Enduring mystery: Do these photos show the iceberg that sank the Titanic?

·8 min read

The RMS Titanic departs Southampton on April 10, 1912. (Wikipedia)

It riveted the world more than a century ago, yet photographs depicting the iceberg that may have caused the greatest nautical disaster in history continue to fascinate.

One such photo showing an iceberg that, experts say, the massive Titanic ocean liner may have likely struck before sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic, is the first one believed to be taken by a passenger on the S.S. Carpathia, a passenger ship re-routed to help to the sinking Titanic.

After departing Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, for its maiden voyage to New York, the "unsinkable" Titanic struck an iceberg just before midnight on April 14. The much smaller S.S. Carpathia was sailing to Italy and had departed New York on April 11. According to Encyclopedia Titanica, "the early days of the voyage were uneventful, but for the intense cold, remarked upon by both passengers and crew."

News that the Titanic, the largest passenger steamship at the time, was sinking was received by Carpathia's wireless operator, shortly after midnight. The captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, ordered his ship to be turned around and directed the ship's crew to make preparations for the rescue of more than 2,000 people. Carpathia passenger Howard Chapin later noted that the night was "bitterly cold."

The Carpathia reached the scene at 5:30 a.m., three hours after the Titanic went down with 1,503 passengers and crew. May Birkhead, who was on deck as the ship arrived, was quoted in many reports as having said that Carpathia passengers were "greeted with a most beautiful sight of icebergs on every side -- some of much greater dimensions than the ship, and then some baby ones -- all beautiful white in the calm sea and glittering sun, a most impressive view."

Another passenger, Wallace Bradford, recalled that it was a "glorious, clear morning and a quiet sea. Off to the starboard was a white area of ice plain, from whose even surface rose mammoth forts, castles and pyramids of solid ice."

This April 10, 1912, file photo shows the ocean liner RMS Titanic as it leaves Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage. (AP photo)

In an article for Scientific American, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski wrote, "Observations on board Titanic indicated a 10-degree Fahrenheit drop in sea surface temperatures (from the lower 40s to the lower 30s) in two hours during the early evening of the 14th. This supports the idea that the Titanic passed from relatively warm Gulf Stream waters to the colder influence of the Labrador Current."

The water temperature in the Titanic's vicinity at the time of the collision late in the evening of the 14th was said to be in the upper 20s. The extremely frigid waters caused hypothermia among the mass of people on the Titanic, and most died within minutes after plunging into the sea.

St. Louis Dispatch reporter Carlos Hurd was on board the Carpathia with his family. He was one of the first journalists to interview Titanic survivors and Carpathia passengers about the disaster, scooping many of the top newspapers of the day. Hurd later recalled how the winter in the U.S. had been a hard one and spring weather had been late to arrive. Many first- and second-class travelers on the Carpathia, including his own family, were trying to escape the poor spring to travel to warmer climates and begin holidays abroad. One of those passengers included the man who took the photograph of what many believe is the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

Titanic passengers aboard the rescue ship the SS Carpathia. (Library of Congress)

Karen Kamuda, a member of the Titanic Historical Society (THS), told AccuWeather the photo of the iceberg was taken by 22-year-old Lawrence Stoudenmire.

Stoudenmire, a resident of Baltimore, was said to be employed as a driver by two wealthy women traveling to Europe, according to Encyclopedia Titanica.

Kamuda told AccuWeather, "Mr. Stoudenmire's recollections appeared in The (Baltimore) SunMagazine, Aug. 6, 1972: ... 'I have snapshots of the broken iceberg which supposedly sunk the Titanic ... These pictures were taken about six hours after the SS Titanic hit the iceberg. Looking at the picture of the iceberg, you can see the deep gash across the end of the iceberg.'"

Photo of what many believe is the iceberg that sank the Titanic taken by Lawrence Stoudenmire from the rescue ship Carpathia. (Titanic Historical Society, Inc, Indian Orchard MA.)

Stoudenmire died in 1975 at the age of 84. But his photo isn't the only iceberg photo in existence that some claim to be an image of what may have sunk the mighty Titanic. Several photos of icebergs were taken by people on ships passing through just before or immediately after the disaster. Kamuda pointed out a second photo that matches descriptions of the huge iceberg given and drawn by those on board the Titanic who saw it.

According to Kamuda, Stephan Rehorek was on the German steamer Bremen, on its way from Bremerhaven to New York when it sailed into the scene of the sinking a few days later. In a thorough article breaking down possible photos of the iceberg by Titanic historian Joshua Allen Milford, he noted passengers could reportedly "see wreckage and the bodies of more than a hundred victims floating on the surface."

Rehorek took a photo of a nearby iceberg that, although he didn't know it at the time, matched the eyewitness testimony of Titanic crew member Joseph Scarrott. "Well, it struck me at the time that it resembled the Rock of Gibraltar ... It looked very much the same shape as that, only much smaller."

This photo was taken by Stephan Rehorek and given to the Titanic Historical Society to include in an article published in the Titanic Commutator in 2008. (Titanic Historical Society)

Milford also noted in his article that "It will never be known for sure, but out of all the photos taken of the icebergs in the vicinity of the sinking, the Rehorek iceberg seems to be the most likely culprit. Its location, appearance, and size seem to be the best match with eyewitness testimony."

Still, the most popular photo of an iceberg said to be the one that sank the Titanic is a black-and-white picture taken by the captain of another passenger ship crossing the Atlantic, less than two days before the Titanic went down.

W. Wood was serving as captain on board the S.S. Etonian when he took a photo of the iceberg, according to reports. Capt. Wood noted his geographic coordinates, which were nearly identical to where the Titanic struck the iceberg hours later. Wood later developed the photo and sent a copy to his grandfather with a letter noting, "I am sending you a sea picture, the Etonian running before a gale and the iceberg that sank the Titanic ... We crossed the ice tracks 40 hrs before her and in daylight so saw the ice easily and I got a picture."

In 2020, the photo was auctioned by Henry Aldridge and Son in England. "There were never any photographs taken on board the Titanic of the iceberg, only images of ones in the same area in the days before and after," auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said at the time, according to The Independent. "But Captain Wood's photograph must be the most likely of all of these images. Fredrick Fleet was the lookout who first spotted the iceberg and he later drew a sketch of it, as did crew member and eye-witness Joseph Scarrott. Their sketches both appear similar to the iceberg in this photo and have the same distinctive odd shape at the top."

Recall that passengers of the rescue ship Carpathia said they were greeted with "a most beautiful sight of icebergs" of all sizes on every side of the ship so it's difficult to know for sure which, if any, of the photos depict the actual iceberg the Titanic collided with, although it's highly likely they show icebergs from the immediate vicinity. The fact that Lawrence Stoudenmire said the iceberg he photographed was deeply gashed and that he was on the scene of the rescue lends his photo credibility yet it doesn't seem to match the description given by the Titanic lookouts or seaman Joseph Scarrott, who were both onboard the Titanic.

Regardless, the massive iceberg that ultimately doomed the ship deemed unsinkable had traveled a long way to end up in the path of the ill-fated ocean liner. In the Northern Hemisphere, most of the icebergs break off from west Greenland glaciers. From there, the surviving icebergs eventually drift southward via the Labrador Current into the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. As Wired.com reported in What Happened to the Iceberg That Sank the Titanic, "the vast, vast majority of icebergs melt long before they reach that far south. Of the 15,000 to 30,000 icebergs calved each year by the Greenland glaciers, probably only about 1 percent of them ever make it all the way to the Atlantic."

In the northwestern Atlantic, the cold Labrador Current hits the warm Gulf Stream making the water too warm to sustain icebergs for very long. The average lifespan of an iceberg in the North Atlantic typically is two to three years from calving to melting. This means the iceberg that sank the Titanic "likely broke off from Greenland in 1910 or 1911, and was gone forever by the end of 1912 or sometime in 1913."

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