By KRIS KOSACH
Special to The Union Democrat
One hundred years ago this weekend, the RMS Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic and — while movies, documentaries, and even a memorial cruise will commemorate the tragedy — it is unlikely any will mention Tuolumne County native and Titanic survivor Washington Dodge.
Dodge was born near Jamestown in 1859 to Eliza and Mark Tyler Dodge. His father initially came to the area from New York during the Gold Rush, but remained in the area where he ran a successful medical practice.
Dodge attended Sonora public schools, where according to a 1998 Union Democrat article written by Tuolumne County Historian Carlo DeFerrari, Dodge’s mother was also a teacher.
After Mark Dodge died in 1866, the family moved to the Bay Area. The Tuolumne County Historical Society reports that they often returned to Sonora to visit relatives, most notably Eliza’s brother, Tuolumne County District Attorney Edwin Rogers.
Washington Dodge studied medicine at the University of California, but by 1896 he had moved into politics as San Francisco’s Tax Assessor.
During a citywide corruption scandal, Dodge was called to defend himself by a grand jury. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the incident may have contributed to his declining health.
In early 1912, along with his second wife, Ruth, and their 4-year-old son Washington Jr., Dodge sought medical treatment in Paris.
Upon their return, the family purchased first-class tickets on board the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
Women and children first
Four days into her maiden voyage, the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. That was at 11:40 p.m. on April 14.
As the situation went from bad to worse, and it became evident the ship was sinking, Ruth Dodge, and her son were among the first to enter a life raft.
Male passengers were told to “stand back” in order to accommodate the maritime law of women and children first.
Nevertheless, on the starboard side of the ship, rafts were being lowered at a fraction of their capacity, and a number of men were allowed to board.
Over the years, there has been speculation that some male passengers used questionable tactics in order to escape, including dressing up as women. However, no notable source has ever given the story credence.
Still, there are varying reports as to how Doctor Dodge came to find a seat in Life Raft 13. Frederick Dent Ray was a First Class Steward aboard the Titanic and knew the Dodge’s quite well.
During the 1912 US Senate inquiry on the disaster, Dent testified he pushed Dodge into the boat.
Another account maintains an officer ordered Dodge into the boat to accompany unattended children.
The doctor himself claimed a crewman told him to “tumble in” and he did. Other notable survivors in Life Raft 13 included schoolteacher Lawrence Beesley, who wrote a successful book about his experience, and Reginald Lee, one of the two lookouts who first spotted the iceberg.
Cries wafted across the waters
Surviving the tragedy when so many women and children perished weighed heavily on Dodge.
A month after the sinking, he gave a heartfelt address to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, where he reportedly broke down in tears as he recounted the “faint, yet distinct cries which were wafted across the waters.”
Dodge’s account of the Titanic disaster has been well documented. Historians often cite his eyewitness account of a Titanic officer’s alleged shooting of passengers before turning the gun on himself.
Numerous websites, books and articles continue to examine the case.
Dodge went on to become a successful banker and President of the Federal Telegraph Company. In 1919, he resigned his post after being sued for allegedly withholding information from stockholders.
Five months later, Dodge committed suicide. His death certificate states he was “mentally unbalanced.”
The Dodges’ story may have faded into obscurity with the passage of a century, but one vestige of their journey recently made global headlines.
It was a first-class menu from the Titanic’s final luncheon. Among the offerings: Corned Ox Tongue, Grilled Mutton Chops, and a Scottish fowl soup called “Cockie Leekie.”
Ruth Dodge had slipped the menu in her purse as a souvenir after lunch, according to various news reports.
The Dodge’s menu, considered extremely rare by collectors, sold at auction for more than $120,000 on March 31.
Kris Kosach, a graduate of Summerville High School, is an Atlanta-based freelance writer, DJ and occasional TV personality. She is also a confessed