Thayer in 1912
John Borland Thayer III
December 24, 1894
|Died||September 20, 1945 (aged 50)|
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Lois Buchanan Cassatt (1917-1945; his death)|
John Borland "Jack" Thayer III (December 24, 1894 – September 20, 1945) was a first-class passenger on RMS Titanic who survived and provided several first-hand accounts of the disaster. He was 17 years old when the ship sank, and was one of only a handful of passengers to survive jumping into the water.
John (Jack) Borland Thayer, III was born into the Thayer family, a wealthy aristocratic American family and was the son of John Borland Thayer II, a Director and Second Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad Railroad Company, and Philadelphia socialite Marian Morris Thayer.
Seventeen-year-old Jack had been traveling in Europe with his parents and a maid named Margaret Fleming and heading to New York, when they embarked aboard RMS Titanic at Cherbourg on Wednesday, April 10, 1912. Jack's stateroom, cabin C-70, adjoined his parents', C-68. 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.
Jack woke his parents, who accompanied him back to the port side of the ship. Noticing that 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. After searching for them, he assumed they had boarded a lifeboat.
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 he advised Jack against it.
Eventually, as the ship was sinking quickly, the two men decided to jump and attempt to swim to safety. Milton went first, jumping while facing the ship; it was the last time Jack ever saw him. Jack launched himself from the rail, back facing the ship and pushing outward. Once in the water, Jack reached the improperly launched and overturned Collapsible B. Too exhausted to save himself, he was pulled from the water. He and a number of other men, including Junior Wireless Officer Harold Bride, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, Chief Baker Charles Joughin, and Second Officer Charles Lightoller (the senior surviving member of the crew), were able to balance on the boat for some hours. Jack 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.
After spending the night on the overturned Collapsible B, Jack was picked up by Lifeboat 12. He was so distraught and frozen that he did not notice his mother in nearby Lifeboat 4; nor did she notice him. Lifeboat 12 finally made its way to RMS Carpathia at 8:30 am. Jack's father did not escape on a lifeboat and was lost.
Nearly all those who lived did so by boarding lifeboats. Jack was one of only about 40 survivors who jumped or fell into the water.
Thayer went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a member of Saint Anthony Hall. During World War I, he served as an artillery officer in the US Army. Thayer was the financial vice president of the University of Pennsylvania at the time of his death.
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On December 15, 1917, Thayer 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, Thayer shared his experiences of Titanic's sinking in vivid detail, in a self-published pamphlet titled The Sinking of the S.S. Titanic; 500 copies were printed for family and friends. Oceanographer Robert Ballard used it to determine the location of Titanic and proved that the ship had split in half as it sank, contrary to popular belief. Thayer was among those who clearly reported seeing Titanic break in two, as it was finally confirmed by Ballard's discovery of the wreck.
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 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. 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.