Since we are coming up very quickly on anniversary of the sinking of the steamship Titanic (April 14th or 15th, 1912 depending upon whether you look at when she hit the iceberg versus when she actually disappeared into the frigid Atlantic Ocean) I thought it would be fitting to discuss some of Chicago's links to the infamous disaster. I am planning a number of articles on Chicago's links to the the Titanic. One of those such links would be William Thomas Stead. Mr. Stead was one of the over 1,500 souls that perished in the icy waters in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.
Mr. Stead was born in England on July 5, 1849 to a local minister. He was actually very much a reformer and crusader against many social injustices of his time and was jailed for a time in England due to his outspoken views on the tolerance that the British officials had concerning the "white slave trade"
Stead spent a good amount of time in Chicago between 1893 and 1894 during the World's Columbian Exposition and prided himself with getting to know the "real" Chicago. The part of Chicago that it did not want to share with the rest of the world during the publicity of "The World's Fair". He wanted to learn about the seedier side of Chicago and expose the workings of Chicago's brothels, saloons and pawn shops. He wrote of these Chicago experiences in a publication entitled, If Christ Came to Chicago. According to some accounts, this publication gained him more notoriety than any of his previous work. It did not paint the City of Chicago in a very positive light and he didn't make any fast friends with the residents. By Stead's account in the preface of the British Edition, over 70,000 copies were ordered before the first book came off the press in Chicago. He stated that people would just have to wait because he refused to use anything but union labor to produce the book. The name W.T. Stead would be linked to the City of Chicago from that point forward.
Stead was also a steadfast believer in the rapidly growing spritualist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here is where his other link to the City of Chicago lies. A Chicago woman by the name of Julia Ames visited Stead in England in the late 1800s and the two became quick friends. Julia was an editor at the Union Signal of Chicago which was a literary arm of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Julia died shortly after their meeting and Stead claimed to be communicating with her using "automatic writing". He would place a writing instrument in his hand and various deceased persons, including Julia, would communicate with him by compelling his hand to scribe their messages. "Julia" had even gone so far as saying that while people were grieving their loved ones, their loved ones were desperately attempted to contact them in order to console them. Stead continued communication with Julia for many years after.
Stead had predicted that he would die from either lynching or drowning. A clairvoyant friend of his told him that he would be kicked to death in the streets of London, which was probably more of an educated guess given the fact that Stead liked to "stir the pot" so to speak.
Stead had written at least two prior articles that could be considered by some to be an uncanny prediction of his fate. In 1886, he published an article named "How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor". The story was about a ship which collides with another ship and the main reason for the extraordinary loss of lives was a shortage of lifeboats. It was said that he also made the statement that this could actually happen if ships were continually allowed to sail with an inadequate supply of lifeboats. In 1892 he published a story called, From the Old World to the New which was about a ship named the Majestic which rescued survivors of a ship that had collided with an iceberg. Mr. Stead's body was never recovered but one account of his last moments by Phillip Mock (a survivor) was this; "Many men were hanging on to rafts in the sea. William T. Stead, the author, and Col. John Jacob Astor clung to a raft. Their feet became frozen and they were compelled to release their hold. Both were drowned."