I came across an advertisement in the Washington Post on April 25th, 1915 — exactly 97 years ago today (a good “This Day in History” post) — for passage to Europe on the Lusitania. People glancing at this ad likely thought nothing of it because the New York to Liverpool route was heavily traveled and one of the most important routes for the Cunard Line.
The ship had entered service eight years early and made countless successful crossing, however now the world was almost a full year into The Great War, which was consuming Europe. You could easily have a pleasant, late spring voyage to Europe by picking up tickets at 517 14th St. NW office. Take a few days to get your house in order, head off to Union Station (built just seven years earlier) and board a train for New York. Before too long, you would arrive at Pier 54 in Chelsea and be about the luxurious and comfortable Lusitania, settling in for your voyage across the Atlantic.
Quick side note … Pier 54 was the same spot where, three years earlier, the Carpathia discharged the survivors of the Titanic. The pier has a sad marriage with tragedy, accepting the few survivors of Titanic and as the spot where over 1,000 unwitting Lusitania passengers departed on their ill-fated voyage.
Just three days before this advertisement, the German Embassy in Washington issued the following critical alert.
TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY Washington, D.C. 22nd April 1915
The ship departed New York City on May 1st at noon, two hours late, heading east towards the British Isles. By May 7th, she had nearly crossed the entire Atlantic, coming within 120 miles of Ireland. The German submarine, U-20, approached within a kilometer of the Lusitania and, at 2:10 p.m., fired a single torpedo towards the ship. It ripped into the starboard (right) side of the ship with an incredibly violent explosion. Within 18 minutes, the ship was fully submerged, heading to the bottom of the ocean.
The ship took the lives of 1,198 souls, including 128 citizens of the then-neutral United States. The sinking set America down the inevitable path to joining the war against Germany.
For those of you with sharp eyes you’ll notice another historically significant vessel mentioned in the advertisement. That’s right … the Carpathia was also a Cunard Line ship. As in, the Carpathia that picked up the survivors of the Titanic. This advertisement was just a little over three years to the day that the ship steamed to the scene of the tragedy to take on 705 survivors from the doomed Titanic.