Rufus Ward: A Titanic Columbus link

April 17, 2010 9:31:00 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


This week marks the 98th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and there is a little known Columbus link. Dr John D. Richards grew up in Columbus, went to medical school and then moved to New York City around the turn of the century. In New York he became prominent as a physician, a polo player and a trainer of polo ponies.  


In a 1910 article The New York Times referred to him as a surgeon at St. Mark''s Hospital. His patients included the Rockefeller, Straus, Colt and Barrymore families. After he retired from practice, he and his wife, Marcella Billups Richards, returned to Columbus and resided in her family home at 905 Main St.  


The Titanic struck an iceberg April 14, 1912, and sank around 2:30 a.m. on April 15, carrying with her some 1,517 souls. Among the lost were Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus, who Dr. Richards said were his "good friends." When the Titanic was sinking, Mr. Straus had refused to enter a lifeboat before any other man and Mrs. Straus refused to leave his side. They were both lost, but their story of love and loyalty has lived on in every movie about the Titanic. 


The Carpathia rescued some 705 survivors and carried them to New York. Dr. Richards was one of the physicians called to meet the Carpathia at the dock and tend to those who had survived. Ninety-eight years ago today, on April 18, 1912, the Carpathia arrived in New York harbor with those who had survived. 


Dr. Richards described the scene as "surreal." Thousands of people gathered at the pier where the Carpathia was expected to dock. Many were trying to get information on family and friends. Others just came to gawk at the spectacle. The rescue ship arrived in New York Harbor at about 7 p.m. Prior to docking at its pier the ship unloaded the Titanic''s lifeboats. Dr Richards recalled that his most vivid impression was that of workers trying to sand the name Titanic off of the lifeboats and erase the name as quickly as possible. After the Carpathia docked he was able to pass through the crowd and said he was one of the first to board the Carpathia to tend to those in need. 


I can remember Dr. Richards showing me his copy of Walter Lord''s book on the Titanic, "A Night To Remember," and saying that it was an accurate account of what happened as experienced by the survivors.  


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]