DescriptionA Postal Facing Slip Recovered from the Body of R.M.S. Titanic Postal Clerk Oscar Scott Woody by the C.S. Mackay-Bennett
5 inches high x 3 inches wide (12.7 x 7.6 cm)
Recovered from the body of Oscar Scott Woody by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, April 22, 1912;
Leelia B. Woody (widow);
Bequest to V.R. Gill, 1963;
Private collection, 1987;
Bonhams, Fine Maritime Paintings and Decorative Arts, 5 June 2013, Lot 129.
Property from the Estate of Charles Schalebaum
Single page slip denoting mail destination Sealed Distributions Customs, Second Div. N.Y.P.O. 8, From SEA POST LETTERS, with processing cancel TRANSATLANTIC POST OFFICE 7, AP 10, 12, and clerk control O.S. WOODY, TITANIC
Oscar Scott Woody (April 15, 1871- April 15, 1912) was one of five mail clerks aboard the R.M.S. Titanic during her maiden voyage. A native of North Carolina, Woody served as a clerk in the Third Division of the Railway Mail Service before transferring into the Sea Post maritime service around 1909. A position aboard a ship was a choice assignment, as mail clerks made considerable earnings of about $1,000 per year. Shortly after arriving in Plymouth, England aboard the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Woody was instructed to join the crew of Titanic. The ship was in large part a floating post office transporting over 3,364 sacks of mail for the United Kingdom's Royal Mail service. In addition to Woody, the postal staff was comprised of Americans John March and William Gwinn, and British clerks John Smith and James Williamson. As part of the sorting process, each clerk placed a paper facing slip atop an organized bundle denoting its intended destination(s), and stamped his name to enable the resolution of distribution errors. It is estimated that over seven million letters were transported in Titanic's hold on its maiden voyage.
On the night of the sinking (April 14), Woody and his fellow postal clerks were celebrating his 41st birthday in their private dining room when the vessel struck the iceberg. Professionals of the highest quality, the clerks rushed to move more than 200 sacks of registered mail from G to C decks. As it became apparent that the ship would completely sink, and feet of water pervaded through the registered mail room, Woody had the foresight to collect his facing slips for a future accounting of lost inventory. The 1912 Postmaster General's Annual Report related: "About a quarter of an hour after the collision the opening or lower room in the sea post office was found to be practically filled with water and the sacks in it adrift. The clerks were seen in the sorting room above, closing sacks and preparing to take on deck all the mails available. The last reports concerning their actions show that they were engaged in this work and in carrying the sacks upon the deck to the last moment." Titanic steward Albert Theissinger briefly assisted the clerks before retreating from the rising water. Theissinger later recalled: "I urged them to leave their work. They shook their heads and continued at their work... I saw them no more." All five postal clerks were among the more than 1,500 victims that perished when Titanic sank.
The White Star Line chartered four ships, including the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, to aid in the subsequent surface salvage operation. The crew of the Mackay-Bennett recovered 306 bodies in total, discovering Woody's body exactly a week after the sinking on April 22, 1912. Captain F.H. Lardner described in his logbook the debris field at the time of the recovery: "Monday, April 22d. This day we picked up 27 bodies... Everyone had on a lifebelt and (the) bodies floated very high in the water." The clerk was among those still wearing his cork life jacket, and the personal effects in his grey striped suit included the letter assigning Woody to Titanic, an unknown number of facing slips, pocket watch and fob, Masonic lodge card, two fountain pens, pocketknife, cuff links, gold ring, mailroom keys, and $10.02 in cash and coins. Those effects were placed into a canvas bag with the inventory number (167) assigned to the remains and delivered to his widow, Leelia B. Woody, whom he had married just 18 months prior. Leelia, deeply affected by the tragedy, never remarried and was said to keep a picture of Oscar with her at all times. To honor her husband's affiliation with the Freemasons, she passed Oscar's personal effects in 1963 to V.R. Gill (1901-1987), a Mason affiliated with Perseverance Lodge No. 208. Woody's postal slips have intermittently appeared at auction and the majority of his personal effects are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and Maryland Masonic Museum.
Light bumping at margins and staining inherent with sea recovery.
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