The Titanic Disaster Hearings (2002)


Readers’ Theatre, adapted by ACT I from the transcripts of the 1912 United States Senate Hearings into the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic

Director and Text Editor: Steve Arnold

The true story of history’s most famous maritime disaster,
told in the words of those who lived through it.

Vinton City Hall Council Chambers

Part 1: April 19 & 26, 2002

The Witnesses:

J. Bruce Ismay — Managing Director, White Star Line; 1st Class Passenger
Arthur Rostron — Captain, Carpathia
Charles Herbert Lightoller — Second Officer, Titanic
Guglielmo Marconi — President, British Marconi Company
Harold Cottam — Wireless Operator, Carpathia
Harold Bride — Jr. Wireless Operator, Titanic

Part 2: April 20 & 27, 2002

The Witnesses:

Frederick Fleet — Lookout, Titanic
Harold Godfrey Lowe — Fifth Officer, Titanic
Charles Herbert Lightoller — Second Officer, Titanic
Guglielmo Marconi — President, British Marconi Company
Harold Cottam — Wireless Operator, Carpathia

Part 3: April 21 & 28, 2002

The Witnesses:

Stanley Lord — Captain, Californian
Cyril Furmston Evans — Wireless Operator, Californian
Samuel Etches — First Class Bedroom Steward, Titanic
Harold Cottam — Wireless Operator, Carpathia
Colonel Archibald Gracie — First Class Passenger, Titanic
Olaus Abelseth — Third Class Passenger, Titanic
Harold Bride — Junior Wireless Operator, Titanic
Mahala Douglas — First Class Passenger, Titanic
Emily Ryerson — First Class Passenger, Titanic
Daisy Minihan — First Class Passenger, Titanic
Frederick Barrett — Lead Fireman, Titanic

Jon and Julie Clingman

The Scenes

Senator William Alden Smith, Republican of Michigan, urged the Senate to act quickly to authorize an inquiry into the Titanic sinking after he learned that President Taft intended to take no action. The full Senate authorized the Committee on Commerce to conduct the inquiry on April 17, two days after the sinking. Senator Smith chaired the inquiry during its eighteen days of testimony. Other senators on the panel included Jonathan Bourne (R-Oregon), Theodore Burton (R-Ohio), Duncan Fletcher (D-Florida), Francis G. Newlands (D-Nevada), George Perkins (R-California), and Furnifold Simmons (D-South Carolina).

White Star Line Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay, a survivor of the disaster, took the stand as the first witness at 10:00 AM on Friday, April 19, 1912, just 13 hours after the Carpathia docked in New York. Mr. Ismay had hoped to leave New York at once aboard the Cedric, but his plans were thwarted by the U. S. Navy, who intercepted telegrams from Ismay sent from the Carpathia under the code name “Yamsi.” The Navy notified Senator Smith’s office. The senator met with President Taft at the White House on Thursday, April 18 at which time Taft gave Smith an attorney general’s opinion that it was legal to subpoena British subjects as long as they were in the United States. Smith and Senator Newlands then rushed to New York and were on hand when the Carpathia docked later that night. Senator Smith had subpoenas for Ismay as well as surviving Titanic officers and the hearings were convened the next morning at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

On the first day of testimony, Carpathia Captain Arthur Rostron describes his well organized rescue efforts that save the lives of Titanic’s 712 survivors.

Titanic Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller explains why he hadn’t loaded lifeboats to their full capacity of 65, during Day 1 of testimony. Many lifeboats were sent down with no more than 25 occupants, and Lightoller disputing that fully loaded lifeboats could be lowered safely.

Gripping testimony by Titanic Jr. wireless operator Harold S. Bride dominated Day 2 of the hearings as he described the efforts to secure a rescue ship. Bride, temporarily confined to a wheelchair and with his feet heavily bandaged due to injuries he sustained in the disaster, also described his harrowing escape from the ship and his terrifying hours aboard lifeboat Collapsible B, during which his friend and fellow wireless operator Jack Phillips died of exposure.

Lookout Frederick Fleet, the man who first sighted the iceberg, gives decidedly imprecise answers as he describes the moments before and after he first saw the object that would take down the ship.

Titanic Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe, who commanded Lifeboat #14, engages in a heated and lengthy battle of wits with Senator Smith as the senator tries to get straight answers from the ever evasive officer. Lowe later speaks with frankness as he describes his trip back to the wreck site to look for survivors, but only after the number of drowning swimmers had “thinned out.”

Titanic Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller becomes increasingly frustrated with Senator Smith’s intense questioning during Day 5 of the inquiry.

Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the telegraph and owner of the company that employed wireless operators Bride, Cottam, and Phillips, is subjected to hard questioning by Senator Smith about telegrams received on the Carpathia under Marconi’s signature, urging Bride and Cottam to “keep your mouth shut,” as it would be worth “four figures.” Smith learned that Marconi authorized Bride and Cottam to sell their story to the New York Times, but Marconi resolutely insisted he had never sent the telegrams urging their silence.

Wireless operator Harold Cottam of the Carpathia is both praised by Senator Smith for devotion to his duty that helped save 712 lives, and criticized for accepting $750 from the New York Times for an exclusive story.

Californian Captain Stanley Lord dodges tough questions from Senator Smith and the Senate panel as he tries to explain why he was only 20 miles away from the Titanic and yet did not go to the ship’s aid until it was too late.

Californian wireless operator Cyril Evans explains to the Senate panel that he had turned off his apparatus and gone to bed at 11:35 PM on April 14, just five minutes before Titanic collided with the iceberg.

Mahala Douglas of Cedar Rapids, Iowa viewed the sinking of the Titanic from the lifeboats. Her husband Walter, a partner in both Quaker Oats and the Douglas Starch Works (later Pennick and Ford) died in the sinking.

Emily Ryerson emotionally recalls how Officer Lightoller tried to deny her thirteen year old son Jack a place in a lifeboat. Jack’s father successfully argued with Lightoller to save the boy’s life.

Daisy Minihan of Wisconsin speaks contemptuously of Officer Lowe’s treatment of survivors as she recounts for the Senate subcommittee her experiences aboard lifeboat #14.

Countdown to Disaster – The Final Days of the R.M.S. Titanic

Countdown to Disaster, prepared for ACT I by Titanic Researcher Addison Hart of DeKalb, Illinois, appeared in daily installments and can be read in it’s entirety by clicking here.


Senator William Alden Smith: Ron Baldwin
J. Bruce Ismay: Kurt Karr
Arthur Henry Rostron: Alan Nebola
Charles Herbert Lightoller: Nick Schumacher
Guglielmo Marconi: Casey Cooling
Harold Cottam: Dusty Kearns
Harold Bride: Matthew Meyer
Frederick Fleet: Travis Hendricks
Harold Godfrey Lowe: Jared Parmater
Cyril Furmstone Evans: Will Ketchen
Stanley Lord: Brian Larkin
Henry Samuel Etches: Casey Cooling
Colonel Archibald Gracie: Edgar Dickerson
Mahala Dougla: Angie Nebola*
Olaus Abelseth: John Blix
Daisy Minihan: Traci Higgins
Emily Ryerson: Linda Radcliffe
Frederick Barrett: Cody Robison
Various Senators: Steve Arnold

*ACT I debut

About the Cast

Ron Baldwin (Senator Smith) has been an ACT I regular since the organization began 23 years ago. He has appeared in numerous roles through the years, most recently as Erronious in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Kurt Karr (Bruce Ismay) is well prepared for the role of the CEO of the White Starr Line, since he is the CEO in real life of Karr Tuckpointing. He last appeared in our production of “The Gifts of the Magi,” but his most important contribution to ACT I will always be his generous service as general contractor for the Palace Theatre. Alan Nebola (Captain Rostron) has appeared in three past shows, including the leading role of Pseudolous in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and Montague in “Romeo and Juliet.” Playing a ship’s captain seems a natural piece of casting for this U.S. Navy veteran, although his experience was on nuclear submarines rather than passenger ships. Alan’s wife, Angie Nebola, makes her ACT I debut as Mahala Douglas. Nick Schumacher debuted with us in February as Sampson in “Romeo and Juliet.” He is a teacher and coach at WHS in Vinton. Will Ketchen (Cyril Evans) is a junior at WHS. He last appeared with ACT I in “How to Eat Like a Child” in 1996. Travis Hendricks (Frederick Fleet) appeared in our productions of “Oliver!” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” He graduated from WHS last year, and will also be seen as Dr. Connolly in our upcoming production, “It Runs in the Family.” Jared Parmater (Officer Lowe) made his debut with us as Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet.” He is a junior at the University of Northern Iowa and a member of the Iowa National Guard. Dustin Kearns (Harold Cottam) is a freshman at WHS. He is in his fourth ACT I production, having appeared most recently as Young Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Matthew Meyer (Harold Bride) is a freshman at WHS and a seasoned ACT I veteran. He was seen recently as Benvolio in “Romeo and Juliet” and will appear as Leslie in our upcoming comedy “It Runs in the Family.” Brian Larkin (Stanley Lord) is an area realtor and member of the ACT I board. He was last seen as Marcus Lycus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Casey Cooling (Guglielmo Marconi, Samuel Etches) is a veteran of many past roles and was last seen as Lord Old in our children’s theatre production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Casey words for Aliant Utilities and assists his wife Joan in the operation of the Cooling Dance Center in Vinton. John Blix (Olaus Abelseth) last appeared as Hero in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” He is employed by the Cedar Valley Daily Times. Cody Robison (Frederick Barrett) is a senior at WHS and last appeared as the Capulet Servingman in “Romeo and Juliet.” He has also played several major roles for Theatre WHS. Edgar Dickerson (Colonel Gracie) appeared in both of our readers’ theatre productions last year and was seen recently as Friar Lawrence in “Romeo and Juliet.” Traci Higgins (Daisy Minihan) first appeared with us last year as a reader in our poetry reading. She also appears in our upcoming “It Runs in the Family.” Linda Radcliffe (Emily Ryerson) is another of our charter members, appearing ACT I’s very first production, “You Can’t Take it with You” in 1980 and in numerous shows since. She is best known as our box office manager. She will also be seen in “It Runs in the Family.” Steve Arnold (director) was also director of our recent production of “Romeo and Juliet.”