Was Frank Tower the luckiest man ever known? Or is this one of the oldest urban legends in existence?
Frank “Lucky” Tower was a “fireman” by trade. A fireman, or stoker, tended the fires that kept steam-powered engines moving. He was the only individual known to survive not only the sinking of the Titanic, but also the sinkings of the RMS Empress of Ireland, and the RMS Lusitania.
Frank Tower survived the Titanic sinking in 1912. Nearly two years later, he tried his luck with another boat. It was the Empress of Ireland. Unfortunately, the Empress collided with another ship and sank. Not one to be discouraged, Frank tried his luck again, as a crewmember aboard the RMS Lusitania. Sadly, this ship sank as well, in May of 1915.
Tower lost all interest in a sea-faring career afterward. He gave up the open seas for nice, quiet life farming.
Focus on History
The Titanic was a British passenger liner, deemed “The Unsinkable.” It was the largest ship afloat at the time of its maiden voyage. The journey started in Southampton, England, and was supposed to travel to New York City. The White Star liner carried 2,224 people. The Titanic struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912. The death toll was 1,502 people.
The RMS Empress of Ireland collided with the Norwegian SS Storstad in 1914. It sailed on the Saint Lawrence River, outside of Quebec. The Empress carried 1,477 persons and 1,012 died. It is the worst loss of life in any Canadian maritime accident during peace.
The RMS Lusitania was named after Lusitania, or what is part of Portugal today. The Lusitania began service in 1907 and sailed for years without issue. The ship’s dependability was no match for a torpedo. The German U-boat U-20 identified and torpedoed the Lusitania, on May 7, 1915. The death toll was 1,198 out of 1,959 passengers. It was symbolic of the changing sentiment, when many nations sided against Germany during the First World War.
Even More History
Surviving a single sinking would have been a miracle, but surviving three? As you can probably guess, no such individual existed. Passenger lists from each of the respective ships have been examined for years, but no man named, “Frank Tower,” has ever been on all three.
A man named Frank Tower did survive the Lusitania. A man named William Clark survived both the Titanic and the Empress of Ireland. No one known ever survived all three disasters.
Violet Jessop is the closest to Tower’s rank, in history. She was a nurse who survived the collision of the RMS Olympic and the HMS Hawke in 1910. She then survived the sinking of the Titanic, and the HMHS Britannic in 1916.
That Legend Sounds Familiar
Tower’s story leads back to an even older unsinkable character, named Hugh Williams. Williams was the sole survivor on a ship that carried 81 passengers, on December 5, 1664. Williams was then involved in a boat accident on December 5, 1785. His ship at that point carried 60 people, and 59 died. William’s apparently decided he would only sail in smaller boats. His decision didn’t help. He boarded a ship with a mere 26 passengers on August 5, 1820. He was passenger #26, and again the sole survivor.
One of the most ironic coincidences is that a man named Hugh Williams really did board the Titanic, but did not survive. His body was never recovered, but he is listed among the dead. He boarded the ill-fated vessel in Southampton, but his destination was unknown.
Due to age and obscurity, tracing the factuality of the Hugh Williams legend is impossible.
Why Stop Now?
Frenchman Casimir Polemus was a legend in the Nineteenth Century. He survived the sinking of the Jeanne Catherine, on July 11, 1875. Polemus then survived the wreck of the Trois Feres, on September 4, 1880. To add to the wonder, he then survived the wreck of the L’Odeon, on January 1, 1882. He was the sole survivor in every incident.
Fans of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery will recall the episode titled, Lone Survivor. It’s believed Serling based the episode on the story of Frank Tower.
The show Ripley’s Believe It or Not actually reported these tales as if they were true. Author Clive Cussler also mentions Frank Tower in his book The Sea Hunters.
The original article can be found here: http://appalachiangothic.com/2012/09/frank-lucky-tower
- “Frank Tower,” Wikipedia.org, December 14, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Tower
- “On the Trail of ‘Lucky’ Tower” Encyclopedia-Titanica.org, Dec. 14, 2017, https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/lucky-tower.html
- “Mr. Francis ‘Frank’ Toner (Tower), Fireman” Rmslusitania.info, Dec. 14, 2017, http://www.rmslusitania.info/people/engineering/francis-toner/