The Titanic Historical Society

A Tribute to Walter Lord

Walter Lord, Narrative Historian
October 8, 1917 - May 19, 2002

Born in Baltimore, Walter Lord was the only son of John Walterhouse Lord, a prominent lawyer, and the former Henrietta Hoffman. He attended private schools in Baltimore and graduated in 1939 from Princeton University, where he majored in history.

Mr. Lord was at Yale Law School at the outbreak of World War II. He went to work for the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency, as a code clerk in Washington, later as an intelligence analyst in London. In 1945 he returned to Yale to complete his degree although he had decided he did not want to practice. Instead, he wrote business newsletters, books and, with J. K. Lasser, the tax expert, "Payroll Almanac."

Shortly after going to work as a copywriter for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York, Mr. Lord published The Fremantle Diary, edited and annotated from the journals of a British officer and Confederate sympathizer who toured the South for three months in 1863. It was a mild but surprising success in 1954, when Mr. Lord was well into completing A Night to Remember. Using techniques learned in researching tax issues, he tracked down some sixty survivors and turned their stories into a dramatic, minute-by-minute account of Titanic's maiden voyage.

"He was a pioneer in bringing journalistic narrative to history," his friend, Evan Thomas, of Newsweek said. "It's a common technique now, but it was anything but commonplace in the 1950s."

Published in 1955 and the first of several Book-of-the-Month Club selections, the wildly successful Night to Remember made Mr. Lord's reputation as a writer who could bring drama, terror, and suspense to his historical narratives. A successful television adaptation appeared in 1956 narrated by Claude Rains and in 1958 the book was the basis for a popular J. Arthur Rank film of the same name directed by Roy Baker and starring Kenneth More and David McCallum.

The success of A Night to Remember enabled Mr. Lord to leave advertising to write books full time, next taking on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, with the same technique. In Day of Infamy, published in l957 he painstakingly reconstructed not just the "why" and the "way" of the attack, but also, he said, "how it happened, how people could have been so unaware of what might happen and so slow to grasp it when it did." His next book was a panoramic view of history, The Good Years, published in 1960; it covered the "period of optimism" in the first fifteen years of the century and included events like the San Francisco earthquake, the Wright brothers flights, Peary's journey to the North Pole, McKinley's assassination and the Panic of 1907. In 1961, A Time to Stand, an account of the two-week siege of the Alamo was considered the first detailed telling of the story from the Mexican as well as the American side. The book was followed, in 1963, by Peary and the Pole, which was praised for its thoroughness. The Past That Would Not Die (1968) was about James Meredith, whose integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962 was accompanied by rioting and bloodshed. Incredible Victory (1967), the re-creation of the Battle of Midway; The Dawn's Early Light (1972), concentrating on the Battle of Baltimore, in which the British were repulsed in 1814; Lonely Vigil (1977), a tribute to the allied coast watchers who spotted Japanese planes and ships in the Solomon Islands in World War II; The Miracle of Dunkirk (1982), about the evacuation of more than 338,000 British and French troops across the English Channel early in World War II, and The Night Lives On, a rumination on the Titanic tragedy published in 1986 to mark the 75th anniversary of the sinking. In 1994 The Society of American Historians awarded Mr. Lord the Francis Parkman Prize for Special Achievement, in recognition of his lifetime dedication to American history.

He was an avid photographer and a collector of political campaign buttons, famous front pages, civil war prints and "Titanic ephemera," Thomas said. He was involved in a number of civic enterprises in New York, among them service on the boards of the Union Settlement, the New York Society Library, the New-York Historical Society and the Authors Guild.

Walter Lord, who went from writing obscure tax manuals for businessmen to literary fame as the best-selling author died at his Manhattan apartment of ParkinsonĀ¹s Disease. He was 84. A lifelong bachelor, Lord leaves no survivors, but "a ton of friends," Thomas said.

...Albin Krebs, The New York Times and Richard Pyle, Associated Press Writer

This is the classic bestseller account that charts with meticulous accuracy, the ship's last hours -- the sinking of the Titanic. First published in 1955 in reprinted since, this powerful book puts the tragedy of the Titanic in human terms -- the courage, self-sacrifice, pride, fear, hope and despair. The story is truly extraordinary because it all happened and the drama of the author's narrative-style makes it all the more gripping. The reader becomes immersed in the intensity of that grim, heart-breaking April night and it's easy to understand why this book has become an all time favorite.

A Night to Remember - by Walter Lord is available in our Titanic Museum Shop.

Edward  Kamuda (left), Walter Lord (right)
Walter Lord,
A good friend.

I first saw the name, Walter Lord, in the December 1955 edition of American Heritage Magazine, in a "teaser" titled Maiden Voyage with photographs and text to introduce the reader to the forthcoming book published by Henry Holt & Company. A short time later, I bought A Night to Remember at Johnson's Bookstore in Springfield. It was a book that I will never forget.

At the time, it was a real treasure to an aspiring Titanic "enthusiast" and I soon wrote to him of my interest in what became correspondence over many years. Lord was always kind and very willing to share his knowledge as well as admitting, with suitable explanation, to errors that appeared in his book.

Of course, I got to know Walter's other works obtaining nearly all of them. When we formed the THS formerly Titanic Enthusiasts of America in 1963, he was made an Honorary Member and attended the very first gathering in New York. He gave us encouragement as well as an occasional article for our journal and wrote the foreword for our book: Frank Goldsmith's autobiography, Echoes In the Night.

In all the years I've been friends with Walter, my only disagreement was with his interpretation of Californian and Titanic but I respected his views. At one point, I was encouraged by the late John Carroll Carrothers (SS Leviathan¹s chief engineer and an anti-Lordite who reappraised his views to the other side) to set up a debate on that issue at a THS convention Walter was attending. However, I would not agree as it was feared that this would put him on the spot and, as a guest of honour, it would be inappropriate; The Titanic Commutator was the proper forum.

Lord very graciously made an audio tape for me of his opinions on the making of the movie based on his book. It was informative and provided a better understanding of behind-the-scenes matters that went on plus he was a good sport. Lord "sheepishly" accepted William MacQuitty's version -- 'Nearer My God to Thee' is played at the end of the film -- Walter's opinion 'Autumn' is in The Night Lives On.

When the research vessel Atlantis II arrived in Woods Hole in the summer of 1986, with Dr. Robert Ballard's second expedition to Titanic, I was there with Mrs. Anne M. Tantum, widow of our late THS President who had presented a plaque to Ballard that he placed on Titanic's stern. Walter Lord was in the audience and he autographed my copy of his final book, 'The Night Lives On' in which he acknowledged the existence of The Titanic Historical Society: "For Ed Kamuda - celebrating the return of Atlantis II from the 1986 Titanic expedition & saluting years and years of friendship --- Walter Lord"

Upon his death, Edwin Stanton said of Abraham Lincoln, "Now he belongs to the ages." So, too, it can be said of Walter Lord. His words will live on; his legacy has been preserved in his writings.

...Edward S. Kamuda, President, The Titanic Historical Society, Inc.