Titanic survivor on boat

Mary Wilburn, née Davis, was only 28 years and 333 days old when she became one of the few survivors of the "Unsinkable" RMS  Titanic.

In the night between 14–15 April 1912, approximately 1,513 people died when the Titanic collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage. 

The boat hit the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. – the gashes and fractures created by the impact affected at least five compartments, making it impossible for the ocean liner to stay afloat. 

Two hours later, the ocean had claimed the Titanic's ghastly wreck and the lives of more than half of the passengers, mainly third-class, as well as 67 children.

Living on for over 75 years after the shipwreck, Mary would be remembered as the oldest survivor of the Titanic disaster.

Originally from London, Mary was born on 17 May 1883 and was one of seven children. 

Working as a domestic cook for wealthy families, she was living with her parents when she decided to start a new life in the United States. 

She boarded the Titanic alone with a second-class ticket to begin a new life and career in New York, where her sister Alice and her husband were waiting for her.  

Once aboard the Titanic (Enciclopedia Titanica reports her ticket to be number 237668, with a cost of £13), Mary shared a bunk bed cabin with Yorkshire-born nurse Lucy Ridsdale. Ridsdale would also survive the tragic event and she would never return to England again.

Second-class cabins were located between decks D and F of the humungous ship, and were comfortable spaces with shared lavatories. People who travelled alone like Mary and nurse Ridsdale were paired by gender.

Image of survivors black and white

On the night of the tragedy, both Mary and her travel companion were alerted by the commotion outside their cabin. 

Although they were instructed to return to bed and ignore the chaos, soon a steward ordered the two women to rush on deck with enough time to throw a blanket over their light nightgowns.

“I was afraid,” Mary would recount in several interviews many years later. “People were screaming and crying.”

Clad only in a nightgown and a pair of shoes, Mary realized that in the chaos she had forgotten to take life jackets for herself and Ms Ridsdale. 

She rushed back to her room to fetch the life jackets while the older woman carried on and, once she returned on deck, Mary barely made it to a lifeboat.

She reportedly fell overboard, but was quickly rescued and hoisted back to safety.

“I was holding two babies,” she recounted in a 1985 interview. “But then they were taken from me."

After the collision with the iceberg, as the enormous ship sank into the darkness and floating bodies began to emerge in the surrounding waters, Mary became one of the lucky 800 survivors who lived to tell the tale of the disaster.

Among them was two-month-old Millvina Dean, the youngest Titanic survivor.

According to The Sun of New York, published after the tragedy in April 1912, Mary witnessed the bravery of crewmembers running around the deck to help children and women board the lifeboats. 

She also recounts "seeing First Officer Murdoch commit suicide by shooting".  

“She was unconscious for about two hours and declares she does not remember hearing the band play as the Titanic went down,” reports the 1912 issue of Perth Amboy Evening News.

"When she came to, she said women were sitting on her legs and almost crushing her."

Survivors of the Titanic on the Carpathia

The survivors were eventually rescued by the transatlantic passenger ship Carpathia, which reached the site of the tragedy two hours after the impact and collected over 700 people.

After settling in the US, Mary continued to tell the story of that life-changing night, keeping alive the memory of the many lost lives during the Titanic tragedy, and married Navy sailor John Wilburn. The man served during World War I.

She lived the rest of her life in Syracuse, New York, with her husband John, one child and their grandchildren.

After spending the last eight years of her life in the Loretto Geriatric Center in Syracuse, Mary passed away in Syracuse’s Community General Hospital aged 104 years and 72 days.

The memories of the disaster plagued her entire life.

Countless movies, books and legends tell the tale of the first, and last, voyage of the Titanic

The 1997 blockbuster of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet has racked up several records, and was the highest-grossing film at the global box office ($2.195 billion) ever until the later release of Avatar (2009).

It remains the highest-grossing romance film of all time.

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