Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The "Just Missed It Club": Morgan and several friends suddenly decide not to board the Titanic

The following people booked passages on board the RMS Titanic for her maiden voyage across the Atlantic but each of them changed their minds and suddenly decided to pull out.

Why? Were they "just lucky"? Or were they warned not to go on board the Titanic?

It is certainly remarkable that some of the wealthiest members of the "just missed it" club have the following traits in common:  1) They are close associates and business partners of J.P. Morgan, 2) They made financial contributions to the 1912 election campaign for President William H. Taft, and 3) They are members of the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia, location of the notorious Jekyll Island meeting of 1910 at which Nelson Aldrich and several other Morgan associates conspired to create a Federal Reserve Bank.

Here's the list of lucky dogs who cleverly managed to miss a seat on the Titanic:

1. J.P. Morgan, owner of the Titanic, charter member of the Jekyll Island Club and mastermind behind the entire Federal Reserve Bank scheme.

Morgan reportedly stayed behind "when he was given the opportunity to view and purchase a rare set of medieval tapestries outside Chartres, France." He telegraphed, "Business will deny me the pleasure of being one of the first to cross on the finest vessel of the IMM."

Later, when interviewed by reporters after the sinking, he told the New York Times correspondent “Monetary losses amount to nothing in life. It is the loss of life that counts. It is that frightful death.”

According to Henry H. Klein's 2005 book Dynastic America and Those Who Own It (p. 126) , Morgan was a major contributor to the 1912 presidential campaign of William Howard Taft.  If elected, Taft had apparently agreed to help Morgan & Co. push their Federal Reserve plan through Congress.

According to Henry Klein's research:

"Charles P. Taft admitted that he spent $214,000 for his brother, and testified that among the contributors to his brother's campaign fund were John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Pierre DuPont, Harry Payne Whitney, Henry C. Frick, Daniel G. Reid, Oliver H. Payne,  George F. Baker, William H. Moore, William H. Childs, Joseph E. Widener, and E.T. Stotesbury.  Every one of these contributors is a controlling factor in monopoly."

One might add that the list also reads like a Who's Who of Jekyll Island Club members and Morgan business partners.

2. Henry Clay Frick, a Pittsburgh steel baron and close associate of J.P. Morgan, had booked on the Titanic but suddenly found himself indisposed.

Frick was a member of the Jekyll Island Club and a generous contributor to the 1912 campaign to re-elect President William H. Taft.

Newspapers once called Frick "the most hated man in America" because of the brutality with which he used Pinkerton agents and the Pennsylvania state militia to break the 1892 Homestead Strike at Andrew Carnegie's steel mills in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

In 1901, Frick played a central role in brokering a massive merger between Carnegie and Morgan steel interests. All of the merged companies rolled into one became the U.S. Steel Corp.  By 1912, Taft and his federal agents had brought a massive anti-trust lawsuit against U.S. Steel, claiming that it was a monster-sized monopoly that needed to be busted.

When Andrew Carnegie took the stand, he blamed all the dirty deals and back-room politics that made the U.S. Steel merger possible on Frick. The lawyers took a stick to Frick, and in January 1912, Mr. and Mrs. Frick sailed to Europe for a long vacation.

Quentin R. Skrabec's 2010 biography Henry Clay Frick: The Life of the Perfect Capitalist (p. 206) tells us: "In early 1912, Frick and family (Adelaide and Helen) made an extensive four-month European trip, which also included a visit to Egypt.  His friend J. Horace Harding, an art collector and financial advisor, accompanied them.  Harding was a partner of J.P. Morgan and Frick's New York neighbor.  They had become friends because of their shared interest in art and flowers. They also served on a number of boards including the Tobacco Products Corporation. J. Horace Harding would become a director of the Frick Collection after Henry Clay's death.

"The party also included Helen's friend Francis Dixon and Egyptologist George Reisner of Harvard.  Frick had recently helped fund Reisner's explorations, and Reisner would be an excellent guide for the family.  J.P. Morgan was also on a collecting and business trip in Europe, and they would meet briefly.  The tour included Rome, the Vatican, and Pompeii."

Note: The Fricks, the Hardings, the Astors and Margaret T. "Molly" Brown were all on the same tour of Egypt just prior to the Titanic disaster.  They seem to have returned via Paris, and J.P. Morgan was in or around Paris at the same time, allegedly trying to arrange for the shipment of his tapestries to the United States.

Margaret Brown and her daughter Helen stayed at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.  When Margaret received a telegram at the hotel desk informing her that her grandson in California was sick, she decided on impulse to board the Titanic along with the Astors.  Helen Brown wanted to accompany her mother, but her friends in Paris begged her to stay.

Strangely, after Titanic had sunk and Margaret arrived in New York, she learned from her perplexed son that the grandson in question "had not been sick a single day." The telegram was mistaken.

The Astors and Molly Brown boarded Titanic at Cherbourg, France, as did Benjamin Guggenheim and journalist William T. Stead.

The Fricks and the Hardings, however, suddenly made other plans. Frick told reporters that he had to cancel his trip on Titanic when he learned that his wife, Adelaide, had sprained her ankle in Italy.

3.  J. Horace Harding of Philadelphia and New York, was a J.P. Morgan partner, railroad investor and director of the C.P. Barney Banking empire (later called Smith-Barney). Harding was a stout Republican, a 1912 supporter of Taft for president, and his wife Dorothea Barney Harding  is listed as a member of the Jekyll Island Club.  Mr. Harding himself joined the Jekyll Island Club in 1916.

The Hardings were art collectors  "who had toured Egypt with the Fricks."  Initially they booked the Titanic parlor suite that J.P. Morgan himself had abandoned, Suite B 52/54/56.  But the Hardings abruptly cancelled when they "managed to book an earlier trip back" on board the Mauretania -- a Cunard line ship not owned by Morgan. The parlor suite was then reserved for the White Star Line's executive director, J. Bruce Ismay.

The source of the Harding family's wealth is something of a mystery.  There is no doubt the family were very wealthy indeed. The Hardings had four children, Charles, Catherine, Laura and William Harding and a short sketch of Laura B. Harding, found in William J. Mann's 2007 biography Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn (page 149), gives us more detail:

"Laura Harding grew up in a six-story town house at 955 Fifth Avenue filled with gilded Louis XV antiques, Chinese porcelain vases, and paintings by such 18th-century masters as Joshua Reynolds, Henry Raeburn, and Thomas Gainsborough . . . . Laura Barney Harding was born in June 1902 at her family's estate on Philadelphia's Main Line.  Her mother, Dorothea Barney, was the granddaughter of Jay Cooke, the banker known as "the financier of the Civil War" for his handling of U.S. war bonds.  Cooke's daughter married Charles Barney, who founded the brokerage firm that later became Smith-Barney; Laura's father, J. Horace Harding, would serve as senior partner for the firm.

"Horace would, in fact, serve as director for many companies . . . .  No matter where it came from, J. Horace Harding's wealth was considerable; at his death the New York Times estimated it as 'running into millions.' "

The book Trust Companies of the United States (Audit Company of New York, 1913) lists J. Horace Harding on page 280 as a director of the Metropolitan Trust Co. of the City of New York and the Columbia-Knickerbocker Trust.

The Knickerbocker Trust was at the epicenter of the great Wall Street Panic of 1907, during which Knickerbocker's president Charles T. Barney  failed in his efforts to corner the copper market.  Barney begged J.P Morgan for a loan to cover his losses.  Morgan refused, and Barney then blew his brain out on 14 November 1907.

The result was a run on the Knickerbocker bank, and when Knickerbocker failed, there was mass panic on the Street and a run on many banks. This was the series of tragic events that prompted Morgan and his friends on Wall Street to "rescue" the banks by buying them up.

In early 1908 Morgan's crowd began calling for the creation of a National Reserve Association or Federal Reserve. Many people on the Street and in the press were less than sympathetic, wondering out loud how the hell Morgan had become so powerful that he could buy up half the banks that failed in the panic.  They suspected that the "National Reserve Association" plan was simply Part II in an effort to monopolize the entire banking market.

When Taft won the election of 1908 and began filing anti-trust lawsuits right and left, Morgan and his friends put their Federal Reserve plan on hold.  They got it rolling again in January 1912, after four years of "research" in Europe and after cutting a deal with Taft.

In late 1912, the Columbine Trust bought up Knickerbocker's remaining assets and brought onto the new trust's board of directors J. Horace Harding. He was, after all, the son-in-law of Charles T. Barney, the late lamented head of Knickerbocker Trust, and as director of the C.D. Barney Bank firm,  J. Horace was clearly placed on the board to represent the Barney family's interests.

In 1914, J. Horace Harding became a director of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, according to the Electric Railway Journal, vol. 44, p. 642.  Electric railways were a major part of the Morgan empire.  It didn't hurt that J. Horace was also the President of the Northwestern Power Company, which held all the stock for the Great Northern Power Company. 

In 1916 Harding is listed as an officer of J.P. Morgan's Guarantee Trust Co and a stock investor in the Chicago Great Western Railroad, a railroad that J.P. Morgan bought up and "reorganized" in 1909.

Moody's Manual of Investments for 1917 lists J. Horace Harding as a director of the American Express Corporation (sitting across the boardroom table from Cornelius Vanderbilt and William Vincent Astor, son of the same John Jacob Astor IV who died on Titanic).

The Guarantee Trust Co. was at the heart of J.P. Morgan's financial empire, and each of the railroads mentioned was associated with Morgan's railroad empire.  It is therefore safe to say that Harding was a close associate of J.P. Morgan and a key player in many of Morgan's schemes, especially those dealing with banks, electric railways, and the plans to create a Federal Reserve system.

4. George Washington Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, found themselves unable to board the Titanic after a little bird whispered something in their ears.

Mrs. Vanderbilt said her sister, Susan Dresser, had vehemently opposed their boarding Titanic on the grounds that "The first trip of any ship is dangerous."  A conflicting story says that George's mother cabled him to avoid the Titanic since "Maiden voyages are always so troublesome with crowds and media." Supposedly an obedient son, George complied with her wishes.

Vanderbilt was the millionaire owner of the Biltmore Estate, and his family ran a colossal empire of shipping and railroad interests that overlapped with J.P. Morgan's empire. His network had excellent intelligence sources.

Perhaps one should also note that George's older brother, William K. Vanderbilt, was a founding member of the Jekyll Island Club, and joined in the same year as J.P. Morgan (1886).

5. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, the son of George Washington Vanderbilt and heir to the Vanderbilt family's vast shipping and railroad empire.  He "canceled his passage on the Titanic so late that some early newspaper accounts listed him as being on board."

Alfred Vanderbilt lived on to become one the most celebrated casualties of the Lusitania sinking three years later, in April 1915.

6. Robert Bacon, the American ambassador to France.

7.  David Blair, Titanic's Second Officer, suddenly removed from the Titanic roster and moved to the RMS Olympic for unexplained reasons.  Blair left the ship's binoculars in a drawer in his state room, which is why the lookouts had no binoculars at the time of the ship's collision with the iceberg.

8. Gugliemo Marconi, Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy and winner of the 1909 Noble Prize in physics, was offered free passage on Titanic but took the Lusitania three days earlier.  Three years later, Marconi was on board the Lusitania in April 1915, on the voyage just before the one that was sunk by a German U-Boat

9. Milton Snavely Hershey, Chocolates millionaire from Pennsylvania.  His archive has records of a $300 check written December 1911 to White Star Line for passage on the Titanic, but pressing business required him to leave earlier on board the S.S. Amerika.

10.  Fr. Frank Browne, SJ, who was only a student at the time.  Browne's uncle, Robert Browne, was the Bishop of Cloyne and had given young Frank a nice graduation gift: A new camera and enough money to tour the continent. The trip included a free ticket to return to Ireland on board a luxury liner, the Titanic.  On April 12, Frank boarded the "Titanic Special" train at London's Waterloo Station, arrived at the dock and got on the big ship for its first leg, from Southampton to Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland.  Frank took lots of pictures of the beautiful rooms and people on the ship.  A wealthy couple on Titanic took a fancy to Frank, and they offered to pay his passage all the way to New York  City. But when he sent a telegraph to request permission to go to New York, his uncle the Bishop sent back the following stern reply:  "Get off that ship -- Provincial!" Fr. Brown lived to become a senior member of the Jesuit Order and a famous photographer.  His famous "last photos" of Titanic are some of the best we have, and they have been collected and published as a fancy coffee-table book.

11. Rev. Henry S. Nesbitt, his wife and five children

12. Rev. J. Stuart Holden, vicar of St. Paul's Church, Portman Square, London

13. Archbishop Thomas J. Madden of Liverpool

14.  Rev. J.S. Wardell Stafford, fraternal delegate of the Wesleyan Church of Great Britain

15.  Norman Craig, KC, MP

16. Hon. J. Conan Middleton

17.  Sir Charles Ross of Toronto

18. Col. J. Warren Hitchens

19.  Mr. and Mrs. J. Clifford Wilson and their daughters Dorothy and Edith

20.  Frank Kind, a Philadelphia jeweler,


Daugherty, Greg.  "Seven Famous People Who Missed the Titanic" Smithsonian Magazine, March 2012

Gutowski, Melanie Linn.  "Titanic's 'Just Missed It' Club An Elite Group," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 15 April 2012

Eaton, John P.  "Cancelled Passages Aboard Titanic," Voyage, 6 April 2008, from Encylopedia Titanica

Wikipedia: "Francis Browne"