By J. L. Starkey
“Well, right now, my address is the RMS Teutonic, but I didn’t win my ticket in a lucky card game. I bought it with a lucky ten quid.”– John Reedy, probably
“Teutonic? He came to America on the Teutonic?” I looked at my great-grandfather’s name on the manifest, certain that I’d found the wrong John Reedy (again). I’ve always wanted to find a family Titanic connection, but I never expected to discover the Coming to America version of the story.
I could picture the owner of McDowell’s restaurant explaining things over a lunch of Big Micks and McFlurbys, golden arcs (not arches) in plain view everywhere.
“See…they’re Titanic. We’re…Teutonic,” Cleo McDowell would insist.
“Now, they’re both luxury ships from the White Star Line, but ours is faster…and safer.”
Amazingly, the similarities didn’t end there. Over time, I discovered so many coincidences in John Reedy’s Teutonic story that I almost expected John Jacob Astor himself to make an appearance at some point!
Really, as if that would ever happen!
Oh, 2020…you did have a strange sense of humor, didn’t you?
John Reedy’s Ship of Dreams
All joking aside, Cleo McDowell’s comparisons would have been correct, and just a tad bit eerie. Teutonic not only set a record for fastest Atlantic crossing, but she also achieved a phenomenal safety rating . Additionally, she bore a startling resemblance to her notorious cousin and even had a run-in with an iceberg soon after the Titanic disaster. In late 1913, Teutonic came within twelve feet of suffering Titanic’s fate, but her captain averted disaster by “reversing her engines and putting her helm hard aport” .
And just who was that quick-thinking Captain?
I almost expected to find Edward Smith at Teutonic’s helm, but reality was again thisclose to expectation. In July 1895, Smith was named Captain of Teutonic’s sister ship (and precursor to Titanic), the RMS Majestic .
Meanwhile, Teutonic was commanded by one John G. Cameron .
If that surname rings a bell, it’s probably because you recall that the 1997 blockbuster Titanic was directed by another Cameron (though his name is James, not John).
The men aren’t related, but their shared surname added yet another coincidence to John Reedy’s Coming to America story.
Though not as famous as Titanic, the RMS Teutonic set the standard for 1890s maritime travel, and my great-grandfather paid a fortune (by his standards) for his trip across the pond. In 1894, a steerage ticket from Queenstown to New York cost $15.00 (about ten pounds sterling), an amount equal to over $1800 today . Prices went up exponentially from there, with first-class fares topping out at $150 (about £108), an amount comparable to almost $15,000 today.
In an era where two classes of service (Cabin and Steerage) were the rule, Teutonic was the exception. Steerage was replaced by Third Class, while Cabin became Second Class, with both levels offering a higher standard than 1890s norms.
But the White Star Line didn’t stop there. Instead, the company added a new class, designed to appeal to its wealthiest clientele: Saloon. In modern terms, Teutonic offered passengers a choice of anything from a barracks-style room to a concierge-level suite.
As a third-class passenger, John Reedy was assigned a berth in the ship’s forward compartment, where each room held up to twenty men. Teutonic could carry as many as 1,000 third class passengers, although only 516 traveled on John’s voyage. And while the extra space may have surprised those expecting typical Steerage quarters, Teutonic’s third class was anything but typical . Amenities included “…baths supplied with hot and cold water, a smoking room, separate rooms for families, electric lamps…perfect ventilation…[and] a liberal diet.”
John Reedy, a 22-year-old Irish farmer who was raised in a home that lacked electricity (and probably indoor plumbing), may have stretched his legs a bit, had a look around, and decided that the fortune he paid for that Third Class ticket was a very wise investment, indeed.
If third class was luxurious (at least by Steerage standards), then Saloon was nothing short of opulent. Mahogany furnishings, bathrooms and lavatories complete with personal attendants, in-room controls for heat and lighting, and sumptuous dining were standard for Teutonic’s ultra-wealthy clientele. Saloon passengers had access to a library, a banquet hall, and even “…a barber’s shop fitted with electric motors to drive revolving hair-brushes!” .
The descriptions begged the question: who in the world could afford a Saloon ticket?
A bit of research led to a shocking answer to that question !
According to records, Passenger #25316 (also known as one John Joseph Reedy) departed from Queenstown on 12 July 1894, and he arrived in New York six days later, on 18 July 1894 . I used that date range to search New York newspapers and discovered that John’s fellow passengers included Rev. Fr. Agathodoros Papageorgopoulos, Viscount Fitzwater, and J. J. Astor .
Wait just a moment here. Did…did that story say J. J.? As in John Jacob? As in…that J. J. Astor?
“That can’t be,” I thought. “It cannot be! There is no way that my great-grandfather was on the same ship as John Jacob Astor IV.”
Wrong again. Because it definitely could be.
And he definitely was.
J. J. Astor’s Summer Vacation
Born July 13, 1864, John Jacob Astor IV was privilege personified . Though probably best remembered as Titanic’s wealthiest victim (with an estate worth over $2.4 billion in 2021 dollars), there was more to him than that. He was also a financier, an inventor, and even an author. His 1894 vacation coincided with the publication of his first (and only) novel, A Journey in Other Worlds .
According to news reports, the Astor family left America in early May 1894 for a two-month European vacation . Their return voyage coincided with John Astor’s 30th birthday, which he celebrated aboard the RMS Teutonic. (And it’s just a hunch, but I’d bet that John Reedy did not receive an invitation to the party.)
In disbelief, I reviewed the manifest again, wondering how I had missed seeing such a well-known name. It had to be on the very first page, right?
Wrong again, and maybe that’s why I missed it. Saloon passengers were listed last on Teutonic’s manifest; Mr. J. J. Astor and family were on the next-to-last page of the document .
In hindsight, the record really should have been easier to find. After all, there weren’t many passengers who traveled with thirteen bags…and two maids. Oh, and don’t forget the nurse!
Apparently, John Jacob Astor IV could invent things, he could write sci-fi novels, and he could make boatloads of money.
But he could never – ever – master the art of packing light.
You’re Rich, John Reedy!
The joke was on me, because John Jacob Astor really did make an appearance in Coming to America: John Reedy Edition. Cleo McDowell would probably say that it wasn’t quite the same as Titanic, though, because Astor had a different wife at that time, and he was younger, after all.
John Reedy probably didn’t see John Astor on that voyage, and the two almost certainly never crossed paths again. John Astor’s life was filled with trips to Europe, business deals, and finally, the honeymoon that would take him to Europe one final time in 1911. He would die tragically on his 1912 return to America, one of more than 1,500 souls lost in the Titanic disaster. His book and his inventions would slip into obscurity, but his fortune would continue to grow.
John Jacob Astor was a wealthy man, after all.
John Reedy would lead a different life. He would work as a streetcar driver, he would marry and raise a family, and he would own a home (with electric lights and indoor plumbing!). Though he often spoke of a desire to return to his homeland, he would never see Ireland again. His life would end tragically in 1936, and his story would slip into obscurity…for a time, anyway.
His fortune, though, would continue to grow, for what John Reedy lacked in wealth, he made up for in dedication, in humor, and most of all, in love for his family.
You see, John Joseph Reedy was a wealthy man, too.
- “Chapter X: The White Star Line.” The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation with Some Account of Early Ships and Shipowners, by Henry Fry, S. Low, Marston, 1896, pp. 161–181, archive.org/details/historyofnorthat00fryhrich/page/296/mode/2up. (See also: “Outdone By Her Sister Ship,” The Sun, New York, New York, p. 1, col. 1-2. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “Teutonic Escapes Disaster,” The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, 28 Oct 1913, p. 3, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Gotham Brevities,” The Chicago Chronicle, Chicago, Illinois, 13 Jul 1895, p. 3, col. 2. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “A Skipper Dismissed,” Fall River Globe, Fall River, Massachusetts, 19 Nov 1892, p. 1, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Appendix No. 6. ” The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation with Some Account of Early Ships and Shipowners, by Henry Fry, S. Low, Marston, 1896, p. 297, archive.org/details/historyofnorthat00fryhrich/page/296/mode/2up.
- “The Teutonic Launched,” The New York Times, New York, New York, 20 Jan 1889, p. 1, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Chapter X: The White Star Line.” The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation with Some Account of Early Ships and Shipowners, by Henry Fry, S. Low, Marston, 1896, pp. 176-177, archive.org/details/historyofnorthat00fryhrich/page/296/mode/2up.
- “New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-L1DZ-WPZ?cc=1368704&wc=4FMB-7ZD%3A1600262343 : 25 January 2018), Roll 629, 6 Jul 1894-3 Aug 1894 > image 374 of 883; citing NARA microfilm publication T715 and M237 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). (See also: UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960, Liverpool > 1894 > July. Digital image 277 of 286. Retrieved from ancestry.com.)
- “White Star – Royal Mail Steamers,” Reynold’s Newspaper, London, Greater London, England, 1 Jul 1894, p. 7, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “Mail and Steam Shipping News,” The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, Ireland, 19 Jul 1894, p. 3. col. 8. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “Papugeorgopulos is Here,” The Evening World, New York, New York, 18 Jul 1894, p. 7, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “John Jacob Astor IV Biography.” Biography.com, A&E Television Networks, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/business-figure/john-jacob-astor-iv.
- Encyclopedia Titanica (2017) John Jacob Astor (ref. #11, last updated: 25 Sept 2017, accessed 12 March 2021. (See also: “John Jacob Astor’s Novel,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, 15 Apr 1894, p. 3, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “Life at the Seaside,” Chicago Tribune, 7 May 1894, p. 3, col. 12. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JXM4-MZQ : 2 March 2021), J.J. Astor, 1894.
Your stories always amaze and delight me – and this was is absolutely exceptional!!
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I had so much fun writing it! I was in disbelief when I found that news article…it’s just such a strange coincidence!
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