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The Strange Premonition of William Brown

RMS Lusitania

When it comes to premonitions and nautical disasters, our thoughts naturally turn to the Titanic, whose legendary sinking was presaged by numerous passengers. The same can be said of the British liner Lusitania, which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, resulting in the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. One passenger who had a premonition of the sinking of the Lusitania was a rubber salesman by the name of William H.H. Brown.

Brown was a 34-year-old sales representative from Buffalo, New York, who was employed by the Continental Rubber Company of Erie, Pennsylvania. A third-class passenger, his ticket for the ship was D1349 and his cabin was D-34. Before leaving New York on the day of the ill-fated voyage, however, Brown informed his wife, Winnifred, that the ship would not reach its destination.

"If the Lusitania sinks," he told her, "you can picture me tossed about by the waves; but something tells me I shall be rescued if the ship goes down." These words were printed in newspapers the day following the disaster, at a time when Mr. Brown's fate was unknown. While many believed that William H.H. Brown had perished (for the names of the survivors were already being published and Brown's name was absent from the rolls) Brown's wife was not the least bit worried:

Mrs. Brown feels no fear for her husband's safety, despite the disaster. "My husband's dreams always come true," she said. "Of course, I am anxious about him, but I am just as confident that he is alive and well as if he were at my side this moment. I felt no uneasiness when Mr. Brown sailed. When the news of the wreck first came I was shocked, but soon recovered."- from the Harrisburg Telegraph, May 8, 1915

For days, Brown's fate remained unknown but then, on May 13, newspapers printed that William H.H. Brown was indeed rescued from one of the lifeboats. Had his premonition come to pass?

While the Lusitania sank in only 18 minutes, it took several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast, but by the time help had arrived, many had perished because of the coldness of the water. By the end of the day, 764 passengers and crew were rescued. Following the disaster, the Cunard line offered local fishermen a cash reward for bodies floating in the Irish Sea. All told, only 289 bodies were recovered, of which 65 were never identified.

Sadly, the newspapers had erroneously published the name of another William H. Brown, a man from Toronto who was also a third-class passenger. It was this William Brown who was rescued from the Lusitania. The lifeless body of William Henry Helm Brown, the rubber salesman who had visions of the sinking of the ship, was recovered from the water, cataloged as body #117.

As only 289 of the 1,198 victims were recovered, perhaps the latter part of Brown's premonition, of being rescued from the Lusitania, was on the mark (after all, he only said that he would be rescued, not rescued alive). Or, perhaps his premonition of being rescued was based on a vision of seeing his name on a report of those who were saved. If so, this part of the premonition also came to pass. At any rate, William Brown deserves at credit for predicting one of the greatest disasters in nautical history.   

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