Premonitions, Paranormal, and Psychic Phenomena Involving the Titanic
Updated: Mar 10
While looking for a quote to include at the beginning of my book, The Man Who Sent the SOS: A Memoir of Reincarnation and the Titanic, I came across seven different incidents of unexplained psychic (or paranormal) phenomena associated with the Titanic.
The most famous example is the disaster novel, Futility, which was published 14 years before Titanic set sail. The book’s plot involved the world’s largest luxury liner, called Titan, sinking in the North Atlantic after colliding with an iceberg.
The book’s author, a maritime expert named Morgan Robertson, disavowed any “psychic” abilities or spiritual inspiration for writing the novel. He claimed he was merely educated on shipbuilding trends, and was therefore aware of the hazards these newfangled ocean behemoths faced.
But still, there were many uncanny—and very specific—similarities between the events Robertson dreamed up and the very real Titanic disaster. These included the virtually identical names of the ships, the fact that both were deemed “practically unsinkable” by their makers, and both suffered fatal iceberg impacts on their starboard side, 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland, on an April night.
But Robertson wasn’t the only fiction writer to pre-imagine certain aspects of the Titanic story.
Raise the Titanic
In 1976, nearly a decade before the wreck was actually found, adventure novelist Clive Cussler wrote about the discovery in his popular book, Raise the Titanic. And although the massive ship, which was almost 900 feet long and constructed of steel, would presumably have been be easy to find (if one were in the correct location and using the latest high-tech equipment), Cussler chose to have his fictional scientists stumble upon one of the vessel’s much smaller, cast-off boilers first. Here’s his description:
Suddenly, in the gloom at the outer edge of the blackness, a rounded object became visible, haloed in the eerie light like an immense tombstone. Soon, the three pairs of eyes inside the submersible could distinguish the furnace gratings of the great boiler, and then the row upon row of rivets along the irons seams and the torn, jagged tentacles of what was left of its steam tubing.
— Raise The Titanic, Clive Cussler, 1976
So what happened, almost ten years later, during the actual search? Yup, it turned out to be another case of (Titanic’s) life, mirroring art.
Interestingly, during my work as a TV producer, I had the occasion to speak with Cussler about it. When I pointed out the coincidence, the author said he hadn't been aware of it—although he didn’t seem too impressed. However, he did say—with a chuckle—“I don’t know why I wrote that.”
But there are other, lesser-known examples of premonitions, and other psychic phenomena, surrounding the Titanic disaster.
An Uneasy Feeling
Chief officer Henry Wilde was a last-minute addition to Titanic's crew, having joined the voyage prior to the steamer’s departure from Southampton. But from all accounts, Wilde wasn’t too thrilled about his latest assignment. While on board Titanic, he wrote his sister a letter (it was mailed during the ship’s final stopover in Ireland), where he said: “I still don’t like this ship…I have a queer feeling about it.”
Wilde went one to become one of Titanic’s 1,500+ victims.
As an interesting aside, Wilde’s very presence on the ship may have actually contributed to the disaster. To accommodate his hiring—the White Star line ended up demoting several other officers, even going so far as to let one go. This (ultimately lucky) officer was David Blair, who’d joined the ship in Belfast and served during Titanic’s sea trials. However, when Blair was unceremoniously removed from the ship prior to the voyage, he (inadvertently?) took with him the key to an officer’s cupboard that contained, among other things, the binoculars intended for use by Titanic’s lookouts.
While at sea, the remaining ship’s officers were unwilling (or unable) to break the cupboard’s lock. Therefore, the men in the crow’s nest were forced to perform their duties—scanning the water in front of the vessel for icebergs—without the aid of binoculars.
And, as we all know, that didn’t turn out too well.
After the sinking, the key remained in the possession of the Blair family for years. In 2007, it was sold at auction for more than $150,000.
Another of Titanic’s victims, retired U.S. Army Major and Presidential Adviser Archibald Butt, was a First Class passenger returning home after a six-week vacation in Europe. Prior to the voyage, Butt was reportedly so uneasy about it that he contacted his lawyer to create his Last Will and Testament. He even wrote his sister about it, saying, “If the old ship sinks, my affairs are in order.”
Last Minute Cancellations
But premonitions of disaster weren’t just limited to victims. According to noted Titanic historian and author John P. Eaton, at least 50 would-be passengers (or crewmembers) cancelled at the last minute. Perhaps the most notable of these were ticketed First Class passengers George and Edith Vanderbilt, who refused to get on the ship so late in the game that their luggage was already aboard, and there wasn’t time to remove it. The Vanderbuilts ended up ordering one of their servants, Edwin Wheeler, to accompany the trunks to New York, although unfortunately, Wheeler (and the Vanderbilt’s luggage) never made it.
A couple of other survivors—Annie Ward, a maid, and Second Class passenger Esther Hart—also spoke of premonitions of doom about the voyage. According to famed Titanic survivor Eva Hart, her mother was reportedly unable to sleep nights during the crossing. The elder Hart apparently spent each evening sitting in her reading chair, fully dressed, awaiting a calamity that she felt was inevitable. Esther Hart later said that the White Star Liner’s advertising material—claiming the ship to be “unsinkable”—was “flying in the face of God,” and she knew “something dreadful” would occur because of it.
"Do you love life?"
Another oft-told tale of Titanic premonition, however, can most likely be chalked up to common sense. The story comes from survivor Renee Harris, who claimed that, shortly after the voyage began, a handsome stranger approached her on deck and asked her if she “loved life.” When Harris responded in the affirmative, the man reportedly said, “Then you will get off this ship at Cherbourg, if we get that far. That’s what I’m going to do.”
The man apparently made good on his promise, because Harris never saw him again. (Unfortunately, Harris chose not to heed the warning. She and her husband remained on the ship, but only Harris survived.) And although fans of the paranormal might get shivers from this tale of a helpful—but ultimately, ignored—“angel,” there's usually something left out in the retelling of the story: the set-up.
Far from coming from out of the blue, the conversation between Harris and the mysterious stranger had occurred right after the two had witnessed a heart-stopping spectacle. The large and bulky Titanic, on her way out of port, had very nearly collided with another steamer (The City of New York). According to other spectators, the catastrophe was averted by less than 72 inches! So, it probably didn’t take a psychic to determine that Titanic had issues with—among other things—steering.
"Astral Projection" aboard Titanic
However, arguably the most unusual incident involving paranormal phenomena and the Titanic was something survivor Lawrence Beesley described in his book about the sinking, published just a few months after the disaster. Beesley claimed that he had had (what today might be called) an “out-of-body experience” on the ship’s deck.
Here’s his description of events:
The curious sense of the whole thing being a dream was very prominent: that all were looking on at the scene from a near-by vantage point in a position of perfect safety, and that those who walked the decks or tied one another’s lifebelts on were actors in a scene of which we were but spectators: that the dream would end soon and we should wake up to find the scene had vanished. Many people have had a similar experience in times of danger, but it was very noticeable on the Titanic’s deck. I remember observing it particularly while tying on a lifebelt for a man on the deck. It is fortunate that it should be so: to be able to survey such a scene dispassionately is a wonderful aid in the destruction of the fears that go with it.
― The Loss of the S.S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons, Lawrence Beesley, 1912
I ended up using Beesley’s quote at the beginning of my book, The Man Who Sent the SOS: A Memoir of Reincarnation and the Titanic. I figured it was appropriate, given that my story involves past-life memories of a life that ended aboard the Titanic—a life that I experienced, at times, in much the same manner Beesley described.
Paul Amirault is a Hollywood TV producer, author, and photographer. His first book, The Man Who Sent the SOS: A Memoir of Reincarnation and the Titanic, is now on sale.
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