En svensk och Titanic: Titanic Carl
He came to be known as “Titanic Carl” in his Wahoo community, and his story has been passed through his family for many years. Carl Johnson was a survivor of the sinking of Titanic, and his haunting account of the sinking lives on today.
Carl Johnson was born Carl Jansson in Loushult, Kristianstad, Sweden in 1886. He was a 3rd class passenger aboard the RMS Titanic and perhaps Nebraska’s most famous Titanic connection. Johnson changed his name from Jansson to better assimilate with American culture after the sinking. He originally left Sweden as to avoid compulsory military service which would last 3 years. At the time he left, he was 21, 6 feet tall and only spoke Swedish.
Sweden had not approved him to immigrate to America. Instead, Johnson left for Denmark where someone encouraged to wait longer so he could travel on the most luxurious ship of the time, Titanic.
Originally set to travel aboard the RMS Adriatic, Johnson paid an extra 10 dollars to board Titanic. He had faith in the unsinkable ship, and that faith remained until April 15th, 1912.
Johnson was going to meet his brother, who lived in Wahoo, Nebraska. When the ship collided with the iceberg, Johnson felt nothing. He went up to boat deck where he did not sense any emergency or feeling of panic. That was until he saw officers shooting rockets into the air. Johnson and his friends hurried back to their cabin to get lifebelts, which they had left behind before. However, Johnson ended up back on the boat deck without a lifebelt. Johnson recalls,
“Then I run down to my cabin to bring my other clothes, watch and bag but had only time to take the watch and the coat when water with enormous force came into the cabin and I had to rush up to the deck again where I found my friends standing with lifebelts on and with terror painted on their faces. What should I do now, with no lifebelt and no shoes and no cap?”
Officer Suicide Testimony from Johnson
The death of 1st Officer Murdoch is something heavily debated for the last 100 years or so. There is a theory that Murdoch committed suicide, but some believe that did not happen. Johnson himself remembers the head officer shooting himself, writing,
“I glanced toward the bridge and saw the chief officer place a revolver in his mouth and shoot himself. His body toppled overboard..”
However, Johnson’s testimony has not convinced the mass public of this possibility. This is probably due to the many other claims against Murdoch’s suicide.
Johnson stayed on the ship until the end, not boarding a lifeboat. Being 3rd class, he was not fortunate enough to be able to have entered one. He does remember the final moments when the ship dived into the freezing waters.
We were suddenly plunged into darkness, save for the cold, clear light of the heavens, for it was a starlit night. I could not accustom myself to the change for several minutes. I think I was in a sort of daze and have no clear recollection of what happened afterward or how long a time had elapsed. Suddenly I heard shrieks and cries amidships, and the sharp reports of several shots. People began to run by me toward the stern of the ship, and as I started to run I realized that the boat was beginning to go down rapidly.”
“I can still see those four smoke stacks disappearing into the water one at a time; then there was a terrific explosion with flames shooting high in the air,’ Then it settled and was gone.’
Although it is believed that Titanic broke in two, Johnson gave testimony that the ship did not. He does claim, however, to have seen explosions in the final moments of the sinking.
Desperate to save his own life, Johnson jumped into the piercing water. It is believed Johnson swam to the collapsible lifeboat B where he admitted to fighting off men from boarding.
Lifeboats and other passengers
“When I think of it, I can’t understand how I could be saved, but my cold-bloodedness to push away the others from the raft so it could be kept on the sea level did much to it. It is awful, but in such a moment the only question is your own life.”
He did feel terribly sad about this later, writing in a letter, “It was such a tragedy. You always feel guilty you survived when almost everybody else didn’t,” He also believes that the event even occurring was inexcusable on the behalf of the company.
God Saved Son
Johnson wrote his family shortly after the tragedy, explaining how his survival is miraculous.
One can’t describe with a pencil the terrible things I witnessed; he writes. While I now write to you I can’t enough Thank God that I am alive. I think when you receive this letter you’ll think I am dead. Most likely the newspapers have written that the biggest ship in the world “Titanic” has sunk with man and all.
He finishes the letter by writing he will not longer strain his mind, saying, I cannot go on straining my mind anymore, and stop here with a hearty greeting to you from your through the providence of God saved son.
He settled in Nebraska after the sinking, learning English. As stated in the beginning of the article, he changed his last name to assimilate into American culture. It is believed he married a fellow Swedish immigrant who worked at the same factory he did.
Carl Johnson became known in his little Nebraska community as Titanic Carl. He would give many interviews and talk to children about the disaster. However, he stopped the talking to children, as his heavy Swedish accent made them laugh occasionally.
When the country entered into WW1, Johnson, who had originally left Sweden to avoid military service ironically fought for America. He still says that, no matter how horrifying the images of war were, they didn’t compare to April 15th, 1912. He returned from France when the war ended, where he spent his life in quiet Nebraska until he suffered a stroke in 1978.
The night the Titanic sank haunted him for the rest of his life. He remembers from that night,
“… Eight hours of wild struggles in the dark with plaintive cries that pierced the very marrow of my bones …“