With construction beginning in 1903, the British Cunard liner Lusitania made it’s first voyage in 1907. It had been built to be the “Greyhound of the Seas” and captured a Blue Ribbon for the fastest Atlantic crossing. It was the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship for its time. During the ship’s lifespan, it made 101 round-trip voyages.
On May 1, 1915, it set sail for Liverpool departing from New York. Despite warnings in New York newspapers (from the German Embassy) that “vessels flying under the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction”, there were 1,924 people on board. The warnings were taken seriously by some as the number of passengers was only half the ship’s capacity. The Captain felt the ship was safe as it could ‘outrun’ any German submarines. Still, the ship was on ‘high alert’ when it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by a German U-boat on May 7th and sank within 20 minutes, with 1,198 people perishing; 128 were Americans.
Sentiment mounted in the US to declare war on Germany, but Wilson hesitated. In fact, he waited two years and didn’t officially declare war until April, 1917.
Marion headed to France on the SS Rochambeau on May 17, 1917, two years after the sinking of the Lusitania. While still on board the ship, the first line in her first letter home is “Well, no submarines so far….”
There have been many books written about the Lusitania. The latest one (2015), Dead Wake by Erik Larson is the type of narrative non-fiction that captures the reader and keeps our attention from the first page until the last. His attention to detail and recounting of the history and demise of this famous ship is told from every side, British, US and German. The book is a gripping account of a time in history and provides a different perspective on a memorable event.