I'm watching Titanic tonight, so I thought I'd mention the little-known fact that after the disaster, the Mackay-Bennett was immediately sent from Nova Scotia with the grim task of claiming as many bodies as could be found floating at the site of the sinking. An embalmer was sent with the crew, along with enough chemicals to embalm 70 bodies. The crew actually located 306 bodies, far exceeding anyone's expectations. The embalmer was able to stretch his supplies, but the Mackay-Bennett only brought 190 bodies back to shore (106 were embalmed). 116 were buried at sea.
When asked to justify how he chose who to bring home and who to bury at sea, the ship's captain explained: "No prominent man was recommitted to the deep. It seemed best to embalm as quickly as possible in those cases where large property might be involved. It seemed best to be sure to bring back to land the dead where the death might give rise to such questions as large insurance and inheritance and all the litigation.
In fact, John Jacob Astor IV, the richest person aboard Titanic, was the first body claimed in Nova Scotia. His was the first death certificate issued for "accidental drowing" following the sinking. Astor left an estate worth $85 million ($1.99 billion in 2014 dollars).
Pictured above is the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Room in Widener Library, the flagship library at Harvard. Harry Elkins Widener died on the Titanic at age 27 and his will devised his 3,300 volume library to his alma mater. Widener's mother ensured that her son's books were delivered to Harvard, along with a gift to construct Widener Library itself.