HomeHealthFixing a century-old byline thriller

Fixing a century-old byline thriller

Fixing a century-old byline thriller

Who was “Atlanticus,” the author who foreshadowed the Titanic catastrophe?

A magnifying glass hovers over the word "Atlanticus"
Illustration by Matteo Giuseppe Pani. Sources: Getty.

That is an version of Time-Journey Thursdays, a journey by means of The Atlantic’s archives to contextualize the current and floor pleasant treasures. Join right here.

“Do you wish to know whom a e-book’s by?” E. M. Forster asks in a 1925 essay on the query of anonymity in literature and journalism. The follow is ok in fiction, he argues, however not in information writing. Forster, nonetheless, wasn’t in cost: His essay, which appeared within the November 1925 subject of The Atlantic, was adopted by an article bylined “Nameless.”

Although our journal withheld bylines solely in its first few years (commonplace for publications on the time), unnamed or unidentified writers remained a frequent sighting in our archives effectively into the twentieth century. Some individuals have been seemingly allowed to masks their identification so they may poke enjoyable: In 1963, two ladies used a single pen identify to publish a spirited takedown of vacation playing cards. In 1968, one Adam Smith™ (trademark image included) wrote fictional vignettes from his place as a “pseudonymous chronicler of the mystification and mores of Wall Avenue” and most actually not because the political economist Adam Smith (born 1723). Others have been granted anonymity below increased stakes: In 1965, Mrs. X shared her expertise acquiring a secure however then-illegal abortion as a married middle-class mom of three kids. In 1930, a deserter gave an unvarnished account of the entrance traces of World Conflict I.

One byline specifically has lengthy nagged at me: In our August 1913 subject, wherein all different contributors are named, “Atlanticus” gives a 6,000-word postmortem on the failings that led to the April 1912 sinking of the Titanic. I’d by no means seen the byline earlier than. Longtime Atlantic editors Scott Stossel and Cullen Murphy, who moonlight as our journal’s casual historians, instructed me they’d by no means encountered it both.

An article heading that reads: The Unlearned Lesson of the Titanic By Atlanticus
The Atlantic

Atlanticus, who on the finish of the essay briefly describes himself as “an officer on an Atlantic passenger steamer,” was livid over continued inaction on the a part of transatlantic-ocean-liner firms, in addition to authorities officers.

Since that fateful evening of April, 1912, what have we executed in the best way of reform that may go towards averting one other such catastrophe? Bear in mind, the day of the unsinkable ship is just not but; however the majority of passenger vessels now in service on the Atlantic carry as many passengers as did the Titanic. … The felony waste of cash at current compelled upon all the massive transatlantic liner firms is proof optimistic that some silly Jack-in-office has been given a free rein.

Atlanticus additionally enthusiastically and repeatedly cited a Might 1910 Atlantic essay titled “The Man on the Bridge,” written by Charles Terry Delaney. He deems Delaney a person who “evidently knew his floor,” and calls the essay “a startling article.” I do know the 1910 essay effectively. It chillingly describes most of the circumstances—overworked ship officers, improper security protocols, cost-cutting, fog and icebergs—that finally doomed the Titanic, two years earlier than the precise catastrophe. Allegations in “The Man on the Bridge” induced such a stir that the writer wrote a follow-up within the August 1910 subject of The Atlantic, and The New York Instances lined the following controversy on August 3, 1910. Did Delaney and Atlanticus know one another? Each wrote with suspicious specificity and insider information of the maritime business. The Atlanticus byline appeared once more in 1915, in an article concerning the brutal realities of the lifetime of sailors.

Scott advised as a closing resort that I look by means of an outdated submitting cupboard that was used to trace cost data for Atlantic contributors earlier than the web period (now it’s displayed principally as an vintage subsequent to the desks of my colleagues who make podcasts). There I discovered, on a typewritten index card, the identify of a author and the titles of 9 articles written from 1909 onward, for which The Atlantic paid variously $50 to $100. Two of these tales have been “The Unlearned Lesson of the Titanic” and “The Man on the Bridge.” Delaney and Atlanticus seemed to be pen names for a British naval officer named Alexander G. McLellan.

McLellan wrote below his actual identify for us solely twice: in a 1911 essay titled “A British View of American Naval Expenditure” and in a 1914 essay known as “Wished: An American Minister of Marine.” Different biographical particulars from his unsigned work clicked into place for me: The writer was the chief officer of a British ship. He’d fought as a younger man within the Boer Conflict. The index card lists his closing article for The Atlantic as “Radical’s Progress,” which mourns younger troopers buried at sea throughout World Conflict I:

Day after day these burials went on. Later I refused to attend them. The end got here when one physique caught to the stretcher by purpose of the blood having oozed by means of the wrappings and congealed. The physique needed to be pried adrift earlier than it will slide of its personal weight into the ocean. I can not inform you any extra simply but. I sicken as I write. The stupidity of all of it!

That essay was printed anonymously in February of 1916.

“The Man on the Bridge” drew warmth (“If true, the allegations made ought to end in fast motion … If not able to substantiation the article ought to by no means have been printed,” one reviewer argued), although the Titanic catastrophe offered the writer with a measure of vindication. We are able to’t know for certain why McLellan and his editor selected to publish essential work below so many various names. Maybe we will chalk up the choice to the looser practices of that period. Or maybe the outrage following “The Man on the Bridge” drove the writer to go nameless for “The Unlearned Classes of the Titanic.” However the identification of Atlanticus is now recognized, and his accounts have been examined by historical past.

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