TITANIC'S MAN OF MYSTERY

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Authored by: Patricia Ruby Futrelle. 1998

The last time May Futrelle saw her husband she was sitting in a lifeboat watching as he stood on deck calmly smoking a cigarette with John Jacob Astor. She had resisted getting into the lifeboat, but Jacques had insisted, assuring her that somehow he would catch up with her later and that she must save herself for the sake of their children. Fortunately, the children, John and Virginia, had not gone with them to Europe.

There were only fourteen others sharing the lifeboat with her, though it had the capacity for 65 people. Stars lit up the clear night sky, casting an ethereal light on the tragic scene of lifeboats carrying women and children, along with a few ship's officers who were struggling to row a safe distance from the "unsinkable" Titanic which was slipping further into the black icy waters of the North Atlantic.

By the time the survivors in lifeboats were picked up by the Carpathia in the light of dawn, hundreds of passengers and crew had gone down with the ship in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.

Jacques celebrated his 37th birthday on April 9, just prior to his death in the Titanic disaster. Born 1875 in Pike County, Georgia to Wiley Harmon Heath Futrelle and Linnie (Bevill) Futrelle, he attended public and private schools but was also tutored by his father who taught at a preparatory college in Atlanta. In addition to basic academics, he was tutored in French (perhaps in deference to the family's Huguenot heritage), and Greek and Latin Classics, as well as contemporary fiction that included the works of Sir Authur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes became his literary hero.

Lennie Futrelle nurtured her son in the appreciation of the arts, which became an integral part of his adult lifestyle and interests. The arts were a source he often used in his writing.

Jacques began his writing career with the Atlanta Journal at age 18. He was only 19 when he accepted a reporter's job with the Boston Post, but became homesick and returned to Atlanta and his work at the Journal. His success with setting up the Journal's first sports department was so outstanding he was recommended for a position with the New York Herald. Before leaving for New York, he and his sweetheart, Lily May Peel, were married in a private ceremony at her parent's home in Atlanta on July 17, l895. They were both just 20 years old and very much in love. Intimate friends often described the marriage as an extended honeymoon.

Jacques began writing mystery and detective stories in his spare time as a creative outlet, as the factual reporting required in his newspaper job did not allow any expression of his creativity. During the brief Spanish-American War, the pressures and demands of his job became so great it affected his health to the point of exhaustion.

His sister, Alberta, offered Jacques and his family the use of her summer home on the coast of Scituate, Massachusetts where he was able to reclaim his health.

In 1902, Jacques accepted the management of a small repertory theater in Richmond, Virginia, an opportunity he felt he could not refuse. He wrote several plays and performed at theaters in Baltimore, Maryland and Knoxville, Tennessee.

When the two-year theater contract expired, the Futrelles returned to their home, Stepping Stones, in Scituate. He accepted a position on the editorial staff of the new Boston American, and continued writing fiction in his spare time. He created the character of "The Thinking Machine", a professor of outstanding intellectual insight who appeared in a series of 42 stories, from 1905 to l912. Jacques' stories of the Thinking Machine are some of the best detective stories ever written. More than a quarter century after his death, the stories were re-serialized in the Beaverbrook newspapers. If Jacques' life had not ended so prematurely, he would have certainly become a major figure in the development of the American detective story.

May Futrelle also authored several novels, notably "The Secretary of Frivolous Affairs", a best seller for six consecutive years. She wrote a lengthy two-part article for the Boston Post, published April 21 and 22, 1912, graphically describing her experience of the Titanic tragedy. She published Jacques' last novel "My Lady's Garter" (1912) after his death. This novel opens with a full-page formal photograph of Jacques and the inscription: "To the heroes of the Titanic I dedicate this my husband's book".

May was instrumental in getting a new Federal Publication Copyright Act enacted in 1940. President Roosevelt presented her with the pen he used to sign the bill into law.

May felt she was no longer afraid of death after that tragic night her husband pushed her into the lifeboat and waited gallantly for his own certain death. Though she had witnessed the worst marine disaster of all time, her spirit was undaunted. In her own words she " lived a full and lovely life", which was spent at Stepping Stones. For as long as she was able, every year on April 14, she stood alone on Third Cliff, along the Scituate coast, and tossed a bouquet of fresh flowers, sprinkled with her tears, into the sea. It was her private memorial to Jacques and to those who lost their lives on the Titanic.

Principal Works of Jacques Futrelle:

  • The Chase of the Golden Plate (1906)
  • The Thinking Machine (1907)*
  • The Thinking Machine on the Case (1908)
  • The Simple Case of Susan (1908)
  • Elusive Isabel (1909)
  • The Diamond Master (1909)
  • The High Hand (1911)
  • My Lady's Garter (Published posthumously, (1912)
* Reissued as "The Problem of Cell 13" (1918)

Review Filmography based on the works of Jacques Futrelle at http://italy.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=futrelle

The British Museum Library has in its collection a copy of "The Problem of Cell 13" published by Chapman and Hall, London 1907. This volume is a rare early edition.

Visit the following website for an interesting analysis of Jacque Futrelle's writing.
http://members.aol.com/MG4273/hanshews.htm#Futrelle

Author's Sources:
Futrelle Family Members; Boston Post "Story of the Titanic" by Mrs. Jacques Futrelle, Published April 22 - 21, 1912;
Who's Who in American Literature; and Jacques Futrelle and the Thinking Machine (1987) by Freddie Seymour and Bettina Kyper.
Published with permission from Patricia Futrelle, a member of the branch of the Futrelle family that settled in the middle Georgia area sometime in the mid to late l800's, and a native Atlantan, having done extensive research into the Futrelle family geneology.

©Patricia Futrelle. 1998

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