Annie McGowan refused to talk about the events of RMS Titanic following its sinking on 15th April 1912. However, in 1984, the third class passenger, who was just 15 when she joined the new vessel on her maiden voyage, finally told her story to the world, after keeping her story to herself for 72 years.
The only people she would talk to about the fateful night was her grandchildren when they wrote book reports for school about RMS Titanic’s sinking. One of her grandchildren grew up to become a reporter, and she therefore chose to tell her story to the world’s press.
During the interview, she spoke of how she was harassed by the Chicago press when she emigrated from Ireland to the city: “When I came to Chicago, they would pester and pester me. My aunt just wouldn’t permit it.”
Annie travelled aboard RMS Titanic with her aunt, Margaret McGowan, joining the vessel at her stop at Queenstown, Ireland. Many people had already boarded the ship at her departure point, Southampton, England, and another stop at Cherbourg, France.
McGowan remembers how many passengers and crew felt towards RMS Titanic whilst she was travelling aboard the ship: “God or man could not sink this ship. I felt so sure of the safety, everybody did. Wealthy people had waited on lists to get on the ship”.
Annie McGowan was at an adult dance on 14th April 1912 when RMS Titanic struck an iceberg.
“I was at the party, and there were a bunch of drunks there, my aunt wanted me away from the party, but everyone was having so much fun.”
Annie never felt a jolt or heard a bump, but noticed officers and crew members running around the shop. Word quickly spread to Annie that the shop had hit an iceberg. Fearing for her safety, she asked a crew member if the ship could be saved, and he assured her there was no chance it could.
Despite the fact RMS Titanic struck an iceberg at 11.40pm, the first lifeboats were not lowered until 12.05am. Orders for women and children first were called, and Annie was the one of the first into a lifeboat.
“‘You take her, you take her’ they just grabbed me the way I was, wearing just a dress and shoes; they would not even let me take my purse. I was just numb and it was so cold out on the ocean.”
The lifeboat descended towards the water, and Annie began to worry about her Aunt, who she had been separated from amid the confusion.
“The whole time in the lifeboats, the crew just kept telling me ‘Don’t worry, your aunt is in a lifeboat on the other side and she’ll be alright.”
Annie also recalled how many women were traumatised by being torn apart from their husbands, as there were many newlywed couples onboard RMS Titanic.
“Women wouldn’t leave their husbands. They were screaming, and I could hear gunshots in the background. Apparently, some of the men had tried to dress like women in order to be rescued, and they were shot.”
Men also went to desperate measures to climb aboard a lifeboat, as Annie recalled one man saying: “‘Let me in or I’ll tip the whole lifeboat.’ Of course, we had to let him in”.
Aware that the suction from the sinking vessel would draw the lifeboats into her path, the crew ensured the lifeboat was as far away as possible from the ship.
Despite moving as far away as they could from RMS Titanic, the survivors in the lifeboat could still see RMS Titanic and hear the band still playing: “They just kept playing ‘Nearer, My God. My God , to Thee’. Then the ship just busted in half, and that’s when all the screaming started. It was just so terrible; I guess a boiler had bust”.
The temperature was a freezing 31 degrees, and Annie’s eyes had began to bleed from the salt water and wind by the time she was rescued by RMS Carpathia.
“By morning we were dripping wet. We were chilled, but the fright alone was enough to chill out bodies. I didn’t know if there was any chance. One ship had already refused to acknowledge the signals before the Carpathia came through. You don’t know how awful it was.”
Tragically, Annie never saw her Aunt Margaret again, as she believes that her lifeboat was sucked into the Titanic’s whirlpool when she sank.
“I am still upset because I don’t know what happened to my aunt. In the newspapers, when we got back, they had her listed as a survivor, but I can’t believe that.”
Annie also believes that there were many lies reported about RMS Titanic in some of the books she read in the past, and that many people don’t believe her when she claims to be a survivor of the event.
The maritime disaster understandably shook Annie McGowan, along with many of the other survivors, which left her with a fear of boats and aeroplanes.
“When I woke up after getting off the Carpathia, a sailor said, ‘Look! You can see the Statue of Liberty. Take a good look at the other side, because you will probably never go back there,’ and I said ‘You’ve got that right, I sure won’t.'”