely toward the lifeboats. At one point Rostron recalls how his Second Officer, soon after seeing the light, had narrowly avoided an iceberg. It was only by chance that they had missed it. Reflecting off its icy hummock was the light of a star. They had literally been saved by a starbeam. Titanic survivor, Lawrence Beesely remembered it too:

“the danger of being run down was already over, one reason being that the Carpathia had already seen the lifeboat which all night long had shown a green light, the first indication the Carpathia had of our position.” [24]

The idea of a sixteen-year old Scott thumbing avidly through the issue at Newman prep school is an attractive one. His mentor at the school, Shane Leslie was having anthologies of work published by Scribner’s at this time, so it’s just possible that a copy of the magazine was lying around in the dorms or in the school library. The likelihood of the disaster having fired his young imagination is made all the more likely when you learn that Scott’s other mentor at Newman, the pink-robed Catholic priest, Monsignor Fay, enjoyed an usually close relationship with the family of Titanic’s most notable and richest victim, John Jacob Astor IV. There are even those who think that Fay’s close personal friendship with Margaret ‘Daisy’ Chanler, married to Astor’s cousin, Winthrop Astor Chanler, had been the inspiration for Gatsby’s love-interest, Daisy Buchanan. Fay’s role in civil society was summed up very neatly by their mutual friend Shane Leslie: like Benjamin’s Disraeli’s Monsignor Catesby (Thomas J Capel) Fay was “a society priest in a country where they were rare”, his own sizeable private income allowing him to proliferate his duties in converting the crème de la crème of New York society into devoted (and influential) Catholics. As details of the disaster began to emerge in the nation’s press, Fay had joined Alfred Mitchell-Innes of the British Embassy in Washington at a special dinner organised in honour of Cardinal James Gibbons, the most senior ranking Catholic prelate in America at this time. Within days Mitchell-Innes would be plunged into a diplomatic crisis. Rumours had begun to circulate that the Titanic’s most controversial survivor, J. Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line had been seeking help from the British Embassy in securing his passage back to England ahead of the Senate Investigation. America had been determined to hold Ismay and twenty or more of the crew until the investigation had been concluded. As tensions developed, British Ambassador Bryce left for a scheduled study tour of New Zealand, leaving Counsellor Mitchel-Innes to resolve the crisis. As the press continued to probe the Embassy about Ismay’s bid to the dodge the inquiry, Mitchell-Innes repeated their formal statement that Ismay’s urgent visit to Washington had been a ‘call of courtesy’ and nothing more, flatly denying that any appeal for immunity had been made.

If the claims made in his first novel This Side of Paradise are to believed, Scott would spend Christmas the year following the disaster with Monsignor Fay at Rokeby, the Astor family’s 400 acre-estate at Astor Point in Barrytown on the east bank of the Hudson River. His friendship with Margaret’s son Teddy would extend well into the 1920s. Margaret’s sister-in-law, Margaret Chanler Aldrich, who had taken over ownership of Rokeby, responded to the disaster in the only way she knew how — with poetry. The Unrecovered, published in the New York Times just weeks after the sinking, focused not on the horror of the tragedy but on the “loving” gallantry and the spirit of those who had suffered. Riding the “ice-floe cold and stark”, their eyes “staring on light and dark”, their cries “hushed by freezing breath”, the worlds of the engine-room, first class and steerage had all collided. Now they floated together “loving and unforgetting, riding eternity’s open sea”. In the closing days of the year one can well imagine Margaret, a close friend of Astor’s wife, Madeleine, repeating the lines to a 17 year-old Scott as the family huddled-round in candlelight during a post-supper Christmas vigil, the ghosts of the disaster whispering into his ear. [25]

Fay’s intimacy with the Astor family extended back to the respect commanded by his Uncle, Sigourney William Fay Snr in the Union League Club of New York, where John Jacob Astor IV was also a member. As a result of the high regard that both men had in the Club, Astor and Fay Snr would sit on the sub-committee of the group responsible for organising the building of Grant’s Tomb in Upper Manhattan. [26] In an extraordinary twist of fate, we also learn that Monsignor Fay’s good friend and diplomatic colleague, Henry Adams, a close adviser to President Taft, had purchased tickets for the steam liner’s return voyage to England. Not that Adams emerged totally unscathed from the disaster. On learning that the Titanic had sunk, the 74 year old suffered a stroke. Adams, a trusted aide to several US Presidents, had been severely unwell for some weeks and in one of his deliriums had become utterly convinced that his long dead mother had been among those who had gone down with the ship. So intense was his horror at the tragedy that he began to see the whole thing as an omen. An ‘end of times’ scenario was playing out in his head: it was America itself that was running into an iceberg and the “confusion and darkness” that would follow Wilson’s defeat of a bitterly divided Republican Party in November that year, would, in his estimation at least, end up proving just as fatal. In his deeply anguished state, Adams saw the old warm world of Teddy Roosevelt’s Gilded Age lying at the bottom of the ocean and the brave dream of the nation all but wrecked. As The Carpathia docked with the survivors in New York, Adams shared his fears with his friend, Ann Palmer Fell: “The Republican party is at the bottom of the deep sea, and the corpses are still howling on the surface”.

Adams, the ‘educator of educators’ who Scott had first become familiar with at school, would later feature as the character Thornton Hancock in his debut novel, This Side of Paradise. Scott also blamed the enormous pressures that Adams had brought to bear on his friend and mentor, Monsignor Fay for his stress-related death in January 1919. Their mutual friend, Shane Leslie, whilst acknowledging the vital emissary role that Fay had played in Catholic and Allied relations during the war, believed that if Adams had leaned on Fay, as Scott had suggested in his book, then it was only because President Wilson and the British Ambassador, Cecil Spring-Rice had leaned so heavily on Adams. The stress on all of three men had been incalculable, Fay constantly having to evade the grip of the Secret Police, not of one nation but of several during the war. The 80 year old Adams and the had died some months before Fay and only weeks after Cecil Spring-Rice. In Leslie’s eyes, they had all been casualties of war. [27]

Scott’s Ledger, April 1912: “More trips to New York”

The impact that the sinking of the ship had on the life of Scott’s friend, Shane Leslie was arguably even more profound than that on Fay. After arriving in America as envoy of The Gaelic League, the Irish-born author and diplomat had become romantically involved with Marjorie Ide, youngest daughter of the former US Governor-General of the Philippines, Henry Clay Ide. In the months leading up to the disaster, Leslie had spent much of his time at the home of William Bourke-Cockran on Long Island, where he continued his romance with Marjorie. At the end of March, the couple announced their engagement. A few weeks later, Marjorie learned that her long-time friend and admirer, Major Archibald Butt had been among the 1500 lives lost on the Titanic.

A former aide to Theodore Roosevelt, Major Butt had served under Marjorie’s father when he was Ambassador in both the Philippines and Spain and was a particular favourite of Roosevelt and his successor, William Taft. Butt, acting in his capacity as personal aide to President Taft, had been returning to New York after a private audience with Pope Pius at the Vatican in Rome. [28] News that the ship had sunk broke on the very day that many of the nation’s newspapers were reporting that Leslie would wed Marjorie in June. [29] A mixture of romance and confabulation has history record that the gallant Butt was steaming across the North Atlantic to win back the hand of Marjorie at the time of the tragedy, but there’s little if any evidence to support this. Major Butt was returning on far more urgent business. In a move that had angered Protestant America, the White House had been looking to thaw relations with the Church in Rome. As a show of faith, Taft had dispatched Butt to negotiate a settlement over disputed Catholic territories in the Philippines. Just a week before the tragedy, the furiously anti-Papist news-sheet, The Menace published a short, alarmist ‘reveal’ about the Pontiff’s private audience with Major Butt. America’s buoyant lunatic fringe were absolutely convinced that Taft was part of a conspiracy to turn America into a ‘Romanist’ nation. [30] The newspaper had taken the view that the security and wellbeing of the Stars and Stripes was being menaced by a subtle and absolutist power of influence that would see it wrenched back to the past. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, The Menace rightly praised the heroism shown by Major Butt in ensuring the evacuation of Titanic passengers, but shared the view of The Washington Times who regarded it as a “curious play of fate” that Butt would have returned safely on another ship, but for the fact that he had delayed his homecoming to convey “certain confidential communications from the Pope to President Taft”. [31] The stories of his remarkable heroism and rumours of his love for Ide had certainly helped bury a thorny subject.

Bizarrely enough, just one month after the tragedy, Shane and his new fiancé were passengers on the RMS Oceanic when it made an extremely grim discovery: the bodies of two stokers and a dinner-suited first class passenger, lying in a prostate position, in one of the last collapsible lifeboats to have made it off the Titanic — probably one of many that had lost sight of the little green lights. The medical officer who had been dispatched to recover the bodies recalled in gory detail how the arms of the men had come off in his hand as he tried to retrieve the bodies from the boat. Leslie would later describe the scene as ghastly:

“Two sailors could be seen, their hair bleached by exposure to sun and salt, and a third figure, wearing evening dress, flat on the benches … All three were dead and the bodies had been tossing on the Atlantic swell under the open sky ever since it had seen the greatest of ocean liners sink.” [32]

Within six months of landing in New York, Leslie would have his very first encounter with the 16 year old Scott Fitzgerald at his prep school in New Jersey. Seven years later, Leslie would help the same boastful young author land his very first publishing deal at Scribner’s.

A Colossal Affair by Any Standards

On closer inspection, the parallels between the fate of the ship and those of Gatsby are really quite astonishing — the only significant difference being that it wasn’t a ‘ship of dreams’ that Gatsby had built on Long Island, but a house of dreams. The first point worthy of comparison is the near-constant backdrop of the novel’s starry skies. Whenever Nick or Gatsby looks up, there they are twinkling in the heavens above them. Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley would later recall how the sky on the night of the disaster had been one of the “most beautiful” he had ever seen: “the sky without a single cloud to mar the perfect brilliance of the stars, clustered so thickly together that in places there seemed almost more dazzling points of light set in the black sky than background of sky itself”.[33] In his book, Beesely rightly observed that in the evidence that was brought before the United States Senate Committee, the Captain of The Californian, some twenty-miles away from the Titanic, had said the stars were so extraordinarily bright near the horizon that night that he had been deceived into thinking that they were signals from another ship. The lights had played tricks upon the senses. The sailors could not tell where the sky ended and the ocean began. In more recent years, Titanic historian, Tim Maltin has cited unusual optical phenomenon created by atmospheric conditions on the night of the sinking for the failure of the crew to spot the iceberg in time and for the failure of Captain Lord of The Californian to come to the ship’s rescue. Lights were leaping around all over the place — in the sky, on the boats, in the water, all around. Dazzled by the most fantastic and most impossible optical illusions, there wasn’t a soul out on the water that night that was being deceived into thinking that what they saw was real. Everything was being distorted. Even the stars seemed “alive and able to talk”.

Beesley had been among the first to admit that the intense tragedy of the disaster had been cruelly balanced up by an even greater sense of beauty. With him on the boat that day was old immigrant, Anna Louise McGowan. At the time of the disaster, the 15 year old passenger from County Mayo in Ireland had been enjoying a party that had been thrown by the Irish in steerage. It had been meant for the adults and not for children.  She would later recall with a giggle the final few hours of illicit fun that she had had on Titanic that night. She too remembered its calmness and its beauty. [34] To impressionable young men like Scott, the monstrous romance at the heart of Beesley’s tale must have seemed profound. Fitzgerald describes a similar sensation on the night that Gatsby first meets Daisy: “Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars.” [35]

At a figurative level, The Great Gatsby is a novel that is composed almost exclusively of light, whether it’s the thousands of coloured fairy-lights that light-up Gatsby’s enormous garden like a Christmas tree or Tom Buchanan’s amateur rumination on solar rays: “‘I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,’ said Tom genially. ‘It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun – or wait a minute — it’s just the opposite — the sun’s getting colder every year.” [36] Like the passengers on Titanic, the guests in Gatsby’s garden are showered with spectacular lightshows. At one point, the author uses the language of science to explain the dazzling aurora thrown by his weekend parties. A ‘spectroscopic gaiety’ literally lights up the West Egg skyline. [37] In physics, spectroscopy is the science that measures the spectra that electrons produce as they bounce and reflect off surfaces. The Northern Lights are produced by electrons colliding with the magnetic fields of the earth. What gives them their shimmering green appearance is the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. The rainbow of colours produced by a glass prism is another example of the phenomenon. A single white light will enter the prism and will then disperse into its constituent colours of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. But not everyone who enters Gatsby’s gates disperses in this way. The guests from East Egg — the Old Money settlement on the opposite peninsula of the island — manage to preserve a “dignified homogeneity”. Their light cannot be split, their energy not absorbed. They skulk around in groups remaining separate and aloof to the riotous gaiety of the evenings and the tremendous diversity of the West Egg crowd, which embraces the full spectrum of human nature. Scott had taken his freshman grasp of science and shocked it into life with his poetic vision.

In the years that followed the Titanic disaster it was thought that the dramatic solar storms supercharging the earth’s atmosphere that night may have been responsible for disrupting the ships radio signals and compass readings. James Bisset, an officer on the R.M.S. Carpathia described the April 14 light show in his logbook: “There was no moon, but the Aurora Borealis glimmered like moonbeams shooting up from the northern horizon”. [38] Survivor Lawrence Beesley was another who noted that the aurora lights “arched fanwise across the northern sky, with faint streamers reaching towards the Pole-star.” [39] Perhaps the “heavenly messages” reaching us over the “psychic radio” that Scott describes in the first draft of his novel are further evidence of his romantic fascination with the discoveries taking place in the study of electromagnetism at this time. [40]

Fair’s fair, the word ‘Titan’ or ‘Titanic’ is never mentioned once in the book. One word that does feature frequently though, is ‘colossal’ and it’s a word that is brought into play at several important stages of the novel. First, there is Gatsby’s “huge incoherent failure of a house”, described by Nick as a “colossal affair by any standards”. Then there is the “colossal vitality” of Gatsby’s illusion about Daisy and the “colossal significance” of that enchanting green light that risks being lost forever. Even his arrival at Daisy’s house is described as a “colossal accident” — the clearest indication yet that he may have been thinking of the Titanic disaster. Gatsby is a man with Titanic dreams that not even death can diminish. Daisy makes a veiled allusion to this idea very early on in the novel: “There’s a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line.” [41] It’s the subtlest of references. Scott had always been inspired and deeply moved by John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale — not a poem about death exactly, but a poem about how great art and great beauty can survive death. Scott would later tell his daughter that he couldn’t read it through with without tears welling up in his eyes. Its poetry had “lived like a fire” inside him. [42] In the poem, the nightingale lives on through its song in much the same way that Gatsby and Titanic live on as a result of the legends they create. When the bird arrives on Daisy’s lawn to sing its immortal requiem, it is an omen of two collinear outcomes: it brings a message of death (represented by the White Star Line’s Titanic) and a message of hope and survival (represented the Cunard’s rescue ship, The Carpathia). The nightingale knows that it will die but still it continues singing, just as Gatsby continues dreaming. This reading becomes more persuasive when you learn that Keats’ less famous poem, Hyperion, chronicles the fall of the Titan gods at the hands of their successors, the Olympians. The only Titan who offers any hope of the Gods’ survival in Keats’ poem is the Titan Sun God, Hyperion, a direct forebear of the romantic poet-dreamer, Jay Gatsby, whose time has similarly expired. The nightingale’s song and Gatsby’s dream are both reminders that even in the face of death, there is still hope.

It is this “extraordinary gift for hope” that leads us to perhaps one of the novel’s most memorable shipping metaphors:

“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short winded elations of men.”

The exact meaning of this line has eluded critics for years. The image chimes in some ways with Scott’s depiction of the ‘Valley of Ashes’, a poor, grey desolate area of land covered in ash and smoke that lies on the fringes of wealthy Long Island. It is quite conceivable that the “foul dust” floating in the wake of Gatsby’s dreams could, like the Valley of Ashes, be an allusion to the filth and pollution that defined the nation’s industrial centres. Perhaps the ashes and the dust represent, at a figurative level, the by-products of reckless and heedless capitalism. [43] Gatsby has pursued unlimited material wealth with a ruthless and obsessive passion. The ‘foul dust’ that floats in his wake may well be the corrupt, unethical practices that accompanied the pursuit of that money. Adam Smith, godfather of economics, once said that wherever there is great property there is great inequality, and that for one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor. Where you found wealth, you found misery. Dickens had his Dust Heaps, Scott his Valley of Ashes and the Titanic, if the stories are true, had some of the world’s most greedy, powerful men putting profits and glory before safety.

Looking at the handsome steel exterior of the Titanic one would never have suspected the absolute horrors going on in its boiler rooms. Shovelling away beneath Titanic’s luxury facilities — its squash courts, Turkish baths and its à la carte restaurants — were 170 stokers working two four hour shifts each day. Feeding the ships 29 colossal boilers was a backbreaking experience with temperatures regularly exceeding 120 degrees. The 160 furnaces consumed close to 600 tonnes of coal a day. This Galley of Ashes was were “ash-grey men” moved dimly through the crumbling, “powdery air”. [44] Many of the passengers, seemingly oblivious to the national coal strike that very nearly prevented the voyage, would have absolutely no idea that any hardship was being experienced. The vessel would fly along as if by magic. For many of the 325 first class passengers on board, it would have been a case of out of sight, out of mind. The only visible clue that any work was being done were the Titanic’s trio of bronze-coloured smokestacks pumping out huge, billowing, thick black columns of smoke high into the air. The ‘black gang’ firemen, working in the hot airless stokeholds below deck, choking on ashes and stifling coal dust, would pile the coal into the furnaces. The furnaces would burn the coal and the rising fumata nera would announce its mighty progress as the unsinkable ‘ship of dreams’ would come crashing through the waves. The 100 tons of ash produced by the coal each day would be carried from the stoking floors of the vessel to its ash ejectors. A water jet would then carry the ashes up the inclined pipe till and once they reached the water line, the slag, a toxic cocktail of arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury, would be discharged into sea, leaving a trail of coal-ash slurry in its wake. [45] On this occasion, the foul dust of the coal rooms would quite literally float in the ‘wake’ of the ship — the term that describes the disturbance of the water as a vessel moves forward. Fitzgerald wasn’t referring to Gatsby as a man in his description, but as a ship.

Ripped Open

One of the most sensational aspects of the Titanic disaster was the ship’s dramatic collision with the iceberg, an event which finds some verbal echoes in Scott’s description of the speeding car that hits and kills Myrtle Wilson in the novel. When the garage owner’s wife runs out in front of the car, Gatsby tries to ‘swing the wheel’. He later tells Nick that the second he reached the wheel, he felt “the shock”. He’d had so little time to react that the collision was unavoidable and the woman dies instantly. It literally “ripped her open”, screams Nick, unable to contain his horror. When Titanic’s quartermaster, Robert Hichens heard the three bells struck from the lookout post he too tried in vain to swing the wheel. [46] The scene was described in detail at the US Senate hearing and the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry. As the telegraph bells had started ringing, the First Officer had given the order, ‘Hard-a-starboard’. Hichens grabbed the wheel and the ship had started swinging. It had been a furious yet futile attempt to steer the stern back to starboard so that the ship could pass the iceberg unscathed. It didn’t work. No sooner had the ship started swinging than it hit the iceberg. Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall would later confirm that as soon as the wheel was grabbed they “felt the shock”. [47]

The headlines that followed the collision left little to the imagination: “Hull of the Titanic was Ripped Open by Monster Iceberg”, screamed the Washington Evening Star. [48] The phrase was duly repeated across the States. “The bottom was ripped open”, reported The New York Times. The phrase was so graphic and so incendiary that not even the scientific journals could resist it: “Had the speed been only one-half and the energy one-fourth as great, the ship might well have been deflected from the iceberg before more than two or three of her compartments had been ripped open.” [49] Scott retained much the same philosophy when he pleaded with his editor Max Perkins, not to censor the scene: “I want Myrtle Wilson’s breast ripped off — it’s exactly the thing, I think, and I don’t want to chop up the good scenes by too much tinkering.” [50] If he had written ‘ripped open’, it had to stay ‘ripped-open’. It was absolutely essential to the plot. Scott, like the newspapers, had sensed instinctively that the scale and horror of the language had to becommensurate to the scale and horror of the accident. The carelessness of the rich was a violence they did the world, and Scott was adamant that this was conveyed in the strongest possible terms. The need for speed had quite literally wrecked the dream — not just for Gatsby but for everyone. [51]

It is difficult to say for sure just how much of it Scott was conscious of when he wrote the novel. Many of his references to the disaster certainly function at a subliminal level, so it is possible that they were written unconsciously too. Most of the time it’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affair. Take Nick being asked to keep ‘lookout’ in the garden in case there was a fire or a flood, or “any act of God” — a phrase churned out with furious abandon in the wake of the Titanic disaster. And what does Nick’s friend Jordan Baker really mean when she says she is “going down to Southampton” just moments before Gatsby is murdered? Is it an innocuous reference to the town on the southeasternmost fringes of Long Island or a sneaky nod and a wink to Berth 44 of the White Star dock in England where Titanic commenced its journey?

Scott’s familiarity with Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Edward Bernays, and his brief career in advertising, certainly makes it possible for the author to have been cognisant of the subliminal influences and submerged forces of his work. [52] As he would later tell his friend, Margaret Case Harriman, almost everything he wrote went, “for better or worse, into the subconscious of the reader.” [53] Whether he intended it this way, he doesn’t say. The publication of Edward Bernay’s Crystallizing Public Opinion in 1923 had given rise to a whole new era of influencing public opinion. Editors, advertisers, authors and politicians were quickly coming round to the idea that the National Consciousness could be better managed by shaping and directing the National Unconsciousness, and the seemingly ‘unmanageable mixture of sensations’ experienced by its people. [54] To newspapermen like Walter Lippmann, whose journalistic nemesis, William T. Stead had drowned on the Titanic, it was a vital part of the drill in the process of Americanization. For authors like Fitzgerald it was a whole new way of managing the responses of his readers. With just a little creativity the author could steer his vessel into the tips of the collective unconsciousness.

Whether he was aware of it or not, it’s pretty obvious for anyone who cares to look, that the basic themes of the novel are rooted, however unconsciously, in the horrors of April 1912 and the colossal aspirations of the aptly-named Titanic — the most ‘colossal’ of ships involved in the most ‘colossal’ of tragedies. It was, in fact, one of the most frequently words used to describe this incredible ship both before and after the tragedy. It was a word that conjured up images of the impossible made possible.

The Übermensch of the Sea

On April 22 1912, the American Seamen’s Friend Society held a special memorial service in honour of the Titanic victims in West Village, Manhattan. During the meeting, Reverend Dr Charles Townsend had been unable to contain his fury at its owners, The White Star Line. The irresistible ‘Temples of Pride’ that men like Ismay had created, had lured thousands of men and women to their deaths. They had been killed in a matter of hours by an excessive pursuit of luxury. The New Jersey pastor stood before the one hundred and twenty-five seamen, stokers and stewards who had gathered in the tiny assembly hall and told them that the sinking of Titanic had been “one more rebuke by God to the power of man”. Drawing parallels with the Tower of Babel, Townsend explained the hopelessness of our situation: man had been building towers that scraped the sky, and swollen with pride at our success, we had determined to build other towers like them at sea. Now we had fifteen-storey “floating palaces” driven by mighty engines as irresistible as those owned by Kings. A “blue-white mountain of ice” had crept silently from the Arctic to show how so pitifully and so easily we could all be consumed by nature. [55] Writing in the preface of the Bible House’s Sinking of the Titanic, Frederick Scott Miller used language that was no less prophetic: “When he builds and boasts of his Titanics, man may be great, but it is only when he is stripped of every cloying attribute of the world’s pomp and power that he can touch sublimity.” [56]

Like Gatsby and his house, there were those who viewed the RMS Titanic as the perfect symbol of human hubris, pride and aspiration. This ‘Übermensch’ of the sea had been quite deliberately conceived as the pinnacle of human endeavour — of man’s triumph over nature. The ship had been named after the Titans, the self-styled Gods of Greek mythology. It was 53, 000 tonnes of glorious modern excess and its fate couldn’t have been more poetic. Just like Gatsby at the end of the novel, this last significant expression of Roosevelt’s gilded age had found itself gasping for breath in waters that many knew instinctively it should never have been in. At a metaphysical or poetic level, the Titanic, on paper at least, boldly embodied what Shelley, Godwin and perhaps even Francis Galton’s might have regarded as the ideal of ‘human perfectibility’. The story of the ship and the story of Gatsby, is the story of Prometheus with a slick, Jazz Age makeover. Prometheus, the impudent Titan trickster steals fire from the Gods just as Gatsby attempts to steal Daisy from her powerful brute of a husband and triumph over his social betters. The Titanic, a symbol of the wealth and excess of the Gilded Age, and an astonishing feat of human ingenuity, sank on its maiden voyage, taking with it the hopes and dreams of the entire Western world. They had entered God’s playground and been duly crushed by the weight of a nature.

It’s clear from the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as both Jack Dawson, a poor young third-class dreamer punching well above his weight for the love of a girl, in James Cameron’s 1997 movie, Titanic and Jay Gatsby in the 2013 blockbuster by Baz Luhrmann, that I’m probably not the only one to have noted the similarity between their fates. Just too bad that the young James Gatz didn’t turn up splashing around to the rescue like he did for old Dan Cody in the book.

continue reading … Part II

The views expressed here are an attempt to articulate the various themes and narratives being explored in the novels and essays cited. They do not necessarily reflect my own views.

A Full Copy PDF can be downloaded at Academia by clicking here

[1] A Life in Letters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. M.J. Bruccoli, Simon & Schuster, 1995, p.84

[2] Dear Scott, Dear Max, Letter to Max, April 16, 1924, Letter to Scott, pp.70-71

[3] Tramps and Ladies, Sir James Bisset, Criterion Books, 1959, p.292

[4] ‘Stokers Green Lantern Aided Life Saving’, The San Francisco Call, April 20, 1912, p.13; ‘Green Light a Beacon’, ‘Widows Cries Rang the Night’, Carlos F. Hurd, The World, April 19, 1912;‘The Lighthouse Tower’, New York Times, August 4, 1912, p.13. The name of the stoker (John Bardsley) only appears in the San Francisco Call. He doesn’t appear in the ship’s manifest. His real name is likely to have been James Johnstone (a Steward).

[5] ‘Lantern Tower Memorial’, The Lookout, Vol. 3, No.1, May 1912, pp. 4-5

[6] ‘Lighthouse Tower and Timeball Dedicated to Titanic Victims’, The Lookout, May 1913, Vol. 4 , No. 1, pp. 4-5, pp. 11-12

[7] The Passing of the Idle Rich, Frederick Martin Townsend, Doubleday and Page, 1911, p.260

[8] New York Times, April 16, 1912, p.5; New York Tribune, April 16, 1912, p.6

[9] ‘Townsend Martin at the Bowery Mission: Bids farewell on the Eve of Starting to Wage War on Idleness’, New York Sun, April 29, 1912, p.7

[10] ‘Lantern Tower as Memorial’, New York Sun, April 23, 1912, p.3

[11] ‘Mass Meeting Honors the Titanic’s Victims: Townsend Martin Chairman’, New York Sun, April 22, 1912, p.4. The Catholic Memorial was held at St Paul’s in New York, the church were Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were married.

[12] ‘Lighthouse Tower Planned’, Baltimore Sun, April 24, 1912, p.2; The Nautical Gazette, Vol. 81, 1912, p.7; Edmund L. Baylies (building organiser), The Lookout, Vol. 20, No.9, September 1929; New York Standard Guide: New York The Metropolis of the Western World, 1913, Foster & Reynolds Co, p.123

[13] The Lookout, Vol. 9, No, 2, February 1920,  p.7. Between December 1958 and spring 1959, The Lookout would run a  series of ads for the F. Scott Fitzgerald Broadway biopic, The Enchanted.

[14] ‘The Green Light’, The Lookout, Vol 11, No. 6, June 1920, p.5; ‘Work of the Seamen’s Church Institute’, Browning Leader Record, January 11, 1923, p.2

[15] ‘The Spirit of the Memorial Speaks’, The Lookout, May 1913, Vol. 4 , No. 1, p. 1

[16] Both incarnations of the SS Minnewaska were built by Harland and Wolff.

[17] Aspects of Americanization, Edward Hale Bierstadt, Stewart Kidd Company Publishers, 1922, pp. 9-14; Restriction Of Immigration Hearings, The Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, Sixty-Eight Congress, First Session, Dec 1923-Jan 1924, pp. 608-620. The passport devised by Nansen and the League of Nations is mentioned by name immediately before Lothrop Stoddard is brought forward as witness in support of the bill. Stoddard would feature in The Great Gatsby ‘Goddard’, the author of The Rise of the Colored Empires.

[18] ‘Mythmaking and the Archival Record: The ‘Titanic’ Disaster as Documented in the Archives of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey’, Johnathan Thayer, The American Archivist, Fall/Winter 2012, Vol. 75, No. 2 pp. 393-421

[19] ‘Mr. James Johnstone’,  Liverpool Daily Post, April 19, 1912, p.8. Johnstone had been living at Church Street in Stanley, Liverpool. The city at this time was in the county of Lancashire. The previous shipwreck included the RMS Olympics’ collision with HMS Hawke in September 1911. His eldest son would die on the Lusitania.

[20] ‘Conference of Ship Employees’, The Evening Review (Ohio), March 4, 1912, p.2; ‘Firemen back up Engineers’,  The Evening World, March 26, 1912, ‘Abandons Her Trip’, White Star Liner, Washington Star, April 26, 1912, p.1. Tearle and his British counterpart, J. Havelock Wilson had been gearing up for a mass strike for over 12 months. Tearle was Secretary of the American branch of The National Sailors and Firemen’s Union of Great Britain.

[21] ‘Bandsmen now Passengers’, New York Times, March 24, 1912, p.14. I believe the agency was C.W. & F.N. Black of Liverpool. The Titanic musicians were listed as passengers and not crew.

[22] The Titanic Disaster Hearings, W. A. Smith,  Pocket Books, 1998, p.152; ‘Green Lantern as Saviour’, Emmetsburg Palo Alto Tribune, May 1, 1912, p.2

[23] The ‘Titanic Man’, Carlos F. Hurd: Covering the Most Famous of all Shipwrecks, S.S. Titanic, Vera Gillespie, V. & J. Gillespie, 199, p.60. The name of the stoker (John Bardsley) only appears in the San Francisco Call.  There is no listing in the crew of the Titanic of a John Bardsley. Hurd’s original write-up for the St Louise Post-Dispatch refers to the man as a steward, not a stoker. Both accountsbear remarkable similarities to the story of James Johnstone, ship’s saloon steward who was in Emergency Boat 2 with Fourth Officer Boxhall. Like Bardsley, Johnstone says he had stuffed four oranges in his pocket, was from Lancashire and had been involved in other shipwrecks (Olympic). I’m inclined to believe that Bardsley was really Johnstone. The swap may have been politically motivated.

[24] The Loss of the SS Titanic, Lawrence Beesley, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912, p.133

[25] ‘The Rescue of the Titanic Survivors’, Captain Arthur H. Rostron, Scribner’s Magazine 1913-03: Vol 53, No.3, pp. 354-364. The two Astors were approximately the same age. Judging by the newspaper reports of the time, Scott’s trips to New York were part of a baseball league. See also: TSOP, p.95, Family Vista: The Memoirs of Margaret Chanler Aldrich, William-Frederick Press, 1958, p.9, The Astor Orphans, Thomas Lately, Washington Park Press, 1999, p.272; ‘The Unrecovered’, Margaret Chanler Aldrich, New York Times, April 30, 1912, p.16

[26] ‘Members of the Sub-Committee in Charge of the Details’, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 18, 1897, p.8

[27] ‘Dear Mr Perkins’, September 4, 1919, The Letters of Scott Fitzgerald, Bantam Books, 1971, p.141; This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Scribner’s, 1920, p.284; ‘This Side of Paradise’, Shane Leslie, Dublin Review, October-December 1920: Vol 167 No. 335, pp.288-289. In August 1917 Fay recruited Scott for a secret diplomatic mission to Russia. The mission was ditched after the Bolshevik Revolution took place that October.

[28] Society Woman Wins Fame as Sculptress’, The Madison Journal, April 4, 1914, p.8. Beatrice Minerva Astor Chanler (aka. Minnie Ashley)

[29] ‘Taft’s ‘Archibald Butt Sees Pope’, The Catholic Telegraph, Volume LXXXI, Number 13, March 28, 1912, p.1Tribute to Butt’, Washington Evening Star, April 19, 1912, p.1

[30] ‘The Pope, Private Audience, Maj. Archibald Butt’, The Menace, April 6, 1912, p.4; ‘Come Clean, Mr. Taft’, The Menace, May 11, 1912, p.1

[31] The Washington Times, April 16, 1912, p.3

[32] American Wonderland: Memories of Four Tours in the United States of America (1911-1935), Shane Leslie, M. Joseph Ltd, 1936, pp. 278-280; Three of Titanic’s Dead Sailed Month in Lifeboat, New York Tribune, May 16, 1912, p.1. Shane, Marjorie, Marjorie’s father Henry Clay Ide and Shane’s younger brother Seymour arrived in New York a few days after this discovery (Washington Evening Star, May 16, 1912,  p.7)

[33] The Loss of the SS Titanic, Lawrence Beesley, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912, p.99

[34] ‘Titanic Survivor Talks to Press about Fatal Night’, Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, April 15, 1984

[35] TGG, p.106

[36] TGG, 112

[37] TGG, p.46. I have wondered if Scott was familiar with Cathode Ray Tube experiments, which simulate the effects of electrons on surfaces. The light they produce would glow green. They became popular during the 1910-1920 period.

[38] Tramps and Ladies, Sir James Bisset, Criterion Books, 1959, p.292

[39] The Loss of the SS Titanic, Lawrence Beesley, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912, p.127

[40] The Great Gatsby – Autograph Manuscript, circa 1924-1925, CO187, F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers, 1897-1944, Princeton University Library Collections

[41] TGG, p.20

[42] The Letters of Scott Fitzgerald, Dear Scottie, August 3, 1940, p.89

[43] Black smoke, black dust and ashes also featured prominently in War of the Worlds by H.G Wells. Like the Valley of Ashes it may have represented the foul toxic flow of marauding capitalism. Black smoke would have been choking industrial areas of Britain at this time. The inspiration for Scott’s Valley of Ashes may owe as much to Wells as T.S. Eliot.

[44] TGG, p.26 (description of the Valley of Ashes). There is strong evidence that the Valley of Ashes was based on Corona Park near Flushing in Queens. Much of New York’s refuse was dumped and burned here.

[45] Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers  1914-05: Vol 26, No.2, John Wiley & Sons, p.588; Down Amongst the Black Gang: the World and Workplace of RMS Titanic’s Stokers, Richard P. De Kerbrech, The History Press, 2014, pp. 75-76. The Titanic used a device knowns as the Sees Ash Ejector which left a trail of ashes floating in the wake of the ship. The process was known as ‘shooting the ashes’.

[46] The Titanic Disaster Hearings: The Official Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation, Pocket Books, 1998, pp.233-234

[47] Formal Investigation Into the Loss of the S.S. ‘Titanic’: Evidence, Appendices, and Index, United Kingdom, H.M. Stationery Office, 1912, p.333, p.339

[48] ‘Hull of the Titanic Was Ripped Open’, Washington Evening Star, April 19, 1912, p.1

[49] ‘Wreck of the White Star Liner Titanic’, Scientific American  1912-04-27: Vol 106, No.17, p.381

[50] Dear Scott/Dear Max, letter dated January 24, 1925, pp.92-93

[51] It’s curious that Tom’s first words on seeing the accident are ‘Wreck!’ The words could equally apply to a shipwreck.

[52] Edward Bernays published his ground-breaking work, Crystallizing Public Opinion in 1923. Scott had a high regard for its publishers, Boni & Liveright.

[53] The Letters of Scott Fitzgerald, Bantam Books, 1971, p.532

[54] Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann, Macmillan Company,, 1922, p.85

[55] ‘Mythmaking and the Archival Record: The ‘Titanic’ Disaster as Documented in the Archives of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey’, Johnathan Thayer, The American Archivist, Fall/Winter 2012, Vol. 75, No. 2 pp. 393-421; ‘Sailors Hold Memorial’, New York Tribune, April 22, 1912, p.4

[56] Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic, Marshall Everett, L.H. Walter, 1912, p.16.


Thanks to Michelle Kennedy at South Street Seaport Museum for information on the meaning and significance of the green light beacon and for introducing me to the Seamen’s Church Institute Digital Archives portal. You can learn more at the link below: