By Andrew Wilson - Smithsonian Magazine
Dorothy Gibson—the 22-year-old silent film star— huddled in a lifeboat, dressed in only a short coat and sweater over an evening gown. She was beginning to shiver.
Ever since it had been launched, at 12:45 a.m., Lifeboat 7 had remained stationed only 20 yards away from the Titanic in case it could be used in a rescue operation.
Dorothy and her mother, Pauline, who had been traveling with her, had watched as lifeboat after lifeboat left the vessel, but by just after 2 o’clock it was obvious that the vast majority of its passengers would not be able to escape from the liner.
Realizing that the ship’s sinking was imminent, lookout George Hogg ordered that Lifeboat 7 be rowed away from the Titanic. The risk of being sucked down was high, he thought, and so the passengers and crew manning the oars rowed as hard as they could across the pitch-black sea. Dorothy could not take her eyes off the ship, its bow now underwater, its stern rising up into the sky.
“Suddenly there was a wild coming together of voices from the ship and we noticed an unusual commotion among the people about the railing,” she said. “Then the awful thing happened, the thing that will remain in my memory until the day I die.
Dorothy listened as 1,500 people cried out to be saved, a noise she described as a horrific mixture of yells, shrieks and moans. This was counterpointed by a deeper sound emanating from under the water, the noise of explosions that she likened to the terrific power of Niagara Falls. “No one can describe the frightful sounds,” she remembered later.
Before stepping onto the Titanic, Dorothy Gibson had already transformed herself from an ordinary New Jersey girl into a model for the famous illustrator Harrison Fisher—whose lush images of idealized American beauty graced the covers of popular magazines—and then into a star of the silent screen.