CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — An auction house is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic by offering more than 180 pieces of memorabilia from the maritime tragedy, including a letter from the bandleader who chose to play on as the ship sank.
Wallace Hartley wrote home to his parents in England that the Titanic was a fine ship and that his band mates seemed very nice. He also wrote on the Titanic's letterhead stationery that he expected to be home soon.
The letter was mailed during one of two stops the Titanic made before it struck an iceberg 350 miles south of Newfoundland and sank April 15, 1912, leaving 1,517 dead. Survivors remember the band playing in the first-class lounge as passengers assembled there after the Titanic crashed into the iceberg and later on deck, as passengers boarded the lifeboats.
Witnesses in lifeboats reported seeing Hartley and his fellow musicians swept into the ocean.
Hartley, who was 36, wrote in part: "Just a line to say we have got away all right. It's been a bit of a rush but I am just getting a little settled. This is a fine ship & there ought to be plenty of money on her ... We have a fine band & the boys seem very nice."
He closed by saying, "I shall probably arrive home on the Sunday morning," and signed his letter, "With love to all, Wallace."
"I see documents and handwritten letters every day and that one just blows me away," said Bobby Livingston, vice president of Amherst-based RRAuction. "It's amazing to have the last letter home from the guy in the band that played on."
Livingston said he believes the Hartley letter will be the highlight of the online action. It's expected to fetch between $100,000 and $200,000. Bidding opens April 19 and closes April 26.
Also being auctioned is a pay slip issued to "able-bodied seaman" Frank Oliver Evans — a crew member who survived after helping load passengers into lifeboats. He was one of only 18 crew members who participated in the lifeboat drill on April 10, 1912 — the day the Titantic departed Southampton, England, bound for New York City.
Evans was paid for the six days he actually worked aboard the Titanic, but he also was given 26 days' bonus pay, presumably to compensate him for how long it took him to get back to England.
Livingston said Evans testified about the tragedy before a U.S. Senate investigative committee a week after the Titanic sank.
"He actually witnessed the Titanic break in two," Livingston said.
The auction house posted its auction preview online Friday. Included is a discharge paper signed by Titanic's commanding officer — Capt. Edward J. Smith — and issued 16 years before the Titanic sank. Smith at the time was commander of the S.S. Majestic, aboard which the discharged seaman had served.
Smith went down with the Titanic.
"We've been focusing on the 100th anniversary Titanic auction for the last nine months," Livingston said. "We were able to put together an incredible selection of stuff from 30 individual collectors all over the world."
"Titanic items are scarce and the tragedy still resonates, so there's a lot of interest," he said.