The men and women at Schenectady’s Union Presbyterian Church sang “Nearer My God to Thee” on Sunday, April 21, 1912.
The hymn’s verses, always solemn, seemed sadder this day: “Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, darkness be over me, my rest a stone. Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God to Thee . . .”
People in the pews were crying. A week earlier, the magnificent RMS Titanic had struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank into cold water that claimed 1,517 lives. The band on board the giant passenger ship played “Nearer My God” as a maiden voyage came to a tragic finish.
Schenectady mourned on April 21, and during and prayed for departed souls at local churches such as Union Presbyterian. Hymns of the sea were sung at the Second Reformed Church, and Rev. John Gerhardus Meengs talked about the loss of the “unsinkable” ship.
At St. George’s Church, Rev. Dr. B.W.R. Taylor presented a sermon titled “They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships.” The church displayed both American and English flags during the morning gathering.
A large crowd also attended First Methodist Church and listened as Rev. Dr. F.W. Adams spoke about “Some Social and Spiritual Values in this Hour of Grief.”
New York churches
People were crying in other cities, too, including like New York City, where the Titanic was to have completed its first journey. Chimes at Old Trinity, St. Patrick’s and St. John the Divine churches tolled at the same time on April 21.
“We may give thanks for the heroism, the calmness and the courageousness shown on that ship in the last few horrible minutes,” said Rev. William T. Manning of Trinity.
Pastor G.P. Eckman said disasters such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic were not heavenly punishments for man’s wickedness.
“God really existed in the hearts of those husbands and wives who went down, knit together in the arms of death, and in the hearts of those brave men who played ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ while the ship was sinking,” he said during his sermon at St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, .
Some women aboard the Titanic had refused to leave their husbands, as other women and children were placed in lifeboats. Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch of Chicago, speaking at the Free Synagogue at Carnegie Hall, remembered Jews who had lost their lives in the disaster.
“It will be a long time,” he said, “before the world will forget the quiet and manly heroism of Isidore Straus and the wifely devotion of Mrs. [Ida] Straus, who refused to be saved without him.”
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