Women (and dogs) first: Exhibit tells tale of Titanic's canines


Before 24-year-old Margaret Hays and her girlfriends fled their cabin, as the ship Titanic began its descent to the sea floor, she made sure to take one treasured possession: Lily her Pomeranian.

Standing on deck - 100 years ago on Saturday - they put on their lifejackets before boarding the lifeboats. One passenger commented, "I suppose we ought to put a life preserver on the little doggie too."

When Hays stepped into the lifeboat she held tight to her ball of fluff wrapped in a blanket. The two would both survive the most storied maritime disaster in history.

In the annals of Titanic lore, few know that 12 dogs boarded Titanic at Southampton that April day in 1912. Of those, miraculously, three would live.

The dogs of Titanic are featured in an exhibit, RMS Titanic: 100 Years, that opened this week at the Widener Art Gallery at Widener University in Chester.

"Not a whole lot is known about the dogs," said exhibit curator J. Joseph Edgette, professor emeritus of education and folklore at Widener and a Titanic scholar. "All belonged to first class passengers. When the rich and famous traveled they took their dogs with them."

Since dogs were considered cargo there was no official list of those on board. Edgette - from his extensive research into the personal papers of passengers - created his own "pet manifest" listing the dogs, their names, breeds and owners.

All of the objects in the exhibit come from Edgette's personal collection, including the photograph of the group of Titanic dogs on the deck above, that was taken by passenger Father Francis Browne, a Catholic priest. 

Browne captured the few surviving images of the voyage and took the only known photographs of the ship's grand interior, Edgette said. "The Kodak company was to take pictures of Titanic's interior when it arrived in New York," he said. 

There were 100 passengers from Philadelphia aboard Titanic of whom 78 survived. Among those who perished were George Widener his son Harry, and William Dulles, an attorney and horse breeder, whose fox terrier, Dog, also went down with the ship. 

Among the other canine passengers was the Airedale, Kitty, who belonged to financier John Jacob Astor. Neither she nor her master survived.

Other artifacts on display include original newspapers, replicas of Titanic's silver service, a newly-issued anniversary replica of a Stieff "mourning bear," just like those given to the families who lost children. There is even a vintage embalming table to show how the victims were treated on the rescue ship, Carpathia.

There is a section on how the lost passengers were memorialized, most often, given their station in life, that meant with ornate mausoleums. (Edgette regularly gives Titanic themed cemetery tours at Laurel Hill in Philadelphia and New York's Woodlawn and Greenwood where many passengers are buried.)

Edgette says one popular Titanic dog story is not true.

Capt. Edward Smith's dog, Ben, was not on board the ship when it sank. In fact, Ben did spend the night before aboard Titanic in the captain's quarters. But because he was a recent gift of Benjamin Guggenheim to Smith's daughter, he was taken to the Smith's home in Southampton before the ship sailed.

"There is such a special bond between people and their pets. For many, they are considered to be family members,” Edgette said. “I don’t think any Titanic exhibit has examined that relationship and recognized those loyal family pets that also lost their lives on the cruise.”

The exhibit runs through May 12.