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Famed Pike author died as first class passenger on Titanic 111 years ago

On April 15, 1912 the Titanic, a British luxury liner, sank on its maiden voyage, en route to New York City from Southampton, England. One of the people who went down with the ship was John Heath Futrelle, better known as “Jacques.”

Jacques was born April 9, 1875 in Pike County, Georgia, to Wiley Harmon Heath Futrelle and Linnie A. Bevil Futrelle. Linnie was a granddaughter of Pike pioneers Edward Bevil and Jane Wise Bevil. Linnie and Wiley were married April 25, 1867 in Pike County.

Jacques Futrelle was a noted author of early science-fiction type mystery novels and also a well-known newspaper reporter, writing early in his career for The Atlanta Constitution. He wrote fiction of a popular nature, and his best known books are: The Chase of the Golden Plate (1906), The Thinking Machine (1907), and, published after his death, My Lady’s Garter. He and his wife, Lily Mae Peel, had been in Europe for several weeks while Jacques wrote a number of magazine articles and arranged for the publication of his books there. On the night before sailing, friends had gathered in London to celebrate Mr. Futrelle’s birthday. The party did not end until 3 a.m. and the Futrelle’s never went to bed but packed and headed for Southampton. Mrs. Futrelle was later to lament that “if my husband had got drunk that night, he might not have sailed, and he might be alive today. But he never did drink much.”
On the night of the sinking, Mrs. Futrelle made her way to the boat deck and encountered a group of men with “smoke-blackened faces” standing silently in a group staring at her.

She later commented, “they said nothing but their eyes seemed to say, at least you have a chance, we have none.”

She was eventually rescued by the ship, Carpathia.

After boarding the rescue ship, she attempted to send the telegram pictured here to her mother in Atlanta, simply stating “Safe on Carpathia. Jacques not here.”

In an article published April 19, 1912 in New York, his wife said he met death like a hero. The article follows: Mrs. May Futrelle, whose husband, Jacques Futrelle, the short story writer and novelist, went down with the ship, was met here by her daughter, Miss Virginia Futrelle, who was brought to New York, from the convent of Notre Dame in Baltimore.

Miss Futrelle had been told that her father had been picked up by another steamer. Mrs. Charles Copeland of Boston, a sister of the writer, also met Mrs. Futrelle was under the same impression. Miss Futrelle and Mrs. Copeland with a party of friends awaited at a hotel the arrival of Mrs. Futrelle from the dock.

“I am so happy that father is safe too,” declared Miss Futrelle, as her mother clasped her in her arms. The girl and Mrs. Copeland alone of the party did not know that Mr. Futrelle was dead.

It was some time before Mrs. Futrelle could compose herself.

“Where is Jack?” Mrs. Copeland asked.

Mrs. Futrelle was afraid to let her daughter know the truth. “Oh, he is on another ship,” Mrs. Futrelle replied. Mrs. Copeland then guessed at the truth and became hysterical, Miss Futrelle also broke down.
“Jacques died like a hero.” Mrs. Futrelle said, when the party became composed. “He was in the smoking room when the crash came – the noise of the smash was terrific – and I was going to bed. I was hurled from my feet by the impact. I hardly found myself when Jack came rushing into the stateroom. ‘The boat is going down, get dressed at once,’ he shouted. When we reached the deck, everything was in the wildest confusion.”

“Jacques is dead, but he died like a hero. That I know. Three or four times after the crash, I rushed up to him and clasped him in my arms and begged him to get into one of the boats. ‘For God’s sake go,’ he fairly screamed at me as he tried to push me away and I could see how he suffered. It’s your last chance, go. Then one of the ship’s officers forced me into a lifeboat and I gave up all hope that he could be saved. The screams of women and the shrill orders of the officers were drowned intermittently by the tremendous vibrations of the Titanic’s deep bass fog horn. The behavior of the men was magnificent. They stood back without murmuring and urged the women and children to get into the lifeboats. A few cowards tried to scramble into the boats but they were quickly thrown back by the others. Let me say now that the only men who were saved were those who sneaked into the lifeboats or were plucked up after the Titanic sunk. I did not want to leave Jack, but he assured me that there were boats enough for all and that he would be rescued later.”

“’Hurry up May, you’re keeping the others waiting,’ were his last words as he lifted me into a lifeboat and kissed me goodbye. I was in one of the last lifeboats to leave the ship. We had not put on many minutes when the Titanic disappeared. As I saw her sink, I could see Jack standing where I had left him and waving at me.”

Mrs. Futrelle said she saw the parting of Col. John Jacob Astor and his young bride, Mrs. Astor was frantic. Her husband had to jump into the lifeboat four times and tell her that he would be rescued later. After the fourth time, Mrs. Futrelle said, he jumped back on the deck of the sinking ship and the lifeboat bearing his bride made off.”

Linnie and Jacques have a memorial stone in a Johnson County, Georgia cemetery.

W.H.H. Futrelle and Linnie had two other children, William and Elberta. William, the oldest, had a series of misfortunes and eventually died penniless of tuberculosis. Elberta, the youngest child, had an equally interesting life. Her parents were against her marrying her sweetheart, Charles H. Copeland. A scandal ensued and there were numerous write-ups in the newspapers of the day. This one is from the Boston Globe dated 18 July 1893:

The Globe, Extra, 5 o’clock, Won A Wife: Copeland Hero of Rich Romance, Heroine, Daughter of the Sunny South, Atlanta Belle Left All For Lover Bold, Boston Newspaper Man Was Persistent, Before Eloping With Elberta Was Arrested Twice, Papa and Mama Futrelle Finally Outwitted, Happy Home In Cambridge the Final Chapter.

In one of the morning papers appeared the following: Charles H. Copeland, formerly a local newspaper man, has returned to his home in Cambridge after a six months sojourn in the sunny south. He has brought back with him a charming bride. On how he happened to bring back the charming bride hangs a tale, and that same tale furnishes another proof of the truth of the old saying, “Love will find a way.”
The story is a rich romance. A year ago, Charles H. Copeland, a bright young man then just emerging from his teens, was doing reportorial work on the News and Post of this city. As the cold weather approached he began to have trouble with his lungs, and the affection became so serious it was necessary for him to leave the rigors of New England’s climate for that of the sunny south.
Associated, with him on the Post was a splendid specimen of southern manhood, “Jack” Futrell by name, of Atlanta, Ga. who was also finding the climate of the north far from congenial. The two had worked together for several months, and a strong friendship for each other was the result. Copeland liked the dash and geniality of the southerner and the southerner took a special fancy to the quiet, unassuming manner of Copeland.

About the middle of last December, the two left Boston for Jack’s Atlanta home. Neither had any definite plans for the future, but with the characteristic hospitality of the south Jack insisted on taking Copeland to his home. The Futrells belong to one of the first families of Georgia, and they live in a fine house on Piedmont Ave. in the most fashionable part of Atlanta. Jack’s father is a prominent business man, and of the children there are two sons besides Jack and an only daughter, Elberta. Fortune smiled on the two newspaper men. They got a capitalist interested in a scheme for a news bureau, and, until death overtook their financial backer, all went well. Meanwhile affairs at the house were developing. Copeland and Miss Futrelle evinced a marked liking for each other, and father Futrelle acquiesced. Mother Futrelle, however, deprecated the attentions to her daughter, and while not openly opposing Copeland, never did anything to encourage him. Miss Futrelle was three years the senior of Copeland.
As spring passed into summer, the whole family became opposed to the match, and affairs took a sadden turn on the night of June 29. Copeland was still staying with the Futrelles, and on that evening, the couple were sitting on the verandah, talking of their future plans in a way that only lovers can. Mrs. Futrelle was sitting a short distance from them, taking no part in the conversation, but evidently thinking very seriously of something.

Suddenly rising, she asked her daughter to step into the house, as she wished to speak to her. Elberta obeyed, and then accompanied by Father Futrell, the three went to the daughters bedroom. That interview ended by the parents angrily leaving the room and locking the door behind them. A few minutes later Copeland heard Miss Futrelle sobbing loudly, and on going to her room, discovered the door locked. He demanded admittance and threatened to break open the door if his request was not heeded.

The door was opened, and then, in spite of the parents’ presence and in spite of their well-known objection, arrangements were made by the young couple to be married the following morning. The father heard the deliberate plans with amazement, and then set about to baffle them. Going to a justice of the peace, a warrant was sworn out and served on Copeland, charging him with breaking and entering. Instead of the proposed wedding the following morning, Copeland appeared in court before a judge and after the hearing was discharged, it having been proven that the door of Miss Futrell’s room was not broken in. The remainder of that day was spent by Copeland in formulating and perfecting plans for an elopement. The girl’s parents were likewise preparing to frustrate those plans. At 1 o’clock the following morning, while the moon was softly beaming over the southern city, a carriage was driven to within a block of the Futrelle mansion. Three men alighted. One was Copeland, the second was his lawyer, and the third was Charles D. Hughes, formerly a Boston newspaper man, who had lately been living in Mexico. They entered the grounds surrounding the house, proceeded to a point beneath Miss Futrelle’s window, and – There was a sudden rush from all directions and the three men found themselves surrounded by eight members of Atlanta’s police force.

All were taken to the police station and charged with, loitering and being disorderly. Under the law, they could be allowed to depart on their own recognizance, and the police were about to let them go when Mr Futrelle arrived and insisted that Copeland be held until morning so that a state charge could be preferred against him. Copeland was held, while the other two were liberated. Then the two set about devising a scheme by which Copeland could be set free. The newspaper man furnished the idea. Going to a justice of the peace, that official was roused from bed and a charge of misdemeanor preferred against Copeland. Then the complainant went bail for Copeland, in the sum of $6, and Copeland was free once more. The first train that left Atlanta that morning carried on it Copeland, a fugitive from justice. He went to Augusta, and the day following was joined by Mr. Hughes, who pledged the young lover all the financial support necessary to win. Communication between the couple, however, was stopped for a few days but by the following Thursday another means of communication had been arranged. That day they were to elope. Miss Futrelle was to go to Conyers, a little town 16 miles from Atlanta, and there Copeland would meet her with minister and certificate. About an hour before Copeland was to start he received a telegraphic dispatch informing him of the serious illness of his mother. In consequence, he telegraphed to his lawyer in Atlanta his inability to go to Conyers and asked him to care for Miss Futrelle.

Miss Futrelle performed her part of the program. She was driven to Conyers, and that night stopped with the family of the lawyer, but the next day, Friday, was brought home by her parents. Still Copeland persisted. New arrangements were made whereby they would meet at Charlotte, N.C. Miss Futrelle left her home in a white dress to do some shopping. Instead, she went to the hairdressers, where she had sent a dark traveling dress, and changing her light dress for the dark one, boarded a closed carriage and was driven to the railroad station. A friend of Copeland’s, a fellow-reporter, assisted Miss Futrelle in her departure, and once she was safely on her way, he returned to his own office and wrote a story of the departure of Miss Futrelle for Chattanooga, Tenn. The latest move had bewildered both parents and police.

The police of Chattanooga were ordered by telegraph to arrest either or both of the elopers. Meanwhile Copeland was keeping quiet in Augusta, and on the appointed day, he took the train for Charlotte. He alighted from the train indifferently smoking a cigar. A police officer was standing near the train and he accosted Copeland with the remark: “Got the mate?” It was a startling remark, for to Copeland the words had another meaning to him, but he almost instantly saw the officers innocence and generously handed him a cigar. The police officer said he was waiting for a young fellow who was coming on the train from Atlanta, and who was eloping with a girl from that city. Copeland volunteered the information that he himself was waiting for a young lady, a sister, who was also coming on the train from Atlanta, and so when the Atlanta train rolled in half an hour later the police officer began to look for a “young fellow wearing a yachting cap, who would meet a young lady,” while Copeland boarded the train and continued north. Copeland had succeeded at last in meeting Miss Futrelle outside the state. He telegraphed ahead to Danville, Va, and on their arrival there on Saturday morning, July 8. they went to the house of Rev T. B. Thomes, pastor of the Baptist church in that town, and there they were married.

Atlanta offered no charms for them longer. One of the girl’s brothers had threatened to shoot Copeland on sight, and so they concluded that the greater the distance between the brother and the husband the better it would be for all. The first few days of the honeymoon were spent in Washington, and then the journey was continued northward. The couple arrived in Boston a few days ago, and are now safely ensconced in the groom’s home in Cambridge. This morning Mr Copeland said: “The affair developed a good deal quicker than either of us expected, but her folks caused it to do so. I couldn’t see her abused.”

Already letters have been received from the Atlanta household which almost extend the olive branch of peace, but Copeland’s lungs are quite strong again and he says he thinks he will continue to live up north.”

Charles and Elberta had 10 years together. In 1903, Charles became head of the Massachusetts State House News Service with Elberta at his side. But on September 14, 1913, Charles died. Elberta Futrelle Copeland lived another 37 years and her obituary was published March 25, 1951 in the New York Times as follows: Mrs. Elberta F. Copeland, retired head of the State House News Service and widow of Charles Copeland, died yesterday in Southern Pines, N.C. She was 75 years old. Mrs. Copeland succeeded to the ownership and management of the news-gathering agency at the State House when her husband died in 1913. She was the only woman life member of the Massachusetts State House Press Association.

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