James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic singlehandedly brought the infamous 1912 sinking back into the limelight. The award-winning epic earned endless praise for its accuracy and attention to detail, though most never realized that nearly every character in the film was based on an actual person. From Margaret “Molly” Brown to the actual Rose DeWitt Bukater, these real-life counterparts of Titanic characters had stories far more incredible than one movie could hope to share.
The musician who continued to play his violin even as the ship sank in the film actually did this during the real-life disaster. His music was meant to calm passengers as they boarded the lifeboats. Unfortunately, Wallace died on the deck of the Titanic, but some of the survivors shared his story.
This Bavarian-born businessman and politician helped found Macy’s and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1894 to 1895. Along with his wife, Ida, he refused to get on a lifeboat until all of the women and children were safe. He remained on board as the Titanic sank, perishing below deck.
Like her husband, Ida was also from Germany. They had seven children and were madly in love, according to their relatives. Even when Ida was offered a spot on a boat, she remained on the ship because she didn’t want to leave Isidor. Together, their fate was sealed.
Serving as the Titanic’s chief officer, Henry was part of the ship’s navigation team. He was another member of the crew who died onboard while trying to manage the disastrous situation. Before joining the Titanic‘s team, he worked on a few different vessels in the White Star Line company’s fleet.
On the Titanic, Charles was the second officer. Surprisingly, he was one of the few crew members who did make it. Even after surviving the sinking, Charles decided he wanted to keep working at sea. He spent the rest of his career aboard various White Star Line ships.
Harold served as the junior wireless operator on the ill-fated journey. He managed part of the ship’s wireless operating system and was another crew member who managed to live. During the Senate inquiry, he was called to testify about what caused the ship’s demise.
“Iceberg right ahead!” Frederick was the person who uttered this famous line in real life. He was the spotter who warned the rest of the team about the obstruction floating ahead of the Titanic. If only the crew had managed to maneuver the enormous ship in time…
After the massive ship scraped and was punctured by the iceberg, John, the senior wireless operator, sent out a distress call. Tragically, there were no other ships in the immediate area, meaning the passengers were stuck in the ocean. In the chaos, John didn’t survive.
The first officer the RMS Titanic was William Murdoch. In the movie, he was so upset by the crash that he shot himself in front of escaping passengers. The real Murdoch’s family was furious that he was depicted this way because no one actually knew how he died in the disaster.
The builder behind the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable was Thomas Andrews. He tried to help panicked passengers by giving them lifejackets and showing them to the lifeboats. While his calm demeanor saved countless lives, Thomas himself wasn’t so lucky. He went down with the ship.
As the Titanic sunk, it took a number of floating passengers and fleeing lifeboats with it. Noël was the first person to steer her lifeboat away from the sinking vessel and find a rescue ship. Her actions led help to arrive faster, which saved even more people.
There’s a reason his last name is so familiar: it’s slapped across a museum in New York City (though that one is named after his brother.) Benjamin was a rich businessman who didn’t survive the disaster. His valet, Victor Giglio, died alongside his boss.
Lucy was a fashion designer who was famous for her lingerie, but also wrote columns for Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar. The actor who portrayed Lucy, Rosalind Ayres, is a real-life designer, too. Rosalind is married to Martin Jarvis, who played her character’s husband in the movie.
Before he survived the Titanic sinking by boarding a rescue ship meant for women and children, Cosmo earned a silver medal in fencing at the Olympics. When this story emerged, he earned plenty of criticism for his actions. Angry letter writers called the athlete a coward.
Madeleine and her husband, John Jacob Astor IV, were sailing to America so the pregnant Madeleine could have her baby in the U.S. She made it through the disaster while five months pregnant. Four months later, she gave birth to her child. The actor who played Madeleine was pregnant while filming.
The most interesting thing about John was his wealth. He was the richest person on the ship — and one of the richest in the world. While his wife, Madeleine, survived, John wasn’t fortunate enough to make it into a lifeboat.
Joseph was the managing director of White Star Line whose selfish actions saved his life. Even though there were crowds of women and child trying to escape, Joseph jumped into a lifeboat anyway to save himself. He survived, but received plenty of criticism.
Captain Smith was the person helming the Titanic on its maiden voyage. When the ship sank, he went down with it. The captain felt that it was his responsibility to stay with his vessel. He left behind a wife and a daughter, who were safe at home during the incident.
Rose’s character was based on famed artist Beatrice Wood. Both women were concerned about the fate of the lower class and had a passion for the arts. The two also each had fiery romances that ended in tragedy: Rose and Jack with their unforgettable door scene, and the love of Beatrice’s life being kept from her due to cultural differences.
The chief baker aboard the Titanic, Joughin survived thanks to a little bit of alcohol and a lot of patience. Riding the ship down, Jougin was the last man in the water, though he hardly felt the cold thanks to booze he’d been drinking. When he was pulled aboard a passing vessel the next day, only his feet were a little swollen.
Having survived a car accident that killed her fiancé a year earlier, the American stylist and journalist had been given a musical toy pig as a good luck charm by her mother just before boarding the ship. Not only did Rosenbaum survive the sinking, but she also used the toy to calm crying children on her lifeboat.
Margaret was another wealthy passenger on the Titanic and was played by Kathy Bates in the film. Just like in the movie, Margaret begged the rest of the passengers in her half-filled lifeboat to row back to the ship so they could save more people slowly freezing in the water.
An Alabama historian, Gracie was returning home from Europe when he was awoken by the Titanic crashing into the fateful iceberg. After escorting a number of women to safety, Gracie later survived by balancing aboard an overturned lifeboat. He went on to earn fame for his detailed account of the disaster.
A British suffragette, Bowerman survived by boarding the lifeboat piloted by Margaret “Molly” Brown. She went on to become the first female lawyer in the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales and eventually helped establish the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.
An investigative journalist and influential editor, Stead actually spent his last hours on Earth reading in his cabin. Perhaps he felt content, having seemingly foreseen his death years prior. In 1886, Stead published a story titled “How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid Atlantic, By a Survivor,” which recounted a fictional sinking eerily similar to that of the Titanic.
Known for the early feminist work “How Women May Earn a Living,” Candee was traveling aboard the Titanic to return home to care for her injured son. Although she suffered a severe injury to her ankle as the ship sank, Candee was one of the women that helped Molly Brown work the oars of their lifeboat.
A tennis star before and after the ship’s sinking, Behr was apparently only aboard the Titanic to pursue his future wife, Helen Newsome. As the two escaped on a lifeboat together, Behr reportedly asked for her hand in marriage right then and there!
After hearing the ship strike the iceberg, the 22-year-old actress grabbed her mother and the two boarded the first lifeboat off the Titanic. Gibson went on to star in a now-lost 1912 film about her experience called Saved From the Titanic in which she actually wore the same clothes she’d had on as she escaped the disaster.
“[The] trend toward large boats might end in tragedy,” Hays, a railway magnate, reportedly told his companions before boarding the Titanic. While his wife and daughter managed to escape the ship on a lifeboat, Hays perished, though his body was one of the few recovered. He was buried in Montreal.
A former cricket player and executive of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Thayer’s only focus once the Titanic began to sink was getting his wife and son to safety. He managed to do just that, though Thayer himself sadly perished in the disaster. His body was never recovered.
A mystery writer, Futrelle was best known for his story “The Problem of Cell 13” and others involving detective Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen. After helping his wife aboard a life boat, the writer was last seen speaking with another member of this list: John Jacob Astor.
A famed steel magnate, Wick had been traveling through Europe to improve his health before he stepped aboard the ill-fated Titanic. He was last seen on the deck of the ship, waving to his wife, daughter, cousin, and aunt as they escaped on a lifeboat.
After Michel Navratil, a young Frenchman, was separated from his wife, he bought himself and his two children second-class tickets on the Titanic. Even though things between Michael and his wife were strained, some of his last words included a heartfelt message to her.
One of Michael’s boys recalls his father instructing them to remind their mother just how much he cared for her. “Tell her I loved her dearly and still do,” he said to his two and four-year-old sons as the ship went down.
“Women and children first” isn’t just an old saying. According to Annie McGowan, it was one of the rules the workers on the Titanic used to sort out which passengers would get priority on the lifeboats.
Only a teenager at the time, Annie remembers seeing several men putting on dresses so they’d be mistaken for women and allowed onto the lifeboats. Some even threatened to tip whole lifeboats over if they weren’t allowed on.
When the Carpathia ultimately arrived to save the passengers from the icy ocean waters, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. A young British secretary, Laura Mabel Francatelli, still had to make it up the side of the massive ship on rope swings.
Laura could barely hang onto the rope swings, and she wasn’t sure she’d make it all the way to the top as they hauled her up. Ultimately, she had to close her eyes and wait for an arm to pull her aboard.
Getting onto the lifeboats was a mission in itself, but once aboard, chaos ensued. A 40-year-old governess, Elizabeth Schutes, recalls the sound of drowning passengers surrounding the boat as they rowed.
With ordinary passengers in charge of navigating the frigid water, Elizabeth wasn’t sure they’d make it to their rescue ship. Before long, two of their oars had been lost in the black waves.
Even though the wreck of the Titanic was full of tragedy and horror, some passengers like Ruth Becker recall a strange beauty as the ship slowly sank below the surface of the dark sea.
Only 12 years old at the time, Ruth never forgot the sight of the Titanic as the lights dipped into the ocean and illuminated the surface for just a brief moment before disappearing into the abyss.
It wasn’t immediately apparent that the Titanic would go down after it hit the iceberg. A 33-year-old fashion stylist, Edith Russell, saw the side of the iceberg towering over this ship without realizing just how bad of a situation she was in.
Edith blissfully took off chunks of the iceberg and made snowballs, even having a little snowball fight with her fellow passengers before calls to abandon ship were raised all over the deck of the Titanic.
One of the most devastating parts of the sinking of the Titanic is how many people were separated from their loved ones in the tragedy. Newlywed Charlotte Collyer experienced that pain as she lost her husband during the shipwreck.
Though Charlotte was stricken with grief over the loss of her husband, she pointed out that there was hardly a soul on the ship who wasn’t separated from their spouses, friends, or children.
Many third-class passengers were locked in their quarters as the Titanic took on water. According to third-class passenger Elin Hakkairanen, many of the passageways locked as she desperately struggled to escape.
Eventually, Elin was allowed onto a lifeboat, but her husband wasn’t so lucky. After watching the sea for hours hoping for him to arrive at the rescue ship, she realized she’d never see him again.
While many of the survivors of the Titanic went on to be haunted by the shipwreck for the rest of their lives, passengers like Eva Hart, who was just 7 years old at the time, didn’t let the trauma drag her down.
Though her family expected Eva to be scared of travel — whether by plane, train, car, or boat — she never gave in to fear. “Life has to be lived,” she’d said. Director James Cameron even included a small character based on Eva in his 1997 flick.