For many people, the sinking of the Titanic exemplifies the risks of luxury ocean travel – even under the supposed best and safest of circumstances. For Frances Taylor and her family, the Titanic stands for the power of Fate to reshape lives and herald a new beginning.
Way back in 1912, Frances Taylor was a shy, curly haired 3 year old. And she was coming to America. Her Scottish Dad was already here, making a new start. Things were looking up – he had rented a new home for the family and he had saved some money. So he booked tickets for his wife and five children to join him. That passage was on the Titanic.
Frances knew this story by heart. A bit from memory, and a bit from her own parents’ telling of the tale. Much later, from her home in Lake Forrest, Orange County, California, she told it many times to her children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who never tired of hearing it.
Gamrie, Scotland, is a small town on the North Sea coast, some 40 miles north of Aberdeen. It had been many months since Frances’ father had left. Now in the States, he was looking forward to being reunited with his brood. He had a lot to tell them. And he would have woken early as usual on the morning of April 15, 1912 then washed and dressed for work. He probably would not have bought a newspaper – he was Scottish after all – and he needed his money for other things. But he would have heard the news:
TITANIC DISASTER – GREAT LOSS OF LIFE
To Frances’ family, the dramatic events of 1912 as they impacted the family were indeed a headline – a personal headline. Watching articles and documentaries over the years about the terrible event, they thought that their Frances deserved a documentary. Her story warranted a proper telling and a permanent record – like the other survivors of the Titanic.
Actually, 3 year old Frances and her family did not make it on board the Titanic. Booked steerage, their Titanic tickets were still a hot property. And, as the family story has it, the family was bumped off the passenger list at the last minute in favor of some higher status travelers. They would travel to the New World on another ship.
Is the shock of great loss any the less because the news later turns out to have been mistaken? Frances’ father was crushed by reports of the Titanic going down. His work, his sacrifice – it was for nothing. Only later did he learn that his family was safe. He would have collapsed a second time – this time from relief. It became the stuff of family legend.
Frances survived the Titanic. Boy, did she survive it. She survived her near miss on the Titanic by 97 years. Talk about making the gods of fate pay.
Frances Taylor died on October 6, last year at her daughter’s home in Lake Forest. Just before that she was honored at Disneyland in Anaheim and drew local headlines which said “Woman who avoids Titanic disaster celebrates 100th at Disneyland”. And Frances took one more boat ride – this time on one of those small skiffs sedately ferrying passengers through the “It’s a Small World” attraction. She was 100 years old and had survived the sinking of the Titanic by a whopping 97 years.
Before she passed, daughter Maggie Winn helped put together a custom-made video biography documentary for her mother – just like “A&E”. Speaking later she said, “She went peacefully. We played her video at her memorial and got so many wonderful compliments on it. It was so touching, beautiful and humorous.”
Frances’ family thrived after they all arrived safely in America. And her story of surviving the Titanic made successive generations even more appreciative of the opportunities they were given by that first lonely Scotsman who thought he has lost it all.
And Frances’ story finally got the attention it deserved – at least as far as her grateful family were concerned.