Chances are Hadley Nesbitt will wake up this morning with "what if" on his mind.
What if the Carmania passenger liner had no room for seven more passengers when it set sail April 6, 1912? What if the train had been late that day? What if the family hadn't gotten word his great grandfather was gravely ill, requiring an earlier departure than planned?
"We all go through life with all kinds of 'what ifs' and close calls," says the Medford resident. "There are a lot of who-knows-what in our lives we miss along the way that could have done us in."
Yet he would be the first to acknowledge the sinking of the Titanic 100 years ago today likely would have done in some or all of his direct ancestors had they not canceled their reservations at the last minute.
Missing the boat on that fateful voyage were his paternal grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Nesbitt, and their five young children, including his father, Robert, then 5.
"I don't dwell on it a lot, but I have a lot of appreciation they were not on the Titanic," Hadley says. "I've always been very thankful for that."
Hadley, 75, who has a master's degree in education from Xavier University, is retired from a career in college admissions and educational testing. He is known locally for his volunteer work, including on the CASA board and working to support the local library system.
With the anniversary of the Titanic's sinking in mind, he wrote an article — you can read his entire, well-told story by clicking the link in this story online — for his extended family about their ancestor's close call with the Titanic.
It began when his grandfather, a Presbyterian missionary in India, received a furlough to return with his family to his home in Boston for a few weeks. They left India on March 15, with plans to sail from Southampton on April 7 aboard the Majestic, bound for New York City.
But a coal strike caused the Majestic's voyage to be canceled. Her passengers were to be transferred to the Titanic, which was setting sail April 10 on its maiden voyage.
When the family arrived in London, they first checked to confirm their reservations on the Titanic were in order, then dashed out for a bit of sightseeing. But their travel plans were again up in the air when they received a letter notifying them that Henry's father was on his deathbed back in Boston.
Worried about his father, Henry raced back to the booking agency where, after much arm twisting, he was eventually able to get his family booked on the Carmania, scheduled to leave April 6. It was slower than the Titanic and not as grand but would get them to the Big Apple 48 hours ahead of the bigger ship, thanks to its earlier launch.
However, the Carmania was departing from Liverpool, some 175 miles distant. Fortunately, they were able to catch a train that got them to the ship minutes before it set sail.
Had they missed the Carmania, they would have gone back to the Titanic, Hadley notes.
Fast forward to April 11. The Carmania was at a full stop in an ice field about 400 miles south of Newfoundland. In his diary, Henry noted an "enormous berg" off the port bow. He took a photograph of it.
Some 70 years later, Robert Nesbitt, who would become chief geologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would write of that day.
"I can still recall the eerie sensation of drift ice chinking and clanging as (the ship) either stopped momentarily or proceeded slowly and cautiously on a perfectly still sea," he notes.
The Carmania arrived in New York on April 14. The family immediately hopped on a train for Boston to visit Henry's ill father. The next morning they were greeted by shocking headlines in a Boston newspaper, "TITANIC FOUNDERS IN MID OCEAN — WRECKED BY ICEBERG — OVER 1,600 DROWNED."
The "unsinkable" ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic at about 11:40 p.m. on April 14, then slid beneath the waves at 2:20 a.m. the next day. The huge ship that took three years to build sank in less than three hours.
The Titanic went down some 375 miles south of Newfoundland. All told, 1,517 would die. Only 711 survived.
In a postscript, Hadley notes that his grandfather later sent the photograph he took of the iceberg to Daniel Dow, captain of the Carmania. While Captain Dow did not know whether it was the same one that sank the Titanic, he observed that it was in the same vicinity, Hadley says.
Both his grandfather and father lived full lives. Henry died in 1947 at age 71. Robert was nearly 84 when he died in 1990.
"My grandfather put too much — how shall I say it? — providential implication on their deliverance," Hadley says. "Even though I have religious faith, part of me always rejected that Calvinistic side, that fire and brimstone."
Instead, he figures his grandfather's gut instincts and intuition helped spare the family a terrible fate.
"That gets into all kinds of philosophy and religion, why bad things happen to good people," Hadley Nesbitt says. "I'm just grateful to have had the life I've been given."
And he is glad his ancestors missed the boat.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.