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krosero 04-15-2012 10:28 AM

Titanic survivors Richard Williams and Karl Behr
The Titanic went down a hundred years ago today. There are a few articles about these two tennis players.

Behr was able to make it into one of the first lifeboats. Williams stayed on the ship till the end with his father, and was washed off into the freezing water.

Great article here on how Williams survived:


Imagine one of the world’s best tennis players getting caught in one of history’s great disasters. Think it would be big news?

It wasn’t 100 years ago Sunday morning. That’s when Richard Williams clung to a lifeboat in the dark waters of the North Atlantic.

People were dying all around him. His legs were literally freezing to death.

Two years later, Williams was crowned the best tennis player in America.

Researchers have excavated a century’s worth of first-class stories about the night the Titanic hit the iceberg. The one about a 21-year-old in a raccoon coat pretty much got lost in steerage.

That was just fine with Williams, who’d be embarrassed at the publicity the 100th anniversary has brought.

“He didn’t like talking about himself,” said his grandson, Quincy Williams. “And he didn’t like other people talking about themselves.”

Where have you gone, Richard Williams? A tweeting world turns its overexposed eyes to you.

If a Titanic sank today, agents would have been lining up on the New York docks to sign the young hero. He’d instantly have a million Twitter followers wanting to know what he had for breakfast.

It’s not 1912 any more. For every humble soul who wouldn’t get in a lifeboat with a Kardashian, there’s a ship of fools that can’t get enough attention.

Williams deserved that. He was a World War II hero. France awarded him the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, its highest decoration.

He became a successful Philadelphia investment banker and philanthropist. He was president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Oh yeah, after refusing to have his legs amputated, he won two U.S. singles championships. He won a Wimbledon doubles title, an Olympic gold medal and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“If you talk to my husband, you’d never even know he played tennis,” his wife used to say.

That’s a big reason Williams’ tale was familiar mainly to Titanic buffs until recently. The man who held ticket No. 17597 knew what happened on the maiden voyage would make a pretty good movie. But instead of selling his story, he put it down on about 25 typed, double-spaced pages.

The memoirs were just for his family. His grandson said they echo what researchers have pieced together about the disaster.

Richard Norris Williams was traveling from Geneva with his father, Charles. Richard planned on playing the lawn tennis circuit that summer and enrolling in Harvard for fall classes.

They were asleep in their stateroom when the ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. The jolt didn’t trigger much panic. After all, the Titanic was considered unsinkable.

Richard put on his big fur coat and headed out with his father. They came upon a steward trying to pry open a door to another cabin.

Richard lowered his shoulder and rammed the door in. The stranded passenger may have thanked him, but the steward said he would report Williams for destroying White Star Line property.

Probably wanting a stiff drink after that, they went to a smoking room. Charles got out his silver flask and gave it to his son, telling him it might come in handy on such a cold night. Richard asked the steward to fill it.

“The bar closes at midnight,” he was told.

If only the White Star Line has been such a stickler about lifeboat safety. Richard stuck the empty flask in his pocket.

He and his father mostly wandered the decks for the next couple of hours. In a letter he wrote to historian Walter Lord in 1962, Richard recalled that his father was convinced the ship would not go down.

Charles maintained that opinion even as the Titanic began to list toward its port side. The men walked uphill toward the gym, where they rode stationary bikes to try to stay warm.

The situation worsened in a hurry. As the letters of the ship’s name were about to go underwater, Richard turned to his father.

“I’m not much for symbolism,” he quipped. “But when the Captain forgets which ship he is on, it cannot bode well for the future.”

Not long afterward, there was a thunderous cracking sound and the forward smokestack crashed down. It narrowly missed Richard, and he was washed into the sea.

He started swimming and felt he’d gone about a mile. It was actually about 100 feet. He turned around was astonished to find the Titanic towering above him.

“Despite the horror and peril,” he wrote to Lord, “can’t help feeling it’s a majestic sight.”

The great ship went into its death throes, rising and settling then rising again and plunging straight down. It would not be seen again for 73 years, when explorers found it 1,200 feet below the water's surface.

Williams kicked off his shoes and coat and swam toward a damaged lifeboat. Its canvas sides had collapsed, but at least it floated.

About 30 people held on. They prayed and sang and yelled in unison for help. One man asked Williams if he could put his arm around his neck for support.

Williams obliged. He felt the man’s grip tighten and then relax. It tightened again, then he felt it loosen as the man slid to his grave.

By the time a lifeboat found them near dawn, only 11 passengers were alive.

They were lifted onto the RMS Carpathia, which had responded to the distress call. Williams stayed on deck to watch the last boats come in, hoping to find his father. Charles Williams never came.

His son went below and tried to warm himself between an oven and a galley way. A doctor looked at his legs. He feared gangrene would set in and advised him to have both legs amputated.

“I refuse to give you permission,” Williams said. “I’m going to need these legs.”

He trudged around the decks for the next three days, hoping to restore circulation. Williams walked off the ship on April 18.

That July, he played a match in Boston against Karl Behr, a Davis Cup veteran. Behr had also been on the Titanic, though he escaped on a lifeboat.

Talk about a made-for-TV spectacular. Of course, there was no TV and essentially no mention anywhere of the voyage the players shared. Behr won in five sets, but the dashing newcomer impressed all.

Williams wore long pants, which was the style of the day. It also allowed him to hide his legs, which were permanently discolored from spending five hours in 28-degree water.

The next time you hear about an athlete overcoming adversity, think about the guy who had a ticket No 17597.

“It’s a different world today,” Quincy Williams said, who was born in 1959.

He was eight when his grandfather died. Quincy was old enough to know about the Titanic, but he never heard a word about it from the ultimate source.

“It don’t think it was ever discussed,” Quincy said.

He did get one thing from his grandfather. The silver flask he stuck in his pocket the night of April 15, 1912.

So here’s to you, Richard Williams.

It’s an honor to toast an athlete who showed true heroism and humility. And it’s sad that 100 years later, such traits seem forever lost at sea.

krosero 04-15-2012 10:35 AM

Here's a photo of the two men after they won the Davis Cup in 1914:

Their Wikipedia profiles have a lot more on how they survived the sinking.

krosero 04-15-2012 10:40 AM

Behr and Williams first met aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, according to the article below which also describes their five-set match at Longwood a few months later.


Tennis Hall of Famers Dick Williams and Karl Behr will be forever linked in history, but not just because of their on-court exploits. One hundred years ago, both tennis stars survived the most famous shipwreck in history.

The 1,500 tennis fans packed into the grandstand showered applause upon Karl Behr and Dick Williams after their thrilling fourth-round match in the 1912 Longwood Challenge Bowl. Old-timers agreed that the match had been the finest in the tournament’s history. For five sets on a warm July afternoon, Behr and Williams shared the same grassy rectangle, but the men already shared a much stronger bond—one forged in ice. Just 12 weeks prior, the two future tennis Hall of Famers had both survived Titanic’s sinking.

Both Behr and Williams were chasing their dreams when they separately ascended Titanic’s gangway in Cherbourg, France. The 26-year-old Behr had been a tennis standout at Yale, and in 1907 he was a doubles finalist at Wimbledon and a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team. As he boarded Titanic, however, Behr had more important things than tennis on his mind, mainly 19-year-old Helen Newsom.

The tennis star had been pursuing his sister’s classmate, but Newsom’s mother and stepfather disapproved of the age gap between the suitors and hoped a European trip might cool the romance. Behr, however, concocted a business trip to Europe and followed along. When Newsom telegrammed Behr in Berlin to say she was sailing home aboard Titanic, he quickly booked a ticket on the giant ocean liner to surprise her.

While Behr was on the downside of his tennis career, Williams was just beginning his. The 21-year-old descendant of Ben Franklin had American blood in his veins, but he was born and raised in Europe. His trip to America to play the summer tennis circuit before matriculating at Harvard had been delayed by a case of the measles, but it left him with the seeming good fortune of sailing with his father, Charles, on Titanic’s historic maiden voyage.

Williams and his father dined at the table of Captain Edward Smith on April 14, 1912, before retiring for the night. Shortly before midnight, the pair was awoken by the collision with the iceberg. Charles Williams was not worried initially. Decades earlier, he had been aboard a ship that struck an Atlantic iceberg, and the gash had simply been plugged with the boat’s cotton cargo. Father and son donned life vests underneath their raccoon coats and tried to remain warm by walking the deck and riding stationary bikes in the exercise room.

Behr, who had been awake when the collision occurred, roused Newsom and her mother and stepfather from sleep. When the situation turned dire, the party jumped into a lifeboat and watched in horror as Titanic began to sink into the sea. Back on deck, Williams turned to his father and yelled, “Quick! Jump!” Just at that moment, however, an enormous smokestack crashed down and instantly crushed Charles Williams to death. It narrowly missed Dick Williams, who plunged into the 28-degree water. He swam furiously to a collapsible lifeboat that he would cling to for hours before he, Behr and 700 other survivors were rescued by RMS Carpathia.

When the exhausted Williams was pulled from the icy waters, he was suffering from hypothermia and his legs were a worrisome shade of purple. A doctor on board recommended amputation to prevent the onset of gangrene, but Williams refused. “I’m going to need these legs,” he reportedly said. Throughout the trip to New York, Williams walked the deck every two hours, even through the night, to restore his circulation. It worked, and within weeks he was back swinging his wooden racket.

It was on board Carpathia that Behr first met Williams, and three months later they squared off on the finely manicured lawns of the Longwood Cricket Club near Boston. Williams, the boy wonder, had an incredible summer, winning the national clay court championship, the national mixed doubles championship and the Pennsylvania state championship.

At Longwood, the phenom initially overpowered Behr with his athleticism, blanking the veteran in the first set and winning the second 9-7. The savvy Behr, however, made the adjustments to capture the next three sets and a 0-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory. The Boston Globe reported the next day that “if one of the 1,500 spectators went away dissatisfied, he was indeed hard to please.”

The two men competed again a few weeks later in Long Island, and they met in the quarterfinals of the 1914 U.S. Championships (today’s U.S. Open). Williams won easily in straight sets en route to the first of his two national titles. Before his career was over, Williams would be a member of five winning Davis Cup teams and capture a Wimbledon doubles title, two U.S. doubles championships and a mixed doubles gold medal in the 1924 Olympics.

While Williams lost his father and nearly his legs in the Titanic disaster, it was Behr who struggled more in its aftermath. He was plagued by survivor’s guilt and in 1917 had an emotional breakdown that led to a brief stay in a sanitarium. As with all men who boarded Titanic’s lifeboats, Behr encountered whispers about his gallantry. He testified in the aftermath that he was ordered to row the boat, saying, “At that time we supposed there were plenty of lifeboats for all the passengers.”

The media also scrutinized the romantic relationship between Behr and Newsom, who became engaged six months after the tragedy and wed in March 1913. The press covered the “Titanic couple” like a real-life Jack and Rose who had met and fell in love on the ill-fated liner. Despite the pair’s repeated denials, some newspapers erroneously reported the two were strangers thrown together by fate in the lifeboat, while others claimed Behr proposed to Newsom inside the lifeboat.

Williams was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1957, while Behr was enshrined posthumously in 1969. Arguable, however, their greatest triumph was surviving history’s most famous shipwreck.

Limpinhitter 04-15-2012 10:42 AM

Outstanding! I nominate Krosero for the title of: Chief Executive TT Historian.

krosero 04-15-2012 10:47 AM

Even the ATP has an article. Apparently a "Tennis and the Titanic" exhibit has opened at Newport.


Tennis & The Titanic
Newport, U.S.A.
by Press Release | 12.04.2012

Like many of the R.M.S. Titanic's approximately 2,200 passengers, Americans Karl Howell Behr and Richard Norris Williams II climbed aboard the ill-fated ship in search of their dreams. Behr was chasing love, and Williams striving for an Ivy League education and a successful tennis career.

When the grand, "unsinkable" ship struck an iceberg late on April 14, 1912, the two were among the small, fortunate group of just 700 or so survivors.

After meeting for the first time aboard the rescue ship R.M.S. Carpathia, neither man took their good fortune for granted, and they achieved great success as two of the best players in the history of tennis.

Williams remarkably won the U.S. Nationals Mixed Doubles title just months after the Titanic disaster, and went on to capture several other major titles, and he was honoured for his achievements with Hall of Fame induction in 1957.

Behr, who was already an established player before the ship's voyage, was ranked within the Top 5 in the nation, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1969.

As the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, R.I. will pay tribute to these two remarkable survivors with a special exhibit in their honour, opening next week.

Tennis and the Titanic will officially open at the museum on Thursday, 12 April with an exhibit opening at 5 p.m., a discussion with Behr and Williams' family members at 6 p.m., and a special film screening of ‘A Night to Remember’, a 1958 film that chronicles the sinking, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The exhibit opening is open to the public, refreshments will be served, and reservations are recommended. Admission is free for Hall of Fame Members and $12 for Non-Members. Reservations may be made on or by calling 401-324-4074 or emailing

"This has been a fascinating exhibit to develop. Our goal was to shed light on the interesting lives of two remarkable men who survived one of the most infamous catastrophes in modern history, but were able to go on to have elite careers as athletes and success in other areas of life," said Doug Stark, museum director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. "We are grateful to the Behr and Williams families for their support in developing this exhibit. We look forward to welcoming them to the exhibit opening, which will offer a unique opportunity to hear more about Titanic survivors and Hall of Fame tennis players Richard Norris Williams II and Karl Howell Behr from the people who knew them best."

Tennis and the Titanic will feature dynamic imagery and narratives detailing Williams' and Behr's lives before, during, and after the ship's sinking. In addition, it will feature various personal mementos as well as artefacts from their tennis careers. Highlights of the exhibit include personal letters that were in the pocket of Williams' fur coat when he jumped overboard and rare photos of the two tennis greats together.

Tennis memorabilia featured includes Williams 1914 U.S. Nationals Men's Singles Championship trophy, which he won at Newport, where the event was played before moving to New York and becoming the US Open. In addition, his 1920 Wimbledon Men's Doubles Championship trophy and an old-fashion racquet press that he used to carry his gear to tournaments worldwide, will be displayed.

American Richard Norris Williams II had been living in Europe and preparing for a collegiate tennis career at Harvard when he boarded the Titanic with his father. When they felt the collision with the iceberg, they believed there was some trouble but did not imagine the situation to be as dire as it turned out. The pair helped people board lifeboats, and worked out in the gym to pass time and stay warm. When they realized the ship was close to sinking, the men readied themselves to jump in the water. It was, however, too late, and at that moment the four massive funnels came crashing down and one crushed Williams' father.

With no time to mourn his father, Williams jumped into the icy water and clung to a lifeboat for hours in frigid water. After he was saved, Williams realized that he had no feeling in his legs, and when he tried to stand or walk, the pain was unbearable. Doctors aboard Carpathia recommended his legs be amputated. Williams, however, was not willing to give up his dreams for a successful tennis career. To avoid amputation, he spent hours walking the decks to get the feeling back and save his legs.

Williams' perseverance served him well. He went on to play at Harvard, and ultimately achieved a world ranking of No. 4 and a U.S. ranking of No. 1. Remarkably, Williams won the U.S. Nationals Mixed Doubles with Mary Browne just months after the disaster, and later won an Olympic Gold in mixed doubles with Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. In all, he won a total of six major championships and was a member of five triumphant Davis Cup teams.

In a real life story that could be the basis for a movie, Karl Howell Behr, a dashing, successful businessman and established tennis player claimed it was a business trip to Europe that required him to be on the Titanic's maiden voyage. In reality, he boarded Titanic to follow Helen Newsom, the woman he loved, but whose parents did not approve of him. After the ship struck the iceberg, Helen and her parents were hastily put into one of the first life boats. While the call was for "women and children only," Behr was convinced to climb aboard to help row the boat.

Aside from the survivor's guilt that plagued him all his life, Behr came away unscathed. Once aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, Behr became part of the Survivor Committee, helping to organize and assist the survivors. His role was appreciated by the survivors, and through the catastrophe, he also inadvertently proved himself worthy to Helen's parents; the two were married in March 1913.

Prior to the Titanic disaster, Behr had a thriving tennis career, having been a doubles finalist at Wimbledon and a finalist at the U.S. Nationals, as well as playing on the U.S. Davis Cup. After surviving the ship, he continued to play competitively, achieving a career high ranking of No. 3 in the United States.

Williams' and Behr's first meeting was aboard the Carpathia. Prior to their encounter, Williams was an aspiring tennis player who had closely followed Behr's tennis accomplishments. Two years after the Titanic disaster, in 1914, Williams was en route to his first U.S. National Championship in singles, when he came across a familiar face on the other side of the net at the tournament, which was hosted at the Newport Casino, now home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.

Williams' quarterfinal opponent was Karl Behr, whom he beat in straight sets 6-2, 6-2, 7-5. The men played against each other a few others times in their careers and remained friendly, bound forever by their harrowing experience and their love of the game.

Tennis and the Titanic will be on display for approximately one-year in the Woolard Family Enshrinement Gallery at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, R.I. The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving the history of tennis and honouring its greatest champions and contributors.

Induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame is based on the sum of one's achievements and accomplishments in tennis and is the highest honour a player or leader in the sport can receive. Since 1955, the International Tennis Hall of Fame has inducted 220 people from 19 countries.

There has also been a novel published detailing the incredible stories of Williams and Behr. Written by Lindsay Gibbs, ‘Titanic: The Tennis Story’, the novel was constructed based on extensive historical research in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, and from historical first-person writings from the era and of survivors. The book is available in print or electronic edition at your local independent bookshop,,, iTunes, Kobo, and elsewhere. It is not currently available in a Kindle edition.

krosero 04-15-2012 10:48 AM


Originally Posted by Limpinhitter (Post 6465725)
Outstanding! I nominate Krosero for the title of: Chief Executive TT Historian.

Hah! I'm not climbing aboard that ship! :)

kiki 04-15-2012 11:11 AM

what about tennis players killed in a ship during WWI and WWII.?

or, on ground or air battles?

I just know about Wilding.I also find amusing the story about Tappy Larsen, although I am not sure if it was during WWII or Korea War.

treblings 04-15-2012 11:21 AM


Originally Posted by kiki (Post 6465767)
what about tennis players killed in a ship during WWI and WWII.?

or, on ground or air battles?

I just know about Wilding.I also find amusing the story about Tappy Larsen, although I am not sure if it was during WWII or Korea War.

Henner Henkel died in WWII. i think on the eastern front, but not sure

kiki 04-15-2012 12:36 PM


Originally Posted by treblings (Post 6465785)
Henner Henkel died in WWII. i think on the eastern front, but not sure

Thanks.Wasn´t he RG champion and Von Cramm´s DC teammate?

treblings 04-15-2012 12:39 PM


Originally Posted by kiki (Post 6465926)
Thanks.Wasn´t he RG champion and Von Cramm´s DC teammate?

yeah... 1937 French Champion, played DC and doubles with von Cramm often. died in the Battle of Stalingrad.

treblings 04-15-2012 12:41 PM

Krosero, thanks, great post.
is there a book about Richard Williams that you can recommend?

kiki 04-15-2012 12:42 PM


Originally Posted by treblings (Post 6465931)
yeah... 1937 French Champion, played DC and doubles with von Cramm often. died in the Battle of Stalingrad.

Impressing and shocking.

krosero 04-15-2012 04:16 PM


Originally Posted by treblings (Post 6465939)
Krosero, thanks, great post.
is there a book about Richard Williams that you can recommend?

there may be though I don't know myself of one

krosero 04-15-2012 04:20 PM

Apparently that was some match between Behr and Williams at Longwood, only three months after Titanic's sinking. Behr, whose career Williams had followed and admired, won 0-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.

Here's a snippet from the New York Times, which unfortunately does not elaborate on why the match was so highly regarded.
BOSTON, July 17. -- R.N. Williams of Philadelphia, National clay court champion, was defeated by Karl H. Behr of New York at the Longwood Cricket Club singles championship tournament to-day in a five-set match. The contest between the two, both of whom are survivors of the Titanic disaster was declared by old-timers to be one of the hardest fought tennis battles seen during the twenty-two years of tournaments at Longwood.

pc1 04-15-2012 04:44 PM

Richard Norris Williams is a fascinating character to me. Even Bill Tilden has nothing but the highest admiration for him. He was according to some accounts very gifted as a tennis player and his highest level was unbelievable. You add that he was a rich millionaire in the early 1900's who survived the Titanic and that's some story. You add that he won several majors and it's more interesting.

krosero 04-15-2012 08:37 PM


Originally Posted by pc1 (Post 6466339)
He was according to some accounts very gifted as a tennis player and his highest level was unbelilevable.

If you made a short list of players who were not known for consistency but whose highest level was sometimes described as unbeatable, Williams would have to be on it, along with others like Vines and Hoad.

krosero 04-15-2012 08:58 PM

Incredible how he defied a doctor and started walking around the Carpathia, to save his legs.

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