WWI commemoration – Jerry Sacher considers the Lusitania

Wonderful to welcome Jerry Sacher here today, to share the story of a particularly tragic event a hundred years ago.

Friday May 7, 1915. A German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland torpedoed the pride of the Cunard Line, R.M.S Lusitania. In eighteen minutes the Lusitania had sunk with a loss of 1,192 lives.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, and while conspiracy theories about contraband cargo and saboteur stowaways are numerous, and abound to this day moving into the background the men, women, and children who were affected by the sinking. Everyone is familiar with the famous people like Alfred Vanderbilt, and the playwright Charles Frohman who died in the sinking, but especially moving to me are the unidentified victims and little known stories behind the Lusitania’s sinking.

There are paranormal stories. A woman and her family scheduled to sail on the fatal voyage made her husband change their travel plans after seeing the tickets for the Lusitania’s sailing gave her a bad feeling. Another man cancelled his passage after a nightmare in which he saw himself in a coffin wearing a Lusitania life vest.

There was a woman whose husband abandoned the family, and she was taking them back home to England. Only two of her children would survive. A family was crossing to claim an inheritance, but only one member of the family would live to do so. There was a woman who would be a victim not once but twice of the same submarine.

Not all of the stories are unhappy. A man who had been separated from his brother during the sinking, found him again at the morgue lifting up the same sheet in a effort to find the another.

Hoping that someone would step forward to claim him or her, Cunard Line photographed those who remain unknown to this day, and the photos are still held in the Cunard archives in Liverpool. I have a rough copy of two of these photos. Two women, one looks to be in middle age and the other might have been in her twenties. I stare at these pictures and wonder: Who are they? What brought them aboard the Lusitania, and did they know about the warning from the German Embassy stating that the Lusitania was a target of war, and believed the ship could outrun any submarine? I wonder if anyone stopped to spare them a thought as I do will and continue to do so.

I often pray for these two unknown women. On May 7th 2015, I’ll light a candle for them, and for the 1,196 other lives cut short that afternoon one hundred years ago.

Jerry Sacher currently lives in Chicago with his partner Dean and two cats in an apartment crammed with books. He writes every day from the local coffee shop, his “office,” and when he’s not writing, his interests are San Francisco, the Titanic, and listening to records on an antique phonograph.

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