The centennial anniversary slipped by seemingly unnoticed.
May 7, 1915.
On that day, one hundred years ago this month, more than a thousand passengers aboard the Lusitania, their bags packed and ready to soon disembark, watched helplessly as a single torpedo fired from a nearly-disabled German submarine broke through the surface of the North Sea. The five-foot long explosive left a deadly white wake in its path, as it plowed its way through the bitterly cold waters toward the slow-moving ocean liner.
On board and possibly standing amid those on deck watching the approach of the hissing torpedo were the Roycroft leaders Alice and Elbert Hubbard, who had planned to write a series of articles on the stalemate that had developed along the front lines between the Germans and the French forces. The English, who had sided with the French against the Germans, were supposed to have provided an armed escort for the Lusitania that morning. But for unexplained reasons, the naval escort never arrived, providing historians with ammunition to theorize that the Lusitania had been sacrificed by the English leaders in order to draw the United States into the war.
Also unexplained was the second fatal explosion which took place deep inside the Lusitania a few seconds after impact. For years it was assumed one of the ship’s boilers had exploded when doused with the cold North Sea water, but rumors have since persisted that the United States had secretly been providing the Allies with munitions disguised on the manifest as crates of cheese.
For the Hubbards and more than 1,200 passengers, it mattered little. With no other ships in sight and the Irish shore still too far away to swim to safely, those who could not find room on a lifeboat could only survive for a matter of minutes in the paralyzing coldness. Many went to the bottom of the North Sea inside their dark staterooms, while others gradually washed ashore, where the local residents buried them in mass graves. Alice and Elbert Hubbard were never identified as being among the hundreds who were buried along the Irish shore, where a marker has since been erected.
Back in East Aurora, grieving family, friends, and staff paid tribute to the couple who had led the Roycroft Campus to national prominence. Their successor, eldest son Bert, organized a memorial procession through the streets of East Aurora, led by Elbert Hubbard’s favorite horse, its empty saddle with one stirrup hooked over the saddlehorn.
Indicative of the skills and talents of all three individuals — Alice, Elbert, and Bert Hubbard — the Roycrofters remained in business until 1938, decades after nearly every other Arts and Crafts enterprise had declared bankruptcy, changed their focus, or simply closed its doors.
And we can now only speculate what all might have developed on the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora had that German submarine not accidentally crossed paths with the Lusitania on that fateful spring day.
May 7, 1915.
May we never forget.
Until next Monday,
“Live to Love, to Laugh, and to Learn.” — Elbert Hubbard