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Remembering the 12 dogs aboard the Titanic

April 11, 2012 at 8:33 AM ET

For the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, just about every aspect of the storied liner – from safety issues to class differences among passengers – is being explored, analyzed and celebrated.

But little attention is being given to another group of Titanic travelers: the dogs that made the voyage.

A new exhibit at the Widener University Art Gallery, in Chester, Pa., that opened Tuesday hopes to change that by including photographs and stories of the dogs and their owners who sailed on the Titanic, said J. Joseph Edgette, professor emeritus of education and folklorist emeritus at Widener University, who produced and curated the exhibit.

“I wanted to include things that people don’t normally run across,” Edgette said, noting that there were no Titanic-related exhibits that he was aware of that focused on the famed ocean liner’s canine passengers.

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“Everybody knows about the iceberg, how the ship went down, and the heroic stories, but it doesn’t go beyond that, yet there are hundreds of other aspects that we need to give attention to,” said Edgette, who based much of his findings on eyewitness accounts of the evacuation, ship’s records and his own research. “Until recently, most scholarship has not covered the dogs.”

Only three dogs survived, he said.

Those that were saved included a baby Pomeranian named Lady, owned by Margaret Hays of New York City, who kept the puppy in the cabin with her, Edgette said. When passengers were evacuated, Hays wrapped it in a blanket. Crew members allowed her to get in a lifeboat with the puppy. “Because they assumed it was a baby, it survived,” he said.

Others that lived were Sun Yat-sen, a Pekinese belonging to Henry and Myra Harper (of Harper & Row publishing fame), also of New York City, and a small Pomeranian owned by Elizabeth Rothschild from Watkins Glen, N.Y.

All surviving dogs were small and were kept in the first-class cabins of their owners, Edgette said. “The crew was very respectful of first-class passengers and usually gave them what they wanted to make them happy.” The nine dogs kept in the onboard kennel perished, though the kennel was well-kept and the dogs were well taken care of, he said, by crew who fed and walked them.

Of the 12 dogs on board, four were from Philadelphia families. Two of those that perished were owned by William Carter, a coal magnate. Carter’s children were worried about their pets, but their father assured them the dogs were safe and encouraged his children to get in the lifeboats, Edgette said. The family survived, and later received insurance reimbursement from Lloyds of London in the amount of $100 for daughter Lucy’s King Charles spaniel and $200 for son Billy’s Airedale.

(The replica of the Carters' 1912 Renault, the location of a love scene between young Rose and Jack in James Cameron’s Titanic, was based on the car owned by the Carters, Edgette said.)

Other dogs that died included two Airedales named Kitty and Airedale, owned by John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, and a fox terrier named Dog, owned by William Dulles, an attorney from Philadelphia.

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Perhaps one of the saddest stories is that of Ann Elizabeth Isham, who was already in a lifeboat when she got out to go to the ship’s kennel to retrieve her Great Dane. She never made it back.

“Two to three days later, a passenger ship’s crew member, not too far from the site of the sinking, found her,” said Edgette. “She was clutching a Great Dane.” Isham’s body, along with 326 others, was retrieved from the water, but no dogs were, he said.

The exhibit features photos of the dogs and their owners, some supplied by the families involved and others taken onboard, including a group of dogs tied to the rail on the Titanic’s deck, which perished, and a photo of crew members walking several dogs.

One photo shows the Titanic’s captain, Captain Smith, holding a Russian wolfhound called Ben, named for industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, who gave the captain the dog as a gift for his daughter. But Ben never made the journey, as he disembarked before the ship sailed.

In addition to the dogs, the exhibit will focus predominately on the 68 Philadelphia-area families who sailed on the Titanic, including the Widener family, for whom Widener University is named. Three family members sailed on the Titanic, but only one survived. (Peter A.B. Widener was on the board of trustees of the parent company that owned White Star Line).

The show also includes displays about the company that built the Titanic, details about the ship, information about the recovery of bodies after the sinking, how local families memorialized members who lost their lives after the tragedy, as well as Titanic’s impact on popular culture.

Free and open to the public, the exhibit runs through May 12.

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