Bird’s Eye View
Jan was sound asleep in his bed when the ship he was sailing on began to vibrate violently, jolting him awake. He and the five other men in his berth awoke to find the ship fully lit, and a cold chill enveloping the room. Strangely, the heat was off and the ship was travelling faster than it ever had in the three days since it left port. His room was usually quiet but on this night he could hear a loud commotion in the boiler room. Urgent voices yelled back and forth a midst raucous clanging and banging.
Jan sprang to his feet and made his way to the deck where he joined dozens of other curious passengers and where the awful truth was soon made apparent. Another passenger ship had sunk in the frigid waters, and the Carpathia was hurriedly making its way to the rescue.
It was not unusual for Slovaks such as Jan Bohuš to travel back and forth from North America to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 1900’s. Nearly all of the 550 trans-Atlantic passengers on the Carpathia’s third class roster that night were “birds of passage,” more migrant workers than immigrants who had originally come from impoverished villages in Central Europe to find work in the United States, and who were traveling back home to visit family laden with a few goods and some hard earned cash. Most fully intended to eventually move back to their villages, and to settle down on land bought with money earned in the slave-like conditions of the mines and factories of the States. Most never did.
Crew members scurried around the ship, preparing rooms for survivors, collecting blankets, preparing soup and hot drinks, and turning the dining rooms into makeshift hospitals. Jan and the other passengers were moved together in a group, away from the hectic activities.
At 4am, the Carpathia’s engines were cut off, and a dead silence descended. Passengers on deck along with the crew strained to see something, anything, in the water around them. Finally a crew member saw a green glow coming from a flare in a lifeboat, and the ship carefully made its way towards the light. Ten minutes later Jan watched as the first survivor was hoisted onto the Carpathia; over the next four and a half hours, 711 more would be pulled aboard.
There wasn’t enough food on board for the Carpathia to continue on its way to Fiume, Hungary (now Rijeka, Croatia) with all the additional passengers, and so the ship turned around and four days later pulled back into the the Hudson River port in NYC.
Jan and the other third class passengers hung out on the ship for the next few days, enjoying three good meals a day in their own private dining room and freshly washed sheets each day; life was better on the ship than on land for most of these passengers. Finally the Carpathia set sail again, and enjoyed an uneventful voyage to Hungary.