A member of the wealthy Gracie family of New York state, one of Gracie's ancestors had built Gracie Mansion which became the official residence of the mayor of New York City in 1942. Gracie was a graduate of St. Paul's Academy in Concord, New Hampshire and of West Point Miltary Academy. Later becoming a colonel in the Seventh Regiment, United States Army, Gracie was independently wealthy, active in the real estate business and an amatuer military historian.
Gracie's father, Archibald Gracie Jr. (1832-1864), was schooled at Heidelberg, Germany and West Point, New York. He had resigned from the Army in 1856 to go into the cotton-brokerage business in Mobile, Alabama. At the outbreak of secession, Archibald Gracie Jr. broke with his Unionist father and served with the Confederate forces as militia captain of the Washington Light Infantry. In 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general and fought through the Battle of Chickamauga, one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. On December 2, 1864, General Gracie was killed while observing Union Army movements at the seige of Petersburg, Virginia. Respected by his troops, he was eulogized in a poem "Gracie, of Alabama" by Francis O. Tickner.
Although Archibald Gracie IV was only about 5 years old when his father died, he had spent seven years writing a book, "The Truth About Chickamauga". In 1912, following the publication of his book, Colonel Gracie decided we needed to relax, and took a trip to Europe. Leaving his wife and daughter at home, he travelled to Europe on the Oceanic. On this eastward voyage, he made friends with one of the ships officers, Herbert Pittman who was later the Third Officer on the Titanic.
Gracie took return passage on the Titanic, boarding at Cherbourg. This was the era when gentlemen formally offered their service to "unproteced ladies" at the start of an ocean voyage, and once on board, Gracie offered his services to three sisters who were returning to America having attended a family funeral in England, and were travelling unaccompanied. These were Mrs E. D. Appleton, Mrs R. C. Cornell and Mrs John Murry Brown. With them, also unaccompanied, was their friend, Miss Edith Evans. Gracie knew the sisters well. Gracie's wife and the sisters were friends and Colonel Gracie had known Mrs Appleton's husband at St. Paul's Academy.
"these three sisters were returning home from a sad mission abroad, where they had laid to rest the remains of a fourth sister, Lady Victor Drummond, of whose death I had read accounts in the London papers, and all the sad details connected therewith were told me by the sisters themselves. That they would have to pass through a still greater ordeal seemed impossible, and how little did I know of the responsibility I took upon myself for their safety. Accompanying them, also unprotected, was their friend, Miss Edith Evans, to whom they introduced me."
During his other trans-Atlantic trips it had been Gracie's custom to take as much exercise as needed to stay in prime physical condition. How ever on this trip he had devoted much his time to social enjoyment and reading books from the ships library. He had spent much time with Mr Isidor Straus who had regaled him with tales of his adventures during the Civil War. He loaned Mr Straus a copy of his new book, "The Truth About Chickamauga"
He also joined the writers' group, "Our coterie", led by Helen Churchill Candee of which Edward Kent, Edward Pomeroy Colley, Hugh Woolner, J. Clinch Smith and Mauritz Håkan Björnström-Steffansson were members.
On the evening of Saturday, 13 April, Gracie decided it was time to cut back on the socializing and start his fitness regimen again. He arranged with Steward Cullen, his room steward, to awaken him early on Sunday morning in order to play squash with the raquet attendant, Fredrick Wright, to work in the gymnasium with Mr T. W. McCawley, and to swim - all before breakfast.
"I enjoyed myself as if I were on a summer palace by the seashore surrounded by every comfort. I was up early before breakfast and met the professional racquet player in a half hour's warming up preparatory for a swim in the six foot deep tank of saltwater heated to a refreshing temperature."
Following breakfast, Gracie attended Church service in the Dining Room, where the hymn was No. 418 of the Hymnal, "O God our help in ages past". He finished reading Mary Johnston's tales of adventure and escapes "Old Dominian" and returned the book to the ships library. He then spent some time with Mr and Mrs Isidor Straus and they returned the book he had loaned them.
Sunday night, after diner, Gracie and his table companions Clinch Smith and Edward Kent, adjourned to the Palm Room where they enjoyed coffee as they listened to the Titanic's band. After circulating and socializing for a while, Gracie retired early to his cabin, C-51, to be ready for the following mornings excerise session.
After about three hours sleep, he was awakened by a jolt. He noted the time as 11:45 pm, then opened the cabin door and looked out. He saw no one and heard no commotion. He could hear steam escaping and there was no sound of machinery running. Realizing that something was wrong, Gracie removed his nightwear and got fully dressed. Wearing a Norfolk coat he left his cabin and made his way the Boat Deck.
It was a cold, starlit night with no moon. There was no sign of ice or other ships. He jumped over the barrier dividing first and second class and roamed the entire Boat Deck. He saw a middle aged couple strolling along arm-in-arm but there was no sign of any officers or any reason for concern. Returning to the A deck companionway he encountered Mr Bruce Ismay with a crew member, they seemed preoccupied and did not notice him.
At the foot of the stairs there were a number of men passengers who had also been disturbed by the jolt. This was where he learned that the ship had collided with an iceberg, his friend Clinch Smith handed him a piece of ice, commenting that he might like it as a souvenir. He also learned that the mailroom was flooding and the postal clerks were busy moving two hundred bags of registered mail.
Gracie and Smith were now joined by some ladies, and at this time they noticed a tilt in the deck. Realizing that the situation was worsening, the men returned to their staterooms where Gracie hastily packed all his possesions into three large travelling bags ready to transfer to another ship. After putting on a long Newmarket overcoat and returning to the deck, Gracie found that everyone was putting on the life preservers. Steward Cullen insisted that Gracie return to his stateroom for his. Returning to A-Deck, Gracie located the unaccompanied ladies he had promised to escort.
"Our hopes were buoyed with the interchange of wireless messages with passing ships one of whom was certainly coming to our rescue. To reassure the ladies of whom I had assumed special charge I showed them a bright white light of what I took to be a ship about 5 miles off."
When the order to load the lifeboats came, Gracie escorted the four ladies to the Boat Deck and since the crew did not allow any men to approach the lifeboats, he released the ladies to the custody of 6th Officer Moody. During the Titanic's final hours, Mrs Appleton and Mrs Cornell became separated from Mrs Brown and Miss Evans. Mrs Cornell and Mrs Appleton were eventually helped into Lifeboat 2.
Shortly after midnight, while looking for his friends, Gracie met the raquet coach, Wright, in the stairway of C-Deck and jokingly cancelled his 7:30 am lesson for the next morning. Wright seemed concerned, probably because by that time he knew the raquet court to be filling with water.
Together with Steward Cullen, he obtained extra blankets for distribution to the lifeboats. Gracie then rejoined Clinch Smith who informed him that fellow first class passengers Björnström-Steffansson and Woolner had put Mrs Candee into into Lifeboat 6, the third boat to leave. Mrs Straus almost entered Lifeboat 8, - then she turned back and rejoined her husband, she had made up her mind: "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go." Gracie, Woolner and other friends tried to persuade her, but she refused. Mr and Mrs Straus went and sat together on a pair of deck chairs.
Just then someone pointed out that a group of men were trying to take over Boat 2. Second Officer Lightoller jumped into the boat and threatened them with his empty gun driving them all out. With the help of Gracie and Smith they were able to load 36 women and children into this boat, and it was lowered at 1:45 under the command of Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall. It was the fifteenth boat to leave the Titanic and contained 20 people although its maximum capacity was 40. The lifeboat needed to travel only 15 feet to reach the water. In normal circumstances it would have been 70 feet.
Gracie and Smith continued to assist Lightoller, now loading the women and children into Lifeboat 4. One of the ladies Gracie lifted into the boat was was the pregnant teenage wife of John Jacob Astor. Lightoller tried to remove thirteen year old John Borie Ryerson from the boat, but was persuaded by the boys father to allow him to stay. Lifeboat 4 was under the command of Quartermaster Perkis, it left at 1:55am.
At around 2:00 am all of the Titanic's rockets had been fired and all the lifeboats had been lowered save for the four collapsible Englhardt boats with cavas sides. Collapsibles A and B were still lashed upside down to the roof of the officers' quarters. The crew was having trouble removing the canvas covers and Gracie gave them his penknife.
Collapsible D was lifted, righted and hooked to the tackles where Boat 2 had been. The crew then formed a ring around the lifeboat and allowed only women to pass through. The boat could hold 47, but after 15 women had been loaded, no more women could be found. Lightoller now allowed to men to take the vacant seats. This was when Gracie found Mrs Brown and Miss Evans were still on board, so he escorted them to the lifeboat. When Gracie arrived with the female passengers, all the men immediately stepped out and made way for them. Thinking there was only room for one more lady, Edith turned to Mrs Brown and told her, "You go first. You have children waiting at home." Mrs Brown was helped in and the boat left the Titanic at 2:05am under Quartermaster Bright. Edith Evans would never find a space in any of the lifeboats and died in the sinking. As the collapsible was lowered to the ocean, two men were seen to jump into it from the rapidly flooding A deck.
Ironically these two men were Gracie's friends, Woolner and Björnström-Steffansson, who had found themselves alone near the open forward end of A-deck. Just above them Collapsible D was slowly descending towards the sea, and as the water rushed up the deck towards them they got onto the railing and leapt into the boat, Björnström-Steffansson landing in a heap at the bow. Woolner's landing was similarly undignified but they were safe.
Gracie and Smith were still working on the Collapsibles when the Titanics bridge dipped under at 2:15. Gracie and Smith turned and headed for stern when met a crowd of men and women coming up from steerage.
"My friend Clinch Smith made the proposition that we should leave and go toward the stern. But there arose before us from the decks below a mass of humanity several lines deep converging on the Boat Deck facing us and completely blocking our passage to the stern. There were women in the crowd as well as men and these seemed to be steerage passengers who had just come up from the decks below. Even among these people there was no hysterical cry, no evidence of panic. Oh the agony of it."
As the Titanic foundered, Gracie and Clinch Smith stayed with the crowd. As the water rushed towards them, Gracie jumped with the wave, caught hold of the bottom rung of the ladder to the roof of the officers mess and pulled himself up. Clinch Smith disappeared beneath the waves never to be seen again. As the ship sank, the resulting undertow pulled Gracie deep into icy waters, he kicked himself free far below the surface and, with the aid of his life preserver, swam clear. Clinging to a floating wooden crate, Gracie was able to swim over to the overturned Collapsible B and, with a little help managed to climb onto it.
When Gracie first got to the boat there were about a dozen people on it. All told some thirty men and women managed to climb on the partially submerged boat during the next few minutes. Some of the men were quite dry, they had apparently been on the boat as it was swept off. Gracie, teeth chattering, hair frozen tried to borrow a cap to warm his head, the man refused. The boat was slowly sinking.
Lightoller now took took command. He ordered all the men to stand. He got them into a double column, facing the bow. Then, as the boat lurched, he ordered then to lean to the left or right, whatever was neccessary to counteract the swell. They found that Harold Bride, the junior wireless operator was on board. Lightoller questioned him about the positions reported by the rescue boats and determined the the Carpathia should arrive about dawn.
Just after 3:30 am the survivors heard the sound of a cannon being fired, and as dawn broke around 4 am the Carpathia came into sight. The men on Collapsible B were now desperatly trying to stay afloat. The Carpathia was 4 miles away, picking up survivors from the other lifeboats. About 400 yards away, Boats 4, 10, 12 and D were strung together in a line. Lightoller used his officers whistle and got their attention. Boats 4 and 12 cast of at once and rowed over. Boat 4 arrived first and started transferring the survivors from the foundering collapsible. Gracie was unable to make the jump and crawled into Boat 12. Lightoller was the last to leave.
By 8:15 am all boats were in but for Lifeboat 12. Gracie worked in vain to revive a lifeless body lying beside him. At 8:30, Boat 12 made fast and Gracie was able step onto the Carpathia's gangway. Laying under a pile of blankets on a sofa in the ship dining room, while his clothes dried in the ships bake oven, Gracie discovered cuts on his legs and body and a wound to his head. He was to be black and blue and sore for days.
Colonel Gracie wrote an account of the tragedy that was published as "The Truth About The Titanic" in 1913. Gracie never finished proofing the manuscript as he died on 4 December 1912 at his ancestral home in New York, N.Y., having never fully recovered from the trauma of that night. Many survivors were at the graveside for his burial, together with members of his regiment.
Archibald Gracie was the third survivor of Titanic to die, being preceded in death by Maria Nackid on July 30, 1912 and Eugenie Baclini on August 30, 1912. Col. Gracie's final surviving child, Edith Temple Gracie Adams, died childless in 1918, about a year after her marriage.