Special Report

8 Famous People Who Missed the Lusitania

For one reason or another, these lucky souls never boarded the doomed ship whose sinking launched America's involvement in WWI

On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland and nearly 1,200 lives were lost. (Library of Congress via WikiCommons)

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Wirt’s adventures continued for another half century. He died in 1961, at the age of 97. 

The Lusitania – Titanic connection

The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and the Titanic in 1912 may be forever linked as the two most famous maritime disasters of the 20th century. But the similarities between the Cunard liner Lusitania, launched in 1906, and the White Star liner Titanic, launched in 1911, hardly end here. Each was the largest ship in the world at the time of its debut, the Lusitania at 787 feet, the Titanic at 883 feet. They were also two of the most luxurious ships afloat, designed to compete for the rich and famous travelers of the day as well as for the profitable immigrant trade. In fact several notable passengers had ties to both ships:

• Al Woods, a well-known American theatrical producer, claimed to have had close calls with both the Lusitania and the Titanic, as did his frequent traveling companion, a businessman named Walter Moore. The two reportedly missed the Titanic when business matters kept them in London and called off their trip on the Lusitania because of fears of a submarine attack. 

•  The high-society fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon, among the most famous survivors of the Titanic disaster, was booked on the Lusitania but canceled her trip, citing health reasons.

•  Two other Titanic survivors, banker Robert W. Daniel and his wife, Eloise, also appear to have canceled passage on the Lusitania, deciding to take an American ship, the Philadelphia, instead. Eloise Daniel lost her first husband in the Titanic disaster and met her future mate when he was pulled aboard the lifeboat she was in.  They married two years later. Interviewed on their arrival in London, he described the crossing on the Philadelphia as “absolutely uneventful.”

•  Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, 37-year-old railroad heir and horse fancier, missed the Titanic in 1912 but unfortunately not the Lusitania in 1915, despite receiving a mysterious telegram telling him the ship was doomed. Vanderbilt died a hero in the disaster, reportedly giving his lifebelt to a young woman passenger, even though he couldn’t swim.

About Greg Daugherty
Greg Daugherty

Greg Daugherty is a magazine editor and writer as well as a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com. His books include You Can Write for Magazines.

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