Gilbert M. Tucker Jr., 31, of Albany, N.Y., made a split-second decision and climbed into lifeboat No. 7 with his three female companions and a Pomeranian dog wrapped in a blanket.
No. 7 was the first lifeboat launched from the starboard side and was less than half-full when it was lowered by ropes from the disabled British passenger liner, RMS Titanic, which had struck an iceberg.
Tucker survived the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, which claimed the lives of 1,509 people, including 56 children and 114 women.
He spent a lifetime trying to outrun that fact.
His notoriety as a Titanic survivor, particularly in the early years after the disaster, was felt in the sting of mocking whispers of "women and children first" as he walked the streets of his hometown. There were reports of Tucker getting in scuffles with folks who harassed him.
Rumors circulated that Tucker had disguised himself as a woman to secure his place in the lifeboat. Tucker was among 325 men, including two others in the No. 7 lifeboat, who survived.
On the eve of the 100th anniversary on Sunday of one of the worst maritime disasters in history, a gripping narrative that spawned more books, movies and myth than any other ship sinking, Albany's connection to the Titanic remains an enigmatic one -- shrouded in mystery and heartache.
Mostly, it's a footnote long forgotten.
"We haven't had any inquiries. Nobody seems to know we have Titanic survivors," said John Buszta, registrar of Albany Rural Cemetery, where Tucker and Arthur John Bright, an even lesser-known Titanic survivor, are buried.
Tucker was buried in a family plot in section 19. Bright was laid to rest next to strangers in section 36 in a plot owned by St. George's Benevolent Society. It assisted those who lacked sufficient funds to pay for their own burial. Both men have gray granite markers with no mention of the Titanic.
Tucker bore the brunt of scrutiny in a post-Victorian era in which chivalry was highly valued. His decision to save himself when so many women perished did not measure up in the eyes of many.
"My father knew Tucker well and told me that if people knew all the facts, Tucker had nothing to be ashamed of," said Harry Meislahn, an Albany attorney whose late father, Harry Meislahn, was a headmaster of Albany Academy, where Tucker was a trustee.
Tucker graduated in 1898 from Albany Academy and in 1901 from Cornell University. He was the author of four books, a leading voice for Georgists, a tax-reform group based on the writings of economist Henry George. Tucker's father was also an author and editor of an agricultural journal, Country Gentleman, where Tucker worked.
Tucker joined his parents and sisters on a European tour in 1912. He boarded the Titanic by himself because he was smitten with a woman he had met on the tour, Margaret Hays, a 24-year-old high school teacher from New York City. Hays, a girlfriend and her girlfriend's mother took cabin C-54. Tucker, who was in C-53, offered to be their official escort during the Atlantic crossing.
Hays eventually rebuffed Tucker, and he married Mildred Stewart in 1922 when Tucker was 41. The couple had no children and lived for decades in Glenmont in an 1830s brick mansion and sprawling family estate called Rock Hill Farm. The Tuckers later moved to an Arts & Crafts bungalow in Pine Hills. In the 1960s they moved to California, where they lived in an assisted living center in Carmel. Tucker died in 1968, his wife in 1981.
The only remnant of Tucker at Rock Hill Farm today is a slat from an old wooden packing crate stamped with G.M. Tucker and shipped from a Chicago mill.
"I consider this a survivor's house," said owner Amy Musiker, who moved into the long-neglected 6,000-square-foot mansion two years ago. She is slowly restoring the house and reclaiming the property's overgrown acres.
In his later years, Tucker was recalled as a slight, soft-spoken and well-dressed fellow who enjoyed a life of leisure. He kept a small office with a secretary in the old D&H Building, now the SUNY headquarters, at the foot of State Street and Broadway. He tracked his investments, including early shares of IBM stock that performed spectacularly well.
By the time Tucker was a septuagenarian, he had managed to turn the page on his brush with infamy.
"I never heard him say one word about the Titanic," recalled Norman Rice, 85, of Menands, emeritus director of the Albany Institute of History & Art who socialized with Tucker and his wife in the 1950s and '60s. Rice took dance lessons with the Tuckers, dined frequently with them, joined them on Cape Cod and visited them in California.
"I didn't know anything about him surviving the Titanic until after he died," Rice said. "I would have asked him about it had I known. I missed a golden opportunity."
Arthur John Bright, a 41-year-old Englishman and quartermaster on the ship, was in the last lifeboat. He testified before Congress at an inquiry into the Titanic sinking and provided the most detailed description of the ship's final moments.
Bright, who slept through the impact with the iceberg, said he heard the popping of rivets ("like a rattling of chain") and watched the ship as it rose up in back and broke into two pieces. The front section sank several moments before the stern section went down. "The lights stayed on the stern until she finally settled under the water," Bright testified.
Bright later moved from England and settled in Albany. He lived at 50 Dove St. and died on May 21, 1921 at age 49, reportedly from tuberculosis.
Peter Hess, a local historian and former president of the board of Albany Rural Cemetery, chronicles the Titanic survivors in his book "People of Albany," and believes that "Tucker got a bad rap."
Tucker left his estate in two trusts to Albany Academy, where the library is named for his father, Gilbert M. Tucker Sr. The school has received money from the first trust. The second trust, which is much larger, was set up as a life income beneficiary instrument. Tucker named two children of the couple's longtime aides who will receive interest from the trust until they die. The children are now in their late 60s and live on the West Coast.
After their deaths, the last of the money accumulated by the Titanic survivor will go to Albany Academy. The trust is invested and has a current value of nearly $2 million, Meislahn said.
Tucker left a copy of his book, "The Path to Prosperity," published by Putnam in 1935 to his alma mater. He inscribed it "To the Albany Academy from a devoted son."
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