Nautical map (Wikicommons)
he Titanic had been crossing the Atlantic for four days (of a total of six and a half days travel time) on its way to New York. The date was Sunday, April 13, 1912. Lights out in most of the cabins was at 11 p.m., except for the passengers who wanted to stay up and have a drink or play bridge. Card playing was generally banned on Sundays on the ships of the White Star Shipping Company, but an exception was made because of this being the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Alfred Fernand Omont was among the late-night guests at the Café Parisien. The café was especially popular among younger guests because of its long opening hours. The walls and ceilings were decorated with wood paneling, decorated with hanging green plants. One could enter the café from a back stairway leading to First Class, or by way of the restaurant entrance. From here one also had a view of the Promenade Deck (or A-Deck, accessible only to first-class passengers). At the Café Parisien, Alfred Fernand Omont found three bridge partners. Seated at his table was the Frenchman Paul Chevre, a famous sculptor heading for Quebec to unveil his statue of Sir Wilfrid Lauriers, former Canadian Prime Minister. Also at his table were the Frenchman Piere Maréchal, head of an aeronautics company, and the American Lucien P. Smith, whose wife had already retired for the night.
uring the middle of their game, at 11:40 p.m., there was an unexpected, light trembling on board the Titanic. The ship had collided with an iceberg. After the historic incident, Alfred Fernand Omont and his fellow French card players gave their account to the French newspaper Le Matin. The New York Times re-published their account on April 20, 1912: “The three Frenchmen say that they were playing bridge with a Mr. Smith of Philadelphia when a crunching mass of ice packed up against the port holes. As they rushed on deck there was much confusion, but this quickly died down. One of the officers, when questioned by a woman passenger, humorously replied: ‘Do not be afraid. We are merely cutting a whale in two.’”
Titanic. Drawing by François Omont
t this point, the ship tilted five degrees toward the bow, which wasn’t taken very seriously in the first hour after the collision. That the “unsinkable” ship could quickly go down was considered to be an impossibility by most passengers. In May, 1912, Alfred Fernand Omont gave more detailed testimony for the British investigative committee’s protocol: “About 12:30 we saw the Captain and the 1st officer going up to the bridge. All around about 50 or 60 women and men were waiting anxiously to know what was happening. The Captain came down with the 1st officer. The Captain was chewing a toothpick and he said `You had better put your life-preservers on, as a precaution. Then I went up to the boat deck, and it was deadly cold. I came back to my own cabin, took off my life-belt and put on my overcoat. Then I came up, and put on again my life-belt. I was then on the boat deck. I saw them get down some boats. While I was still on the boat deck, a boat was let down. The 1st officer saw me and asked me if I wanted to get in. Some of the passengers shouted to me not to get in as they had such confidence in the ship. I saw that the sea was very calm, and I thought it better to jump into the boat and see what would happen. I jumped two or three yards, and landed in the boat anyhow. We were twenty nine in the boat. The boat could not have held more than thirty in any case. I personally consider and state that the idea of putting sixty people in a boat or on a raft is ridiculous. (...) When we were being lowered, about 15 yards from the sea, a man put one rope much lower than the other one and we nearly went over. Then we went down and touched water. Then it was difficult to get free and we had cut the rope to get free.”´“