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Monday, March 3, 2014

John Harper's Last Convert

For many years, a story has been floating around the Titanic and Christian communities.  Supposedly, an unidentified man got up at a church or survivors' reunion 4 years after the sinking of the Titanic and Rev. Harper's death and said that he was a Titanic survivor and John Harper's last convert.  He then went on to talk about how he was swimming in the water when he came near Rev. Harper who was also in the water.  Rev. Harper called out, "Are thou saved?!"  The man replied, "No."  Rev. Harper replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!"  Then the current brought them apart.  Soon afterwards, the man came near Rev. Harper and Harper called out, "Are you saved?!"  The man said, "Truly I can say I am not."  Rev. Harper said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!"  Then they drifted away from each other again.  The man added that Rev. Harper was witnessing to others in the water as well.  After that last conversation, the man never saw Rev. Harper again.  The man said that he soon afterwards converted to Christianity.

Ever since I read this story a few years ago, I have wondered about the identity of this man and whether or not the story is true.  Is it possible to identify him?  There were many people that came out later claiming to be Titanic survivors for the publicity and fame.  But this man was different.  He never gave his identity which lead me to be inclined to believe his story since these weren't seeming publicity stunts.  But I won't dismiss the possibility that it was a publicity stunt.

We know of two appearances by this man.  The first one was in Ontario, Canada at a survivors' reunion/church service which I mentioned earlier.  The next was in 1955 in New York in which he basically gave the same story to a church.

According to the account of his first appearance, he was a Scotsman.  I was willing to waver on this qualification, however, because this is obviously a observer's assumption.  The man possibly lived in Canada or the Midwest or Northeastern US.  He spent some time in the water which may mean he was one of the people picked by Boat No. 4 or Boat No. 14.  He likely gave few or no interviews since he doesn't give this story anywhere else and if he had, the press would undoubtedly told the story and mentioned it with the other acts of heroism.  Another thing which narrows down the possibilities considerably is that he would have been alive in 1955.

The fact is, not many of the men that survived the water and were alive in 1955 were in America or Canada when this man gave both of these accounts.  Those that were gave such detailed accounts, that we can rule them out.  The story is told romantically and many Christians have claimed it as an inspiring story of Christian light being shown in the dark, freezing North Atlantic.  Rev. Harper was still a godly man.  His life is still one filled with good examples.  I would not be surprised after reading about his life in Moody Adams' excellent book "Titanic's Last Hero" if Rev. Harper did witness to people in the water.  But I'm afraid we cannot verify the story of Rev. Harper's last convert and it must be treated as a mere legend by those who want to tell the truth.


"Titanic's Last Hero" by Moody Adams


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