On April 10, 1912, New York marine artist Samuel Ward Stanton was waiting to board the RMS Titanic. A prolific artist and chronicler of American steamboats, he had spent the previous months traveling in Europe, researching and preparing sketches of the Alhambra and other Spanish scenes associated with author Washington Irving. He had intended to use these in his commission to design and decorate some of the interiors of the new Hudson River Day Line steamboat named Washington Irving, the largest of the Day Line “Flyers” ever built.
Stanton was likely thrilled to board the new and sensational RMS Titanic at Cherbourg with muralist Francis Davis Millet for her inaugural voyage to New York. One imagines he may have prepared a drawing or two of her majestic bow and her opulent interiors before packing them in a portfolio crammed full of European scenes.
Samuel Ward Stanton was born in Newburgh in 1870 to Samuel Stanton and Margaret Fuller. Samuel Sr. was a principal of the Ward, Stanton & Company shipyard which was created out of the bankrupt Washington Iron Works at the foot of Washington St. in 1872. Before failing, the iron works had produced naval machinery, steam engines, boilers, sawmills and sugar mills. The new company continued to produce machinery but grew to emphasize iron shipbuilding. Samuel Ward Stanton grew up in and around the yard observing the scene and becoming a talent with pencil and pen. He also assembled scrapbooks detailing steamboats and their histories which became important sources for the articles and books he published as a young man.
In 1884, the family moved to Florida aboard a small, iron sidewheel steamboat they built for themselves. The steamboat included the machinery for a sawmill, which was assembled upon arrival and put to immediate use in building a house and presumably selling lumber to other newcomers. The yard in Newburgh later became the famous T.S. Marvel Co. shipyard.
As an adult, “Ward” Stanton, as he was known to his friends, returned to New York and developed a distinctive pen and ink style that emphasized the details of the ships and boats that he documented. He became acquainted with New York marine artist James Bard (1815-1897) who became a friend and an important source of information for those boats no longer available for direct observation. He later provided financial assistance to Bard’s daughter Ellen out of deep respect for the late pioneering steamboat painter.
Stanton earned a bronze medal at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 for his collection of Erie Canal drawings and in 1895 published his seminal American Steam Vessels, the first in a series of illustrated books by Stanton illustrating the history of steam navigation. He wrote and produced illustrations for periodicals including Seaboard Magazine, Marine Journal and the Nautical Gazette and his illustrations appeared in other books on steam navigation and regional history.
He began producing murals and promotional art for the Hudson River Day Line, notably a series of car cards advertising the line’s “flyers.” Stanton painted a series of steamboat history scenes for the 1909 Robert Fulton and was active in the 1909 Hudson Fulton Celebration. He also prepared art for the Catskill Evening Line and the Nantasket Beach Steamboat Co.
As Stanton boarded the RMS Titanic with Francis David Millet, he could never have imagined the disaster that lay ahead of him. Just four days later, on the evening of April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg, and by the early morning of April 15, had sunk. Stanton was not among the survivors. He was just 42 years old. What happened in his last hours remains unknown, and his European work in all likelihood perished with him. One account indicates that a black coat bearing a letter inscribed “W. anton” was recovered in Canada and sent to his wife Cornelia.
Sadly, the sinking of the Titanic meant that Samuel Ward Stanton never returned to New York to finish his work for the Washington Irving - it was completed in 1913 with references to Irving’s tales including the Alhambra reading room completed by other artists.
Although his tragic death often overshadowed his talents, thousands of drawings and paintings produced and published before his trip to Europe remained, continuing to inspire the marine artists and students of steamboating that followed in his wake.
Mark Peckham is a trustee of the Hudson River Maritime Museum and a retiree from the New York State Division for Historic Preservation.
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