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Aired February 15, 1999

Rescue at Sea

Film Description

On January 23, 1909, two ships--one carrying Italian immigrants to New York, the other American tourists to Europe--collided in a dense fog off Nantucket Island. In an instant, more than 1,500 lives suddenly became dependent on a new technology, wireless telegraphy, and the efforts of a twenty-six-year-old wireless operator who bravely tapped out distress signals form his sinking ship.

"Rescue at Sea", a story of courage, luck and heroism. Produced by Ben Loeterman, the film features interviews with descendants of passengers and crew, recollections of the young hero, Jack Binns and surprising revelations of the connections between this event and a later disaster at sea: the "Titanic". David McCullough narrates, and Matthew Broderick provides the voice of Jack Binns.

Just before the turn of the century, a young Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, came to America to show off his new invention; a telegraph machine that didn't require wires. The editor of "The New York Herald", James Gordon Bennett, invited Marconi to demonstrate his new technology by relaying updates on the America's Cup yacht races off the coast of New Jersey to public bulletin boards outside the "Herald's" midtown offices. What impressed Americans most, Marconi later said, was the extraordinary speed of his wireless. The news bulletins were sometimes less than thirty seconds behind the yachts.

Inspired by Marconi, boys throughout America were quick to try the new technology themselves. The young amateurs formed a club and convened their first meeting in New York on January 2, 1909. They were "the hackers of the early twentieth century," according to historian Susan Douglas. Books like "The Radio Boys" and "Tom Swift and His Wireless Message" celebrated the heroism and adventure of young boys who put on their earphones and took to "the great void." Hundreds of young men signed up to learn Morse code and become wireless operators, a select fraternity that called themselves "Marconi men."

Jack Binns became a Marconi man when he was twelve years old. By the age of twenty-six, he was working for the fledgling Marconi Wireless Company, which leased Binn's services to the White Star passenger line. In 1909, Binns was assigned to the "Republic", a transatlantic steamship loaded with luxurious amenities--deck chairs, on-board barber shops, even a wireless telegraphy cabin. For up to two hundred miles, passengers could send and receive personal greetings via wireless, track the latest stock quote, or learn the news of the day. "Wireless was initially perceived as a frivolity," notes historian John Maxtone-Graham, "a reassurance to passengers who might want the latest refinement." It was not thought of as a safety feature.

The seven hundred people aboard the "Republic" included Eugene and Mary Lynch of Boston, who were on their way to Sicily, the site of a recent devastating earthquake. A deck below the Lynches were Henry and Hallie Davis, grandchildren of a wealthy West Virginia senator, who were making the annual family trek to Europe.

On the evening of January 22 at eleven o'clock, the "Republic" was steaming through thick fog near the Nantucket lightship, a dangerous intersection known as the Times Square of the Atlantic, where up to two dozen ships crossed each night. As the fog thickened, the "Republic's" forty-eight-year-old captain, Inman Sealby, left the wheelhouse to listen for the whistle of a nearby unknown ship. As the sound drew closer, Sealby ordered a port, or left, turn and signaled the other vessel to do the same.

The other vessel was the "Florida", in the final hours of her ten-day journey carrying 850 passengers--most of them survivors of the earthquake in Sicily--to a new life in America. Twenty-eight-year-old Angelo Ruspini was making his second transatlantic crossing as the "Florida's" captain. "The 'Republic's' form materializes out of nowhere," says historian Charles Haas. "Captain Ruspini realizes that something is drastically wrong, and there isn't any way of avoiding it." At 5:47 on the morning of January 23, the ships collided. The impact crushed "Florida's" bow like a broken nose, but she was less damaged than the "Republic", which began to sink at the rate of one foot an hour. Young Hallie Davis recalled: "In about five minutes a man in charge of the stateroom came with a candle, and we dressed hurriedly, and all went on deck. This was the last we ever saw of our staterooms, our baggage and my teddybear." The "Republic's" passengers were transferred to the "Florida", where Captain Ruspini had to use extremely forceful measures to quell threats of rioting.

Meanwhile, it would take Jack Binns nearly an hour to make his way several decks below to retrieve the auxiliary batteries that would allow him to operate his equipment and contact the wireless station on Nantucket, forty-seven miles away. Binns transmitted a message from Captain Sealby that opened with the letters C-Q-D, code for "seeking you--danger!" His urgent tappings marked the first real test of wireless to effect a rescue at sea.

Over the next twenty-four hours, Binns fought the bitter Atlantic cold, transmitting message after message, listening to see if any ships had picked up the "Republic's" distress call. Upon learning that a White Star sister ship, the "Baltic", was within sending range, his next message read, "I'm on the job, but the ship is sinking faster."

Binns left his wireless equipment to stand on the "Republic's" deck, in the hopes of hearing bombs the "Baltic" was setting off to indicate her position. "He heard it," says Binns granddaughter, Virginia Utermohlen, "because his ear was so strained to faint sounds coming through the telegraph he could actually tell where the "Baltic" was and what direction it was". Binns ran back to the wireless cabin and relayed steering instructions to the "Baltic." "The last letter had scarcely sputtered out by the wheezy spark," he later wrote, "when the lights of the "Baltic" loomed up. It was the grandest sight that tired eyes ever saw!"

It took eighty-three boatloads to ferry the more than 1,500 passengers and crew of the "Republic" to the "Baltic". Never before had so many people been transferred on the high seas without a single loss of life. By Sunday morning, they were done. Two more rescue ships arrived and tried to tow the "Republic", but it was obvious to Binns the ship was lost. From the rescue boat, Binns relayed his last message: "White Star Line, New York. "Republic" sunk. All hands saved." America had discovered a new hero.

Binns became an instant celebrity. He was offered contracts to perform vaudeville, mobbed by chorus girls at the Hippodrome, and became the subject--much to his chagrin--of a movie short. What he wanted was a federal law requiring wireless on ships, but his testimony before Congress was ignored. In April 1912, Binns was assigned the wireless post on another White Star Liner, the "Titanic." Personal circumstances intervened; he had fallen in love. More than 1,500 lives were lost on the "Titanic," the same number that, three years earlier Jack Binns had helped to save.


Ben Loeterman

Liz Carver
Nancy Fraser

James Rutenbeck

David McCullough

Brian Keane

Katha Seidman

James Callanan
Stephen McCarthy
Mead Hunt
Ed Matney

Tom Williams
Merce Williams
Ted Golbuff
J.T. Takagi

Paul Mitcheltree  
Jill Tufts

Ian Campbell
Patrick Ruth
Steve Kaye

Tony Campenni

Danica Chipman
Bill Hardwick
Laura Phelan

Susan Anderson
Jeannie Kimber

Fred Wade

Matthew Broderick
Stephanie Castellarin
Paul Guilfoyle

Performed by The Cornell University Glee Club Hangovers
Arranged by Adam I. Farouk

Der Scutt
John Maxtone-Graham
Susan Douglas

Cinda Elser

Arda Collins

Deepa Donde
Emily Gersh 
David Waldman

Greg Connors

Greg McCleary

Geof Thurber
Deb Driscoll
Jeff Frez-Albrecht


Berle Cherney 

Bob Oliver

Rachel Lipman
Joy Conley
James Walker

Archive Films
Bob DeFlores Film Archives
Florentine Films
John E. Allen
Library of Congress
National Archives and Records Administration
National Geographic
Scottish Film and Television Archive
Sveriges Television, Film and Video Sales
WPA Film Library

Richard Faber
Dr. Jack Dizer
Maurizio Eliseo
Joan and John Mooney
Lee Norton
Virginia Utermohlen

Boston Athenaeum
Boston Public Library
Brown Brothers
Culver Pictures
Harvard Map Collection
Library of Congress
Marconi Electronic Systems, Ltd.
The Mariners Museum
Radio Club of America
Peabody Essex Museum
Steamship Historical Society of America
Underwood Photo Archives
Watchorn Memorial Methodist Church


Marven Moore & Fred Cox

Bob & Nancy Merriam

Lori Newmyer & Ed McCabe

The Binns Family
Mike Cicalese
John Cullity
John Dorsey
Jack Eaton
Elizabeth Guildford
Charles Haas
Carl House
Claudia Jew
Mike Katzdorn
Sister Joseph Marie McManus
Jerry Minter
Scott Stanton
John Ward
Christine Whittaker

The Gibson House Museum, Boston
Hull Fire Dept., Capt. Nick Russo
Hull Harbormaster Mike Nicholson 
Monmouth, N.J. County Park System  
Mass. Metropolitan District Commission 
Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation
Society of Wireless Pioneers 
Take 2 Photo Imaging
Twin Lights Museum
U.S. Coast Guard, Group Boston
Veteran Wireless Operators Association


Frank Capria
Maureen Barden

James Dunford

William B. McCullough
Merce Williams
Chas Norton
Tom Doran

Alison Kennedy
Chris Pullman

Lizard Lounge Graphics, Inc.

Mark Steele

Charles Kuskin

Michael Bacon

Christine Larson

Nancy Farrell
Helen R. Russell

Danielle Dell'Olio

Daphne B. Noyes 
Johanna Baker

Susan Mottau

Joseph Tovares

Mark Samels

Margaret Drain

A Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc. film
for The American Experience

(c)1999 WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved


Hello, I'm David McCullough. Welcome to The American Experience.

Our film is a sea story -- of two ships on the North Atlantic bound in opposite directions the winter of 1909, three years before the voyage of the "Titanic".

One ship was the "Republic", of the famous White Star Line, with 742 aboard, counting passengers and crew. The other, the "Florida", carried even more, making in all 1,500 people. What happened was extraordinary...

Living in the age we do, we think of transportation and communication as separate and different things. But until comparatively recent times, they were one and the same. Until the nineteenth century, nothing could be communicated any distance any faster than a rider on horseback or a ship crossing the sea. And even with the invention of the telegraph and the telephone, ships at sea were out of touch for days, once out of sight of land. They were alone, isolated. If a ship was in trouble, if a ship went down, nobody knew. 

It was the invention of the wireless that brought the great change that figured so dramatically in events off Nantucket the morning of January 23, 1909.

When introduced, wireless was considered a luxury, not essential to safety and ships were not required to carry it.

Like the "Titanic", the "Republic" lies now at the bottom of the ocean. Yet how many today have heard of her, or the story of wireless operator Jack Binns, one of the most celebrated heroes of his day.

"Rescue at Sea" by producer Ben Loeterman.

The earth has always trembled under southern Italy. But never so fiercely as on the morning of December 28, 1908 when an earthquake unlike any other brought entire cities to the ground. 

It was called the worst calamity of modern times.  
Initial reports of 20,000 dead were quickly revised to ten times that number.

With nowhere to go, survivors boarded steamships organized by the government for a one-way trip to america.  

On January 10, the S.S. "Florida" sailed from naples with 850 passengers and a cargo of dried macaroni.

She would be commanded by 28-year-old Angelo Ruspini, who was making his second Atlantic crossing as her captain.  

Moments before setting sail, 14-year-old Salvatore D'Amico, who'd lost his entire family in the quake, begged to join the "Florida's" crew.  

Ruspini, against his better judgment, agreed to take him on board.

The "Florida's" passengers were involuntary emigrants traveling in steerage. They set off for america carrying little more than the hope of a better life.

Two weeks later, twenty friends gathered in boston for a far more elegant farewell.

They had come to send off Eugene Lynch, a respected businessman, and his wife mary, who were bound for Italy aboard the S.S. "Republic". It would be their first trip abroad.  

Boston papers reported the evening's centerpiece was a scale model of the "Republic", a White Star liner, fully rigged with the American and Italian colors flying.  

The Lynches had their doubts about the voyage, having heard it was bad luck to set sail on a Friday.  

But the dinner guests assured them there was nothing to worry about. 


In 1909 passenger lines competed to attract new transAtlantic travelers like the Lynches. Lines like White Star and Cunard promoted either top speed or deluxe service. 

It's very rare on the North Atlantic that you had one ship that answered both necessities, that it be fast and it be extremely luxurious. You either built for dispatch or deluxe. Cunard went after the speed.  

White Star renounced the idea of speed. They thought, leave that to
the Cunards and we'll go for comfort. And they used to say that you'd spend six days at sea, but you would have so much more comfortable a ship, it would be worth it.

In addition to steamer chairs and on-board barber shops, White Star now added a new amenity, called wireless.

On a growing number of liners, makeshift cabins sprouted up to house the device . For up to 200 miles, passengers could now send and receive personal greetings, track the latest stock quote, or read the news of the day sent by wireless telegraph and printed on board.

Wireless, initially I think was perceived ah more as a frivolity almost, ah a luxury, a reassurance to passengers who might want the latest refinement just as a driver of new car would want automatic shift. This was in a sense sort of automatic shift of shipboard. This was another ah more gilt, gingerbread on the whole creation that you could get on a ship that was in communication with the shore.

By 1909 wealthy Americans had discovered the cruise. They flocked to Europe, to broaden their education, present young debutantes at court, or simply escape the nasty winter. 

The Lynches of boston were looking forward to the next two months.  

Mary Lynch planned a roman holiday.  

Eugene Lynch wanted to visit the recent earthquake site in Sicily with his friend, the journalist James Connolly.

The Lynches had booked a choice 1st-class stateroom, #34, on the uppermost "saloon" deck. Connolly was staying on a lower deck, in smaller 2nd class quarters. 

He had just been assigned to write an exclusive for the New York Herald about the U.S. navy's relief effort in  Sicily.

Next door to the Lynches was the North Dakota banker William James Mooney, known to his friends as W.J. Mooney, who was hoping to mix business and pleasure , was traveling with his new 2nd wife, Oakella. 

I really think she was the ringleader behind this trip. And ah, I am sure that W.J. was all for another trip around ah Italy in the middle of North Dakota winters. I know I would be.

Below the Lynches were Henry and Hallie Davis, grandchildren of a wealthy West Virginia senator, they were making the annual trek to Europe. 

They were able to go to Europe, travel around, everybody with means did it. 

An inveterate snooper, 10-yr-old Hallie happened past the odd-looking cabin on deck, occupied by a young wireless operator.
The operator was 26-yr-old Jack Binns, whose services were leased to the steamship by the fledgling Marconi Wireless Company

He showed her the whole thing and she was fascinated. It was called a wireless and it didn't have any wires that she could see. And then I do remember her saying something about lightning. It must have sent some kind of lightning effect. But I may be wrong on that.

The "Republic's" route Friday evening took her up the coast of long island and past Nantucket before heading out to open sea. She would steam through the crowded waters near Nantucket lightship, known as the times square of the Atlantic. With up to 2 dozen ships crossing the dangerous intersection each night, east- and westbound lanes were established on either side of the lightship, 30 miles apart.  

At about eleven that night, the journalist James Connolly heard the ship's foghorn and went out on the freezing deck.

CONNOLLY voice: 
I studied the black water sliding past at full speed, and I wasn't liking it. I had been on steamers before on foggy nights-- but that was on the open ocean. Here was a ship traveling a narrow line for the 200 miles between Sandy Hook and Nantucket Lightship.

The foghorn had startled mary Lynch in her stateroom.

"I'm not a bit timid," she told her husband, "but it's dreadful to be racing along in this fog. It's as if we were walking blindfolded among a lot of trolley cars. Don't let the fog hurt me, will you, gene?"  

Jack Binns hardly noticed the fog. He would be up for several more hours, sending a flurry of farewell messages before moving out of range of the Marconi station at Siasconsett, on the tip of Nantucket. As the fog thickened, the "Republic's" 48-yr-old-captain, Inman Sealby, left the wheelhouse .

In very intense situations, where they could hear another vessel, captains would go out on the wing of a bridge and stop their ships, and just listen.

Captain Sealby hears very faintly through the fog the whistle of another ship. He doesn't know the identity of that ship. But he knows that this sound appears to be getting closer uh and he begins processing what his options are. 

Sealby decided to order a port, or left, turn, and sounded his whistle, signaling the unknown vessel to do the same. The unknown vessel was the "Florida", on the last day of her journey from Italy. The steamer had lost her way in the fog and was desperately searching for the Nantucket lightship.

On the "Florida", the quartermaster who was at the wheel may have actually inverted the order and instead of turning to port, turned to starboard. The "Republic's" form materializes out of the fog. Captain Ruspini probably realizes that something is drastically wrong and at this point there really isn't any way of avoiding it.

It was 5:47, saturday morning, January 23. 

Binnsy was asleep in his cabin, all the last messages were sent--good-bye greetings, love letters uh and notes about the stock market and uh he had just gone to sleep when this incredible crashing came through and grinding like -- he said it was like an earthquake, he was thrown from his bed, found himself soaking wet on, on the floor with pieces of his cabin sitting all around him.... His biggest problem was to find the parts of his apparatus and to insure that they could work.

It would take Jack Binns nearly an hour to make his way several decks below and fish out auxiliary batteries to get his equipment running again.  

Without ship's power, Binn's sending range was cut to barely 60 miles. His only hope was to reach the wireless station at Siasconsett, by now 47 miles away. 

It was bitter cold when he first went to go see Captain Sealby. Captain Sealby in fact told him not to be afraid and he said, "Oh sir, I'm, I'm, I'm not afraid it's just that it's so called my teeth are shattering -- chattering and I'm, I'm shivering but I'm not really afraid." And indeed I don't think he really was.

Binns took sealby's message back to his cabin.  
It would become the first real test of wireless 
To effect a rescue at sea. 

BINNS voice:  
"CQD! CQD! Here is MKC! MKC shipwrecked. "Republic" rammed by unknown steamship. Twenty-six miles southwest of Nantucket Lightship. Badly in need of immediate assistance. Sealby

He prayed the message would be heard.

Before wireless, communication between ship and shore was limited to as far as the eye could see.

Imagine going out in a ship and all you have are semaphores and homing pigeons. Once you can no longer see the shore, you are incommunicado. Nothing until you get to the other shore. That's the situation that people confronted in the 1890s.  

Binn's hopes hung on a recent invention-- the work of a young Italian experimenter, Guglielmo Marconi.

Marconi was not a theoretically trained scientist, he was not a university person. He read and borrowed from, uh, the university trained scientists, but he tinkered. He was good at finding a particular device that would work as a transmitter, another particular device that would work as a receiver. If that receiver didn't work, he found something else to borrow from. 

To make it all work, Marconi had to create a spark big enough to generate electro-magnetic waves.

And the way Marconi generated that spark was by using something called a spark gap. And you've seen something that looks like this in Frankenstein movies, with these sparks radiating back and forth between these brass balls. Well, that's what Marconi used. And the way that he tried to moderate that was to make it conform to the Morse code. So the spark gap was connected through an induction coil to a telegraph key. And if you send out short bursts, those were dots, and if you sent out long bursts, those were dashes. And they would travel through the electromagnetic spectrum, what people mistakenly call the air, and were received at a distance through a radio detector.

But a scientific breakthrough was not Marconi's goal. He hoped to make wireless make money. In the fall of 1899, he got his chance , courtesy of the New York Herald's editor, James Gordon Bennett

James Gordon Bennett heard about Marconi's goings on in Europe, sending messages without wire and at that time there was a yacht race, he thought gee, he was a -- he says I can, see if I can get Marconi to come over here to America and uh give us the scoop on who's winning the races that were going on off of Sandy Hook. 

Hearing that Bennett's invitation included a $5,000
Fee, Marconi was eager to put on a wireless demonstration that could also win him much needed publicity.

The newspaper men were asking him uh what are you going to do here in America? Is this thing going to work and so on? And uh he says uh I will be able to transmit without a doubt from so many miles at sea back to land and the copies will be in the newspaper just in a matter of minutes. And people looked at this and they couldn't believe this and they felt he was a little bit of a young fellow, he was a young fellow about 20 years old or 19 at the time and they felt he was a little bragging a little bit too much.

Marconi walks with his contraptions, gets on board a ship, and begins following the yacht races for The Herald. And what he does is he wirelesses the progress of the yacht races back to The Herald headquarters in Manhattan. They immediately post the progress up on bulletin boards, so people can follow the progress of the yacht races almost instantaneously.

What impressed america most, Marconi later said, was the extraordinary speed of the technology.... The public was less than 75 seconds behind the yachts and in many cases less than 30. Young boys were quick to try it themselves.

Gee, now you can talk without wires. And I said boy Marconi I saw where he did this and he went further and further and further without wires and uh it, it, it felt to you like you were part of it. 

The young amateurs formed a club, and convened their first meeting in New York on jan 2, 1909. Boys like 17-year-old Frank King, from Manhattan. And Faitoute Munn, also 17, from New Jersey. And Harry Houk, 15, from Staten Island. And W.E.D. "Weddy" Stokes, who at the tender age of fourteen, became the club's first president.

The amateur operator was basically the hacker of the early twentieth century, and for a brief period he is greatly celebrated in popular culture. 

There were books like the radio boys series and tom swift and his wireless message, and magazine stories with titles like in Marconi land. They celebrated the heroism and the adventures of young boys, who put on their earphones and took to what was called the great void.

By the hundreds, young men signed up to learn morse code and become wireless operators.

The young Marconi operators really were sort of a very select fraternity And there was a wonderful convention they had, they always interserted OM, which was old man, which is a sort of, uh, camaraderie greeting that they exchanged over the ether. 

They called themselves Marconi men, men like Jack Irwin, and Jack Binns

Binnsy became a Marconi man when he was 12 years old and uh first as a messenger boy. It was a very exciting job for him and because of the camaraderie of all the other Marconi men who were so excited with this new technology.

Binns drew shipboard assignments with White Star, ending up on the "Republic". Jack Irwin, manned the station at Siasconsett, on Nantucket, the easternmost point of contact for sea traffic between New York and Europe. Working round the clock, its operators mostly relayed mundane greetings from passing ships. But their higher calling, they felt, was to be ready for a cqd.

CQ meant "seek you" or "seeking you," "I'm seeking you, are you out there? Is anybody out there?" And the D was added to stand for danger. So that it was meant to mean, I am seeking you, danger. 

Until the morning of January 23, 1909, no Marconi operator had ever sent such a signal

At 6:40 a.m. on saturday January 23, Jack Irwin was stoking his coal stove when suddenly he heard a loud crackle coming from his headphones....he started to take down the message. On board the "Republic", Jack Binns surveyed his wireless cabin and felt lucky to be alive.

BINNS voice: 
"The walls of my cabin splintered up and fell in. Had I been seated at the normal operating position, I would have been badly hurt in that mess." "While groping in the darkness, I knocked the key and broke it. I had to hold the lever with one hand so I could send messages with the other....."

"I could see nothing outside in the fog and darkness. I had no idea as to how badly our ship had been wounded or how long she might remain afloat.
Suddenly the sea is is pouring in uh, far faster than any of the ship's pumps can handle, and one of the engineers heroically turned on what was called an injector pump which actually helped to flood the boilers so that they wouldn't explode. So they literally had a matter of minutes before they were driven from their places. 

By the time they evacuated the engine room, the "Republic" was sinking at the rate of a foot per hour. But the brunt of the impact was taken decks above by the first class staterooms, on the saloon deck. "I heard a dreadful crash," said Eugene Lynch, "and a tremendous shock. Some huge object was tearing the room to pieces. It pushed broken timbers down on me that pinned me fast. I heard one scream from my wife. 'My God, Mary!' I shouted. There was no response."

You now have approximately seven hundred people, most of whom have been asleep suddenly awakened by the jar of the collision. They step out into the corridor, the friendly steward, isn't there, the lights are out, you can't ring for the steward to ask what the problem is. 

There were no lights. And you can imagine how traumatic that was for everybody including a ten-year-old child. Henry was terrified, her brother, but she was very calm throughout the whole thing.

"In about five minutes a man in charge of the staterooms came with a candle, and we dressed hurriedly, and all went on deck. This was the last we ever saw of our staterooms, our baggage and my Teddy Bear. I was very fond of my Teddy."

Two decks below was the journalist James Connolly.

"The noise of the bump came on our side of the ship. I hesitated between a black topcoat and a tan raincoat. I decided on the raincoat-- it would be foggy and greasy around the deck. I stuffed my notebooks into a pocket and hurried up the grand staircase."

"I could barely make out the rail stanchions and noticed six, maybe seven staterooms lay in ruins... My friends, the Lynches were berthed in one of those..."

"Passengers were coming running, women mostly, and most of them in scant clothing. Several spied me standing there and asked 'What's happened? What's happened? To which I had one answer: 'Nothing to worry about. Everything's going to be all right."  

"One woman dressed herself before everyone on deck, while her French maid stood by and looked on."

"Several men felt themselves lucky to have a woman's petticoat around their shoulders and a few women did not hesitate to don trousers and men's shoes."

Jack Binns was beginning to realize the fate of two ships and 1500 people lay in his hands. As he struggled with his sending key, the ship's crew tried to maintain order on deck. They brought up steaming coffee, and sandwiches. Some of the stewards brought up whiskey and drinks were served. Forty minutes after the crash, Captain Sealby sought to reassure the nervous passengers. "i want to advise you," he said, "the steamer has been injured in a collision. We are in no immediate danger, but prudence dictates that you be transferred to the vessel which struck us."

And then he makes a rather classic statement, he says remember, it is women and children first, then the first cabin passengers, and then all the others. Uh so you actually have class distinction being followed very rigidly on the "Republic" 

"It will take some time," sealby said, "and I expect that you will be cool and not excited, take your time in getting into the lifeboats. The crew will be the last to leave this ship."

What now begins is a whole series of of ferryings from the, the "Republic" to the "Florida" which has luckily come back into view

There had been no word from the "Florida" since the crash. The impact with the "Republic" had crushed her bow like a broken nose, killing 3 of her crew in an instant. She was holding water better than the "Republic", but her passengers were threatening to riot.

The passengers on board the "Florida" were not able to cope with this major disaster that's now at hand coming on top of uh what they'd already experienced in the earthquake. And panicked. Captain Ruspini was obliged to break out arms and to use extremely forceful measures uh to maintain order.

It was now 7:15 on saturday, an hour and a half after the collision. Working in the dark, Binns was listening to see if other ships might have heard Jack Irwin's call from Siasconsett. 

Irwin had been trying all morning to guide other ships to the stricken vessel. Of the seven ships he had reached, the closest to the "Republic" was the "Baltic", 90 miles away. She headed straight for the sinking ship.  

2 hours later, the "Baltic" was within range of Binns. 

He sent another message to Siasconsett, "i'm on the job," he said, "but the ship is sinking faster."

This was overheard by the wireless man in the "Baltic" who said, "Don't worry old man, we're bursting our boilers to get to you." 


BINNS voice: 
"The cold was intense, chilling me through and through. I could barely feel my hands, and finally had to put on gloves. My steward had succeeded in scrounging a bottle of Scotch whiskey. I do not think I ever tasted anything so refreshing in my life. Throughout the rest of the day I slowly sipped that whisky a few drops at a time.

At daybreak, the transfer to the "Florida" began.

I think that my mother's reaction to what has to have been panic, chaos, all of this drama mixed together, my mother seemed to just be fascinated and just almost taking it in as though it were a movie.

With air and sea temperatures hovering near freezing, passengers began boarding the lifeboats. A critically injured Eugene Lynch was lowered by stretcher. Binns was meant to leave with the rest of the crew, but insisted on staying behind with Captain Sealby and a handful of officers.

Also staying behind was Father John Norris, who had taken it upon himself to search for any remaining passengers.

When he reached the point of impact near the staterooms on the saloon deck, he paused... >

Father Norris realized that Mooney had to be somewhere behind the couch, and with tremendous effort, he cleared the way to get to W.J. Reports say that W.J. was terribly mutilated. Ah some reports said that he was partially dismembered. In any event W.J. Mooney was still alive when Father Norris got to him.

"I had found Mr. Mooney in a frightful condition, "Norris wrote. "I then reached Mrs. Lynch and ministered to her. She seemed to be conscious. Before I left them, both were dead."

By 11am, the "Republic" was listing badly. Binns knew the "Baltic" had to be close, and again relayed the "Republic's" coordinates to the "Baltic's" operator, Henry Tattersall.

But Tattersall wasn't the only one listening. All along the east coast, young amateurs tuned in to the drama unfolding out at sea. They were soon joined by curious reporters.

As the news spread across the country, Siasconsett was flooded with inquiries, jamming the air to the point where Binns and Tattersall could barely hear each other.

Throughout the afternoon, Binns relayed the "Republic's" changing coordinates to the "Baltic" , somewhere out in the fog. By 4 pm, Tattersall's signal strength covinced Binns the "Baltic" was very close, but in which direction? 

Wireless is a long-range tool that you could use if you were in clear weather. You can find your position and you can communicate that position to another vessel--but you can't do that in thick fog, where you can't take a sighting, where you're dealing with two vessels moving through this thick pea soup, trying to find each other, and not finding each other with a crunch. So they used to use what were called bombs, explosives, that were set off, to communicate position.  

BINNS voice: 
"'Baltic', we can hear a bomb to the West of us. Is it you?
"'Baltic'. Steer northeast at once. 
"'Baltic'. There is a bomb bearing Northwest from me. Keep firing.  
"'Baltic'. Can hear your whistle faintly. You seem to be off our starboard bow.

With darkness falling, Binns began to lose hope.

Hour, after hour, after hour at the key Binns's hand was literally frozen in the position and he, he was just experiencing the greatest difficulty in, in just manipulating the key. And no food and no light and no heat, and Tattersall I think realized that, that the man at the other end of his signals was a, a man who was under a great deal of duress and he sent a lot of encouraging messages to, to keep Jack Binns going.

"We traveled 200 miles in a zigzag course, "recalled the "Baltic's" captain, "and all within an area of 10 square miles."  

"As fast as I could get to one point of latitude and longitude, the "Republic" would have drifted to another. "

Finally, the "Republic" used up all its bombs. The "Baltic" had only one left. 

They were finally down to the last bomb and they had everybody, the remaining crew that is on the "Republic" arrayed in a circle facing outward in the hope that when the last bomb on the "Baltic" went off, somebody could figure out what direction the sound was coming from. And so everybody strained to listen to that for that last bomb. But the only one who heard it was Binnsy and Binnsy heard it he said because his ear was so strained to faint sounds coming through the telegraph and that he could actually tell where it was and what direction it was.

BINNS voice:  
"I ran back to the wireless cabin and relayed the steering directions to the "Baltic". The last letter had scarcely sputtered out by the wheezy spark when the "Baltic", faintly outlined in the mist by her blazing lights, loomed up. It was the grandest sight that tired eyes ever saw! "  

The "Baltic" was a large ship ah with adequate cabin space, and more important public room space to ah embark these passengers on board. So they did, despite the fatigue and exhaustion of the passengers who had already achieved one mid-ocean transfer, to then ask them to submit to the same ordeal again. 

They started at midnight. It would take 83 boatloads to ferry the more than 1500 passengers and crew to the "Baltic".  

Never had so many people been transferred on the high seas without a single loss of life. And they had done it twice.

Only one passenger refused to go. Eugene Lynch badly injured, and suffering from the loss of his wife, said "if i've got to die," he said, "i would just as soon go down with the "Florida"." 

By sunday morning they were done. Two more rescue ships arrived and tried to tow the "Republic", but it was obvious to Binns the ship was lost. 

BINNS voice:  
"I was just about to go to the bridge when 4th officer Morrow made his way toward me with Sealby's message: "I think we are going to abandon ship." 

But sealby himself refused to go. He went down with the ship, only to bob up to the surface, miraculously unharmed. From the rescue boat Binns relayed his last message: "White Star line, New York: "Republic" sunk. All hands saved. Sealby."

Until now, newspapers had printed what few details of the disaster they could pick up from Siasconsett. Now they clamored for a first person account. As the "Baltic" entered New York harbor, James Connolly had just what they wanted.

CONNOLLY voice: 
"A whistle came from a steamer and a voice hailed to ask if a James B. Connolly was aboard. The voice said, "I'm Smith, of the New York Herald." I wrapped my thousand word dispatch in tarpaulin and hove it overboard. It led a special edition of the Herald, in bold type on the front page."

Having learned of the drama in the sunday papers, thousands came out to greet the "Baltic". Like many relatives of those on board the "Republic", john Mooney Jr, caught a train after seeing an early newspaper report. Only at the pier did he and the Lynches' relatives learn the full story.

My father was gratified, joyous that there were survivors, but a very heavy heart that um W.J. uh lost his life as did Mrs. Lynch buried at sea. And uh there was not a great deal that John Mooney could do about a situation as final as that. 

As one New York paper reported, it was the only grief to be noticed.

No one came sunday afternoon to greet the "Florida". Four hours after she arrived, shipwrights discovered the three bodies that had been crushed in the initial collision.  

Among them, was Salvatore D'Amico, the boy who had begged his way aboard.

Near death, Eugene Lynch was carried from the "Florida". He had two last requests: a brandy, and that a medal be presented to the ship's wireless operator.

America had discovered a new hero, and his name was Jack Binns. 

The crowds were incredible. He had a ticker tape parade, and he was astonished, frightened in a way by this because for him he'd simply done his duty.


UTERMOHLEN: "There's a hole in the side of the ship, Jack Binns, the captain above him cried. Give a message at once to the wandering winds. Ay, ay sir, Jack Binns replied. The captain was brave but braver was he who sat in his room with his hand on the key...and steadily sounded his CQD to people there somewhere outside.

"Jack Binns, Jack Binns, bravest of all the crew, Jack Binns, Jack Binns, the world loves and honors you!"

He was sought out for autographs, offered contracts to perform Vaudeville, even swarmed by chorus girls at the Hippodrome. 

He was offered all kinds of ways to profit from his heroism. He didn't want to do that. 

Instead, he watched as his story was turned into cheap entertainment by the Vitagraph Movie Company.

It was a very short film which purported to show him on the sending key and this upset him terribly

Binns had hoped to use his celebrity to champion wireless as an instrument of safety. He even testified before congress on behalf of a bill to mandate wireless coverage. Congress hailed Binns' bravery, but, he felt, ignored his testimony.

To become a caricature for Vitagraph, Binns decided, was the last straw. 

And so he sued Vitagraph and won the suit for invasion of privacy.

He returned to england to await his next posting. The public, he felt, had missed the point.

To those who read about it in the press, to those who found there was almost no loss of life at all apart from the collision. Ah it seemed then that this was a clean surgical rescue with none of the unpleasant death toll that would have tarnished. So any urgency or expediency Congress felt for instance to implement improvement in radio watch, to have people on duty on radio around the clock ah was stalled because the "Republic" made it seem too easy. 

The rescue had produced a hero, but it would take a disaster to produce real change. In april 1912, Jack Binns was assigned the wireless post on another White Star liner, the "Titanic". But personal circumstances intervened--he had fallen in love. More than 1,500 lives were lost on "Titanic", the same number that 3 years earlier, Jack Binns had helped to save.