Meet Wade Sisson
Wade Sisson is the author of “Racing Through the Night,” the story of Olympic’s role in the Titanic story culminating in the events of April 14/15, 1912 and its aftermath. We hope our readers will enjoy learning a few things about Wade and his interest in Titanic.
1. Wade, how did you become interested in the Titanic disaster, and when did your interest first awaken?
I was assigned a book report in sixth grade back in 1983, and I came upon a copy of Walter Lord’s classic A Night to Remember in the school library. I was drawn to the book and that illustration of a ship moving toward a wall of ice. From the moment I read that book, I was hooked. Soon after, I watched S.O.S. Titanic and Raise the Titanic on HBO and I was further drawn into the story. I was fascinated not only by the Titanic story (the ship, her passengers and crew and her only voyage) but also by the thought that somewhere on the ocean floor, Titanic was waiting. Would she ever be found? Or even raised? I started searching for more Titanic books. I was able to find a paperback copy of Wyn Craig Wade’s The Titanic: End of a Dream. Our local library (Overbrook Public Library in Overbrook, Kan.) didn’t have any Titanic books but the librarian told me about the miracle of interlibrary loan, and I was able to check out The Maiden Voyage by Geoffrey Marcus. My Mom built a painted a Titanic Revell model for me that Christmas. I started looking Titanic references everywhere and soon found one in the Almanac under organizations for the Titanic Historical Society, which I joined with excitement that there were other people fascinated by Titanic. Just as I thought I had exhausted the available Titanic publications, the wreck was discovered in Sept. 1985. Not only was Titanic found, which boggled my mind, but she was back on newsstands yet again. I consumed all of the magazines, including National Geographic. There has never been a time since when my interest waned, but like everyone else it peaked with the release of James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997, and any time there’s a new development like a book, movie, social media group or something like the Titanic Book Club.
2. The Titanic carried thousands of people, many of whom sank with the vessel. Which passenger and crew stories have especially moved or inspired you?
There isn’t a Titanic connection that hasn’t fascinated me but I suppose I’ve always been drawn to the story of Jack Thayer because he was a young person who lived through it and made interesting observations afterward.
3. What inspired you to write your book? At a certain point you realize there are things we will never know.
The more Titanic books I read, I found myself wondering what it was like to be on Olympic when word came that Titanic was sinking. Whenever I would find a piece of that puzzle, I would file it away. Over time I realized those pieces were becoming quite a story. I decided to see how much of that story I could tell. We are so lucky to live in an age where much of the research can be done from home culling resources that are available online. A big breakthrough came when England published the records for incoming passenger ships. I had a short list of names for those who sailed on Olympic from New York City on April 13, 1912. I cross-referenced that list against the UK passenger lists and finally had a hit. From that one record, I was given access to the full original passenger list for that Olympic voyage. This became a valuable resource that I used to research the people who were on board for that memorable crossing. The book, Racing Through the Night, was published in 2011 by Amberley Publishing.
4. What experiences were made possible by the publication of you book?
I was able to participate in a few Titanic author weekends at the Titanic Museum in Branson, Mo. Those weekends were so memorable not only for the opportunity to talk to museum visitors about Olympic and Titanic, but because of the other Titanic friends I made there. I was so fortunate to meet Teresa and Donna Trower and Helen Benziger there along with other Titanic authors like Bruce Caplan and Lee Meredith. I was also able to spend a memorable hour talking with Clint Hill in 2012. We were both in the green room waiting to appear separately on a local NPR radio program to discuss our new books. Clint had just published Mrs. Kennedy and Me, the story of his time as a Secret Service agent assigned to protect President Kennedy and his family. I have always been fascinated by the Kennedy years, and it was so remarkable to have my book bring these two history subjects together for an afternoon. The book also made it possible for me to visit classrooms to talk to school children about the Titanic, and I always find that to be an amazing experience.
5. Are you frustrated with any particular Titanic-related subjects about which people continue to quote outdated research information instead of embracing the latest discoveries?
The only subjects that tend to frustrate me are the revisionist history topics. This seems to be a larger trend in our society and it saddens me to see Titanic drawn into this strange phenomenon. I am referring to topics such as the switch theory and the coal bunker fire. These stories seem to gain ground for the simple fact that they offer a new spin on an old story. On the other hand, even these topics offer an opportunity for historians to jump in and demonstrate why they remains the best sources for information and insights. Each of these topics have been plainly refuted for those who take the time to check the facts.
6. Does your study of the Titanic and her passengers overlap with any of your other historical interests? What subjects are you interested in that are completely independent of the Titanic?
I have quite a few interests including the Kennedy era, the space shuttle program. I’m also a huge Star Wars nerd. One of the few times Star Wars and Titanic have ever crossed paths is when George Lucas took out an ad in Variety to congratulate Jim Cameron on the success of Titanic. That was a surreal moment for people like me.
7. Do you have any new Titanic-related projects in the works? If so, do you feel like giving us a sneak peak into the type of subject matter they involve?
I do not. I am working on a few writing projects but none are Titanic-related.
8. Were you encouraged by others to write your books, or did you come up with the projects yourself? Did you receive help or encouragement from any special people you'd like to acknowledge?
For most of my process it was just me gathering information and tracking down leads. But at a certain point I did reach out to others in the Titanic community for help. I was especially grateful for the kindness of George Behe, who I didn’t have the wisdom to seek out during the writing process. George was very kind with his encouragement and I continue to marvel at his generous nature. My editor, Campbell McCutcheon, was very helpful during the writing process and gave me access to his personal collection of photographs, many of which were included in the book. 9. Do you have any advice you'd like to offer to aspiring authors? I wish I had reached out to the larger Titanic community. I lacked the confidence and, for most of the time I was writing, I felt it was presumptuous to assume this project would ever be published. It seemed foolhardy and egotistical to involve others in the endeavor. So, I would advise you to have confidence in what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
10. What’s the best way for people to contact you if they have historical questions for you?
I’m on Facebook or can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wade’s book, Racing Through the Night, is available in print or Kindle on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Racing-Through-Night-Olympics-Attempt/dp/1445600269
Entering service a full ten months ahead of Titanic, the Olympic was a near identical sister ship,the fi rst of a class of three liners, two of which would sink. Wade Sisson tells the story of the Olympic on the fateful night of April 14 - 15 1912, how she was 500 miles away, outbound from New York, when her wireless operator first heard Titanic's distress calls. Olympic's Captain Herbert J. Haddock and his crew prepared their ship for a rescue mission, and for the next several hours steamed full speed ahead toward the scene of the disaster. When word came that Titanic was gone, Olympic's mission of hope turned into a voyage of gloom as passengers and crew struggled to make sense of the disaster. Olympic's captain offered to take on Titanic survivors who had been rescued by the Carpathia but was ordered to stay out of view by those who worried that the sight of the sister ship would traumatize the survivors. Olympic instead became a relay station that transmitted the list of survivors from the rescue ship to anxious officials and relatives in the US. This is the story of the first of three ships meant to dominate the North Atlantic and the night that plan came to a stunning, horrifying end. Olympic's role in the Titanic disaster has been a mere footnote to history - until now.