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Titantic at 100: Part 4 – Philadelphia’s ‘Titanic’ Progenitor

Michelle Durham Michelle Durham
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By Michelle Durham

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If you want to take a peek at some of the engineering behind the ill-fated RMS Titanic, it’s as close as Penn’s Landing, along the Philadelphia waterfront.

The USS Olympia, Dewey’s historic flagship from the  Spanish-American War, is docked there — and its engines are of the same design as were used later in the Titanic.

Jesse Lebovics, manager of historic ships at the Independence Seaport Museum, says the Titanic was in many ways a wonder.

lebovics jesse olympia  durham Titantic at 100: Part 4 – Philadelphias Titanic Progenitor

(Jesse Lebovics, in the engine room of the USS Olympia. Credit: Michelle Durham)

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“Twenty-four hours a day, over 160 people were tossing coal into the boilers to keep it going,” he says.

The men slept in a common area on hammocks, each assigned a sack and a wall hook for his belongings.

And there were several grades of jobs, Lebovics explains, even among the coal handlers.

“The one who was actually tossing the coal into the fire, that’s a stoker.  That’s a good job. Then you have, in the coal bunkers, a gentleman called a ‘passer,’ who was passing the coal out of the bunker and never sees the light of day.  That was still not a bad job compared to the ‘trimmer,’ who was all the way in the back of the bunker.”

The heat was tremendous, and when the collision with the iceberg occurred, the men keeping the ship going were in a bad spot.

“The focal point of the damage was in the boiler room,” Lebovics explains.  “You had freezing-cold water flowing in here at a tremendous rate.   Of the crew that were working down here, almost a third of them died almost instantly.”

Read Part 1: “The Philadelphia Connections”

Read Part 2: “Philadelphia Survivors”

Read Part 3: “Philadelphia Victims”

Listen to KYW Newsradio 1060 all week long for Michelle Durham’s entire series, highlighting the Philadelphia links with the RMS Titanic as we mark 100 years since that historic disaster.

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