The Racing Driver and the Titanic

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Washington Augustus Roebling II.

Washington Augustus Roebling II

The Racing Driver and the Titanic

Washington Roebling was named after his well-known uncle who had played a part in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and as a boy, like others in his family, he had a huge interest in engineering. But for Washington, that had nothing to do with civil engineering but with cars and racing.

He co-created the Roebling-Planche car which he drove successfully in several races in the USA. But late in 1911 he decided to plan a tour to Europe. His companion was a friend called Stephen Blackwell and the two men also took a chauffeur to drive them on their tour. They set sail for Europe in early 1912.

Stephen Blackwell was a prosperous wholesale grocery business. His young wife had died six years previously at the age of only 24 of typhoid and Stephen had not yet recovered from the loss. He felt that the trip to Europe would help him on the road to recovery.

Washington’s motives were more in line with his persona of a wealthy young car enthusiast. He had heard about a remarkable new car made by Fiat and decided that he wanted to know more about it. Sure enough, he test drove and purchased a Fiat model in Turin.

Leaving the Roebling car that they had brought with them with the chauffeur, the two men drove the Fiat (mainly it was Roebling who was at the wheel) enjoying the wonderful roads of Italy and France. Their destination was England.

The chauffeur, Frank Stanley, was sent back to the States along with the Roebling vehicle. Washington and Stephen would have no further use for them now that they had the Fiat and they had booked their own return passage back to America. It had been intended that Frank would travel with the pair, but he had become ill so he and the car sailed from Rotterdam.

Washington Roebling and Stephen Blackwell planned to sail from Southampton in England to New York on April 10th, 1912.

The Titanic

Of course, the ship they had decided to sail on was the Titanic. For two wealthy men, it was a natural choice. As first class passengers, they dined on the finest foods, drank the best of wines and smoked expensive cigars in the luxurious first class accommodations. Until the night of April 14th.

At about 11.30 that night, the ship struck and iceberg. Roebling and Blackwell, then aged 31 and 45 respectively, were last seen gallantly helping women and children onto lifeboats. The two men were never seen again and their bodies were never recovered.

Footnote

American newspaper at first reported that although the Titanic had hit an iceberg, there had been no loss of life. But the concerned families of the voyagers soon discovered that this was not the case. Two Roebling cousins and two Blackwell brothers went to New York.

When the survivors eventually disembarked, the relatives realised that Washington Roebling and Stephen Blackwell had indeed gone down with the ship. Other relative went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, when the ‘morgue ship’ arrived but again, the two men were not among the recovered bodies.

On the day after the sinking, Frank Stanley the chauffeur, now safe in the States, was surprised to see that the press had assumed that he too had been on the ship.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

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Author: Jackie Jackson

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