This is a guest post by Carolette Alcoran.
“There is only one piece of luggage saved from the Titanic,” the Customs House Special Deputy Surveyor, George Smyth, announced several hours after the first batch of the ill-fated ship’s fortunate passengers were unloaded at the New York pier. The baggage was described to be about two feet thick and three feet high and was made of brown canvas.
This must have been a very special bag to be the only piece of luggage out of the thousands stowed in the Titanic’s cargo holds to make it to New York from Southampton after the ship dubbed as the grandest and unsinkable hit an iceberg and sank. It could even be said that this piece of luggage was its owner’s lucky charm. Its owner, Mr. Samuel L. Goldberg, the proprietor of an importing firm based in France, did not only survive but lived a quiet and happy life long after the incident.
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Mr. Goldberg’s luggage was undoubtedly made of tough materials otherwise it couldn’t have endured the less than ideal conditions that it went through. On April 25, 1912, the New York Times reported that Mr. Goldberg’s belongings contained in the luggage did not get wet and were undamaged.
The Titanic’s Luggage
On its maiden voyage, the Titanic was carrying more than two thousand people on board including both passengers and crew. Assuming that all of them carried two pieces of luggage each, the ship would have been carrying more than four thousand pieces of luggage of all shapes and sizes when it crossed the Atlantic. A luggage item has to be sturdy enough to avoid getting damaged as it gets tossed, pressed, and stacked against the other baggage being loaded on-board.
Before boarding the ship, the passenger had to tell the Titanic’s baggage master which of the luggage items he or she was carrying contained clothing and other personal items for on-board use and which luggage contained items for destination use. The rule was that only those bags containing items that the passenger would be using on board were allowed to be hand carried. The luggage was thus marked “Wanted in Cabin.”
Luggage containing items that were intended for destination use would be marked as “Not Wanted in Cabin” and would accordingly be placed in the ship’s cargo hold. The luggage had to be durable enough to withstand inhospitable conditions for days on end inside the jam-packed cargo hold.
This was a special luggage trunk reserved only for passengers with first-class accommodation. It is highly probable that the character “Rose,” a first-class passenger in the movie “Titanic”, portrayed by Kate Winslet, had her clothes and cosmetics stored in a portmanteau.
On the other hand Rose’s paramour, the character “Jack“, a third-class passenger portrayed by Leonardo di Caprio, just had his simple duffle bag brought to the third class cabin with him which he could turn into a makeshift pillow.
The portmanteau opens in half just like a book does. Once opened, various drawers and compartments are revealed to give the passengers ample space to keep their clothing and other personal items in order.
Had the Titanic made it to New York, the unloading process would have involved having all luggage from both cabins and the cargo hold sorted by class. Once sorted according to their class, the luggage would be arranged in rough alphabetical order. If a luggage item was lost, the owner had to report it to the baggage master who would try to trace it and hope to locate it from the thousands of luggage items stacked on the dock.
Soon after the story of Mr. Goldberg’s luggage was published in the New York Times, it earned its share of mixed reactions from the public. Some people found the luggage story hard to believe and questioned its authenticity. Others asked why the luggage made it to the pier when bringing along luggage to lifeboats during emergency situations was strictly prohibited.
Its owner, Mr Goldberg, issued a statement saying that the bag had in fact been bought from a barber on board the ‘Carpathia’, the passenger ship that responded to Titanic’s distress call and which eventually rescued a number of passengers including Mr. Goldberg.
The luggage had actually been carried across the Atlantic many times over by the Carpathia’s barber. It had seen better days but was able to endure the punishment inflicted by the many years it spent crossing the ocean.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this inspiring story of the lone luggage item from the Titanic, it is the fact that when it comes to selecting travel luggage, choosing items that are durable and made of high quality materials is a wise investment because those items are more likely to stand the test of time.