Every April 15th we are reminded of the tragic sinking of the Titanic; artifacts are uncovered, lost letters are translated, and news articles retrace the final moments of the international disaster. Many of these accounts credit and source one of the primary pieces of non-fiction written on the subject, A Night To Remember, by Gilman’s own Walter Lord, Class of 1935. Archivist Jillian Matos reflects on one of Gilman’s most well-known graduates.
Signs of Lord and his muse, the Titanic, can be found all over the Gilman campus, in particular the Middle School Library bearing his name and it’s unique collection of displayed ephemera, including the box of 276 pencils he used to write the famed work. Glimpses into Mr. Lord’s research can also be found deep in the holdings of the school’s archives through book collections, scrapbooks, and journals featured here.
Entering as a fourth grader in 1926, Walter quickly immersed himself in Gilman life joining the track team, Glee Club, choir, and leading the Areopagus debating team. Walter Lord credited his Upper School History teacher, Herbert Pickett with sparking his interest in American History. As president of the Literary Club, editor-in-chief of the Blue & Gray, copy editor of the News, and associated editor of the Cynosure, Walter Lord’s thoughtful writing began in Carey Hall classrooms. At his 1935 graduation from Gilman, a young Walter Lord was awarded The Princeton-Gilman Alumni Cup for the best Sixth Form Speech of the year for his speech on the sinking of the Titanic.
The infamous disaster had fascinated Walter throughout his entire life, sending him on summer cruises with his mother including one aboard the RMS Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic. Seen here are pages from his scrapbook of shipwrecks titled “S.O.S” and his collection of spoons from aboard the various ships. Also included in the Walter Lord Collection are ship plans for all of the liners ever boarded by Lord.
Walter Lord can be credited with bringing a unique journalistic approach to his writing, doing intensive research and interviews prior to drafting and publication. A selection of his personal American History book collection is also held in the Archives alongside the thirteen books authored by him.
This year, on the 102nd anniversary of the tragic sinking on April 15th, let’s take a moment to remember the man who wouldn’t let us forget – the unsinkable Walter Lord.
“Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.” Walter Lord, Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway