that sinking feeling: Titanic show "taxes" Krog Tunnel

The latest monthly gathering in 100-year-old Krog Tunnel: music, stories, video.


Sunday night a bunch of people, including me, clustered in the Krog Tunnel for the latest installment of a monthly event recognizing the graffiti-caked landmark's 100th birthday.

Designed by musician/writers Brian Bannon and Bill Taft, the show features horn playing, prose readings, and video, which Sunday was projected interestingly albeit neck-craningly onto the ceiling of the tunnel. 

It's the first time I've taken part in the Krog show. Brian asked me to read something by Jacques Futrelle, an Atlanta writer who died on the Titanic, since the anniversary of the Titanic disaster also happened to fall on Sunday. Brian himself read a newspaper account about Futrelle's plans for a European automobile tour (which would have happened after the Titanic cruise). Bill read a piece written by Futrelle's wife, May, who survived the sinking of the "unsinkable" ship.

The action took place at the Cabbagetown end of the tunnel. By this I mean, right inside the tunnel. You might think, between 8:30 and 10 o'clock on a Sunday night, traffic would be scant in the Krog Tunnel, especially the loud-motorcycle kind. Shouldn't everyone be home doing their income taxes?

Forget motorcycles. Anyone who hasn't discovered what it sounds like when you're driving through a tunnel in your car, and you honk your horn repeatedly ... well, you have to try it. Once you do, you won't be able to quit.

People such as bicyclists and joggers acted mildly annoyed that we blocked (not really, the sea parted quickly) their cardio-pulmonary path, but then became curious. A few hung around. One guy had a dog, and he got on his cell phone, and was I think urgently notifying his wife or somebody about the phenomenon he had chanced upon.

Anyway, below is the story about Jacques Futrelle that I read Sunday night in the tunnel. You'll laugh, you'll cry. People listened politely and seemed to enjoy it, but I felt like I was yelling at them the whole time. The next Krog Tunnel event isn't scheduled yet; you can watch Brian's Facebook page for more news on that.


Jacques Futrelle, the Atlanta journalist and writer who died on the Titanic, was born in Pike County, Georgia, in 1875. He started the sports section for the Atlanta Journal, now the Journal Constitution. He worked briefly as a theatrical manager, but mostly as a journalist for such papers as the New York Herald, the Boston Post and the Boston American.

In 1906, Futrelle abandoned journalism to focus on fiction writing. He wrote novels. He created Professor Van Dusen, a sort of American Sherlock Holmes. The professor’s full name is “Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, PhD, LLD, FRS, MD, etc., etc., logician, analyst, and mastermind in the sciences.” He was always saying things like “It’s merely logic, Mr. Hatch, logic.” Futrelle nicknamed Professor Van Dusen “The Thinking Machine.”

It says on the back of one of the short story collections: “When Professor Van Dusen sits back in his chair … When he turns his head upwards and squints through his spectacles … When he presses his fingers together, tip to tip … It means that the Thinking Machine, as he has come to be known, is applying his impeccable logic to another baffling case. And no one … NO ONE … ever manages to escape it.”

Sort of like death.

We’ll hear later, in a piece written by Jacques’ wife, Atlanta-born Lily May, how she survived the sinking of the Titanic and Jacques did not, all those rich people perishing like anybody would, and everybody does eventually.

I want to tell you about Professor Van Dusen, “The Thinking Machine,” and Futrelle’s story – ominously titled, “The Tragedy of the Life Raft.” In it, wealthy financier Peter Ordway is murdered in his study, shot in the chest. Leading up to the crime are frightful visions of what’s described as “a lashing, mist-covered sea, a titanic chaos of water. Upon its troubled bosom rode a life raft to which three persons were clinging …” Ordway, before he is killed, also gets anonymous notes, on which are written only: ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Hutchinson Hatch, a newspaper reporter, does not believe the man arrested for the murder of Ordway – his male secretary, Walpole – is guilty. Hatch takes the case to The Thinking Machine, Professor Van Dusen. The professor reads all of Hatch’s newspaper stories about the case. He drops his head back against his chair. The professor’s head is described as “enormous.”

Hatch offers a few of his own theories, but rejects them as impossible. “Nothing is impossible, Mr. Hatch,” stormed the Thinking Machine, suddenly. “Don’t say that. It annoys me exceedingly.”

In the end, it turns out that the killer of Peter Ordway was not the secretary at all, but a certain Benjamin Holderby.

When Holderby confesses, “’Twas a dramatic story Benjamin Holderby told, a tragic tale of the sea, a tale of starvation and thirst, torture and madness, and ceaseless battling for life, of crime and greed and the power of money even in that awful moment when death seemed the portion of all. The tale began with the foundering of the steamship Neptune, Liverpool to Boston, 91 passengers and crew…”

After the Neptune went down, Holdberby and Ordway ended up on the same life raft with some others. Most got washed off the raft by that “titanic chaos of water.” But one other man remained, and food was limited. The wealthy Ordway offered Holderby a million dollars to throw the third man overboard, which would increase their chances of survival.

Holderby did it, but Ordway never paid up.

“I killed Peter Ordway,” Holderby explained distinctly, “for good and sufficient reasons.”

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, who had a cocaine habit, Professor Van Dusen lived pretty clean. So did his creator, Jacques Futrelle. The night before Futrelle and his wife boarded the Titanic in Southampton, there was a party for Jacques’ 37th birthday. Lily May Futrelle said later: “If my husband had got drunk that night, we might not have sailed and he might be alive today. But he never did drink much.”

In July of the same year the Titanic went down, Jacques Futrelle’s mother passed away. Her untimely death was attributed to her grief over the loss of her son. Jacques’ wife, Lily May, said, “We have had 18 years of complete happiness. My forte is writing love stories. How can I continue writing romances when the only real romance I ever had in my life lies at the bottom of the sea?” Every year, on the anniversary of the Titanic disaster, Lily May cast a bouquet of flowers off a cliff into the Atlantic Ocean. She died in 1967, at age 91, in Scituate, Mass.

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