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Titanic Shipwreck: On the Trail of Italians on Board

As we commemorate the most tragic and unforgettable shipwreck in modern history, new information emerges about the stories of the Italians aboard and some survivors. Let’s go back to that frigid night 112 years ago, just 3 days after the boarding of the 269-meter marine giant. At 2:20 am on April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank with no possibility of return. Among the more than 1500 dead and the approximately 700 survivors, many Italians are hidden, each with their own diverse stories.

Many Italians Among Titanic’s Waitstaff

Apparently, at that time, being Italian meant one thing: reliability in catering services. This seems to be the reason there were quite a few Italians among the crew members (in addition to the regular passengers).

This is the story of Battista Bernardi, born in 1890. He wanted to marry his beloved Maria, and although he belonged to a wealthy family, he had decided to seek his fortune abroad to independently fund his wedding. After an apprenticeship in Paris, he worked at the Ritz Hotel in London, a gem for the time. Always in search of better pay, he found it as a waiter on the Titanic, but luck was not on his side.

Battista Bernardi - Italians on Titanic
Battista Bernardi – Italians on Titanic | Credit

Battista Bernardi did not survive; the body of the young man, just over 20 years old, was found at sea a few days after the sinking. Today, he rests in peace in the Catholic cemetery of Halifax, Scotland.

According to the scholar Claudio Bossi, one of the foremost experts on the event, of the 41 Italians on the Titanic, only a couple survived. Among those on board, 10 were passengers (two of whom were in second class), while the others were workers. Tracing the stories of the 41 Italians on board is currently a utopia, but we can start with what we know best, such as the story of the famous chef Gatti.

Chef Luigi Gatti and His Exclusive Titanic Menu

Luigi Gatti, born in Italy but the owner of 3 restaurants in London, was in charge of the Titanic’s kitchen. He stayed in second class on deck D, while his 50 subordinates stayed on deck E, which was known as the ship’s basement.

The last dinner before the catastrophe proposed by Chef Gatti was an exclusive one for 170 people: only for travelers who had paid a hefty $4,300 for their ticket. Today, we know the menu of the last dinner in such detail because it was found in the jacket of one of the survivors, Irwin Flynn, who wanted to show it to friends and family once he returned home.

The Dinner of April 14, 1912

The last dinner on Titanic
The menu

Chef Gatti’s dinner for the elite passengers began with an appetizer of oysters, followed by a wide selection of premium meats. The extensive choices included filet covered with foie gras and truffle, chicken cooked in vinegar, mint-flavored lamb, roast beef, duck breast, and grilled mutton. There was also a buffet of accompanying vegetables, French fries, and stewed shrimp.

To conclude, a rich selection of desserts such as Peaches in Chartreuse jelly and chocolate and vanilla eclairs.

Luigi Gatti was undoubtedly the most prominent Italian victim, according to the scholar Bossi.

The Story of Argene Genovesi (Among the Few Survivors)

We know frighteningly little about the survivors; unfortunately, there isn’t much information about the Italians aboard the Titanic. However, one of the richest testimonies comes from Argene Genovese, who was traveling with her husband in second class. She passed away in 1970, but her daughter Maria gave a very valuable interview in 1998 for the reconstruction of the story.

Titanic - italians on board
Maria, the daughter of the survivor Argene | Credit

Argene was pregnant, carrying little Maria who would be born in just two months; at 1:00 am on April 15, she heard a very loud noise. Her husband Sebastiano looked out the porthole and saw the unthinkable; time was running too fast. The couple reached the ship’s deck; women and children had priority to board the lifeboats. “Go safely, we will see each other soon,” were the last words exchanged between Argene and Salvatore. Climbing onto lifeboat 11, Argene returned to Italy, never receiving any news of her beloved husband again, and just 7 months later, she gave birth to her daughter Maria.

Research by scholar Bossi lists the Italian dead among the countries with the highest number of missing. Unfortunately, we will never know with certainty how many Italians boarded. There may have been other Italians in third class; often, entry documents were incomplete, and Italians were sometimes mistaken for French.

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