Survivors of the Titanic: The Two Waifs of the Sea
When the RMS Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, over 1,500 people died in what was one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. Of the estimated 2,240 passengers and crew on board, over 700 survived. Amongst the survivors where two young French boys who were tossed into a lifeboat by their father, who had died in the disaster. Unable to speak English, the identity of the boys was a mystery.
The boys were at first misidentified as Louis and Lola / Library of Congress
The press dubbed the boys the “Titanic Orphans” or the “Two Waifs of the Sea.” They were cared for by first-class Titanic passenger Margaret Hays, who housed them in her home with the assistance of the Children’s Aid Society until they could be claimed by family.
The Evening World, April 22, 1912 / Library of Congress
The eldest child was around 3 and half years old. His little brother was 2. Without any names, they were called Louis and Lola by others. Hays nicknamed the youngest “Lump” while they were in her care. The children had been traveling as second class passengers with their father, who was known by the name Hoffman. It was presumed that their father was probably a widower, but other than that, nothing else was known about of their identities.
The Evening World, April 20, 1912 / Library of Congress
Newspapers across the country published stories and pictures of the brothers in the hopes of identifying the children. The articles recounted how their father tossed them into the safety of a lifeboat as the ship was sinking. He remained on the ship and perished along with over 1,500 others.
The Evening World, May 16, 1912 / Library of Congress
In France, Marcelle Caretto was distraught after the disappearance of her two children until she saw a newspaper article showing the pictures of the “Titanic Orphans.” To her surprise, she realized they were her sons, Michel and Edmond. They were known affectionately by their nicknames, Lola and Momen. Once it was confirmed that the children were indeed her’s, the White Star Line provided her free passage to New York to reunite the family.
The Evening World, May 12, 1912 / Library of Congress
The story of how her sons came to be on board the Titanic was quite a story in and of itself. Born in Buenos Ayres, Argenitina to Italian parents, Marcelle moved to Nice, France with her family. It was there that she met and married Michel Navratil, a Hungarian who worked as a woman’s tailor. The couple had been married for four years, but were in the process of formally separating. During this time, Marcelle was given custody of the children and Michel was allowed to see them once a month. Her godfather helped facilitate these visits by dropping the children off with their father on these days. On Easter Sunday on April 7, 1912, her godfather took the children to Michel’s home for their scheduled visit. When he returned to pick them up, he found that Michel and the children were gone. Later, it was discovered that Michel had assumed the name Louis Hoffman and purchased tickets for the Titanic. Marcelle had no idea that her children were also on board the doomed ship.
Michel’s body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett, which became known for recovering the majority of the Titanic victims. He was buried in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery in Halifax.
Marcelle and her sons, Lola and Momon / Library of Congress
After being reunited, the family returned home to France. It’s good to see that a happy ending was still possible after the tragedy of the Titanic.