Jack Thayer

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For other people of the same name, see John Thayer (disambiguation).
Jack Thayer
Jack Thayer aged 17, 1912
Born John Borland Thayer III
(1894-12-24)December 24, 1894
Philadelphia, U.S.
Died September 20, 1945(1945-09-20) (aged 50)
Philadelphia, U.S.
Spouse(s) Lois Buchanan Cassatt (1917-1945) (his death)
Children 5

John Borland "Jack" Thayer III (December 24, 1894 – September 20, 1945) was a first-class passenger on the RMS Titanic who provided several first-hand accounts of the disaster.

RMS Titanic[edit]

John (Jack) Thayer was born into a wealthy family, and was the son of John Borland Thayer, Jr., the vice-president and director of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Philadelphia socialite Marian Thayer. Seventeen-year-old Jack was traveling in Europe with his parents and a maid named Margaret Fleming. Thayer and his parents were heading to New York. They embarked at Cherbourg on Wednesday, April 10, 1912.[1] Jack occupied cabin C-70 while his parents occupied C-68.[2] Shortly after 11:30 p.m. on the ship's collision with the iceberg, he dressed and went to A deck on the port side to see what had happened. Finding nothing, he walked to the bow, where he could faintly make out ice on the forward well deck.[2]

Jack woke his parents, who accompanied him back to the port side of the ship. Noticing that the Titanic was developing a list to port, they returned to their rooms and put on warmer clothes and life vests. They returned to the deck, but Jack lost sight of his parents and after searching for them, assumed they had boarded a lifeboat.[2]

Jack soon encountered Milton Long, a fellow passenger he had met hours before over coffee. Both Milton and Jack tried to board a lifeboat but were turned away because they were men. Jack then proposed jumping off the ship, as he was a good swimmer. However, Milton was not, and advised Jack against it.[2]

Eventually, as the ship was sinking quickly, the two men decided to jump and attempt to swim to safety. Milton went first; it was the last time Jack ever saw him. Once in the water, Jack reached the improperly launched and overturned Collapsible B. Too exhausted to save himself, he was pulled from the water.[1] He and a number of other men, including Harold Bride, Archibald Gracie, chief baker Charles Joughin, and second officer Charles Lightoller were able to balance on the boat for some hours. He later recalled that the cries of hundreds of people in the water reminded him of the high-pitched hum of locusts in his native Pennsylvania.[2]

After spending the night on the overturned Collapsible B, Jack was picked up by Lifeboat 12. He was so distraught and freezing that he did not notice his mother in nearby Lifeboat 4, nor did she notice him. Lifeboat 12 finally made its way to the RMS Carpathia at 8:30 am.[2] Jack's father did not get to a lifeboat and died.

Nearly all those who lived did so by boarding lifeboats. Jack was one of only about 40 survivors of those who jumped or fell into the water.[1]

Later life[edit]

Thayer went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he was a member of Saint Anthony Hall. He served as an artillery officer in the US Army during World War I. On December 15, 1917 he married Lois Buchanan Cassatt, daughter of Edward B. Cassatt and Emily L. Phillips. Her grandfather was Alexander Johnston Cassatt, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The couple had two sons, Edward Cassatt and John Borland IV, and three daughters, Lois, Julie, and Pauline. A third son, Alexander Johnston Cassatt Thayer, died a few days after his birth in 1920.

In 1940, he described his experiences with the Titanic's sinking in vivid detail in a self-published pamphlet; 500 copies were printed for family and friends.[1] Oceanographer Robert Ballard used it to determine the location of the Titanic and proved that the ship had split in half as it sank, contrary to popular belief.[2] Thayer was among those who clearly reported seeing the Titanic break in two, as was finally confirmed by the discovery of the wreck. Thayer's account is sometimes included jointly with the memoirs of the disaster by fellow survivor Archibald Gracie IV in modern editions of Gracie's book Titanic: A Survivor's Story.


During World War II, both of Jack's sons enlisted in the armed services. Edward, a bomber pilot, was listed as missing and presumed dead after his plane was shot down in 1943 in the Pacific theatre. His body was never recovered. When the news reached Thayer, he became extremely depressed. Thayer's mother Marian died on April 14, 1944, the 32nd anniversary of the Titanic's collision with the iceberg. Her loss seemed to push him even further into a downward spiral and he committed suicide on September 20, 1945.[3] He was found in an automobile at 48th Street and Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia, his throat and wrists cut. He is buried at the Church of the Redeemer Cemetery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Thayer was the financial vice president of the University of Pennsylvania at the time of his death.[4]

Further reading[edit]

  • Titanic: A Survivor's Story and the Sinking of the S.S. Titanic by Archibald Gracie IV and Jack Thayer, Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988 ISBN 0-89733-452-3
  • Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy, by John P. Eaton and Charles A. Haas, W.W. Newton & Company, 2nd edition 1995 ISBN 0-393-03697-9
  • A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord, ed. Nathaniel Hilbreck, Owl Books, rep. 2004, ISBN 0-8050-7764-2

See also[edit]


External links[edit]