Dr. Carl Elmer Foss

Dr. Carl Foss Second Cabin Passenger Saved
Carl Foss image credit: US National Archives/Michael Poirier
Born Carl Elmer Foss 10 June 1887 Fordville, North Dakota, United States
Died 25 February 1924 (age 36) Havre, Montana, United States
Age on Lusitania 27
Cabin number E deck
Rescued by Indian Empire
Occupation Physician and surgeon
Citizenship United States
Residence Harlem, Montana, United States
Spouse(s) Elda E. (? - 1924, his death)
Dr. Carl Foss (1887 - 1924), 27, was a second cabin passenger from Harlem, Montana.  He had a cabin on E deck.  Dr. Foss was traveling to England aboard Lusitania to offer his services to the Red Cross Association.  Dr. Foss survived the sinking of Lusitania and had been in the water for two hours before being picked up by the tug Indian Empire at 5:30 PM.  He was touted by the New York Times as being the first survivor to arrive back in the U.S. “with a graphic detailed account of the disaster.”  Dr. Foss returned to the U.S. to personally assure his family of his safety after the sinking. Foss was born in Fordville, North Dakota on 10 June 1887; his father was a Norwegian immigrant and his mother was a North Dakota native.  Foss was later educated at North Dakota High School and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.  He was licensed as a physician and surgeon in Illinois in 1910 and in Montana in 1911.  He stood at 6 feet 1 inches.  His wife was named Elda. From the New York Times, Tuesday, 25 May 1915, page 4:
SURVIVOR HERE SAW TRAP FOR LUSITANIA Dr. C.E. Foss First to Return with Detailed Account of the Sea Tragedy. TWO SUBMARINES, HE SAYS First One Sighted Half Hour Before Torpedoing – Dramatic Story of Work of Rescue
The first survivor of the Lusitania to return to this country with a graphic detailed account of the disaster is Dr. Carl E. Foss of Harlem, Mont., who arrived here yesterday from Liverpool on the American liner New York, which also had two other survivors among her crew, William Smith, a saloon steward, and Edward Skay, an assistant cook. Dr. Foss said that he had come back because his wife and family in Harlem were so anxious about him that he had to assure them personally of his safety.  In an interview on the deck of the New York coming up the harbor, he asserted positively that he saw a submarine about a mile away on the port quarter half an hour before the ship was struck, and that there was only one explosion.  He though the submarine he sighed was not the one which torpedoed the Lusitania half an hour later, because it was a mile away on the port quarter, and the other must have been waiting for her somewhere to starboard on the seaward side of the ship. Dr. Foss, who is 28 [sic, actually 27] years old, tall and slim, said that he was graduated at the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1910, and had made a special study of surgery and gunshot wounds.  He went to England to offer his services to the Red Cross Association. “I had a berth in the second cabin on E deck,” the surgeon said,” and about 1:25 o’clock on Friday afternoon, May 7, I was standing on the port side of A deck aft with three or four of the passengers, looking at the Irish coast.  There had been a good deal of talk about the German submarines all the way across, on account of the threats printed in the newspapers before the Lusitania sailed, but the thoughts of being torpedoed did not impress the passengers to the exclusion of other subjects.
Saw Submarine Mile Away.
“Suddenly I saw a submarine rise to the surface about a mile away, and steam parallel with the ship.  The Lusitania was going slowly at the time, and was not making more than fifteen knots, because the submarine kept pace with her for five minutes, and I have always read that submarines cannot steam more than fifteen knots at their maximum speed. “I called the attention of other passengers on deck to the submarine, got my glasses from the smoking room to look at her, and also handed them to one of the sailors to examine the war craft with.  After the submarine dived below the surface I looked at my watch, and it was just 1:30.  The Lusitania swerved a minute or so afterward, which gave me the impression that the Captain on the bridge also had seen the submarine and had altered his course to avoid risk of being torpedoed. “We went down to the saloon to the second sitting for luncheon with other passengers, who were aware that we had sighted a German submarine, and were all keyed up, but did not imagine that our danger was so grave as it really was. “When we were at table there came an explosion, a heavy, dull sound, which was followed by a violent trembling of the ship fore and aft.  It had an actually deadening effect on the passengers, who seemed to be stunned by the shock.  There was no panic of any kind.  The people all realized that something serious had happened. “The Lusitania listed to starboard almost immediately, and I ran up the companionway to the deck from the dining saloon.  I saw some of the crew taking lifebelts from boxes lashed to the deck and fitting them on themselves.  There was no effort to assist the passengers, who were frantically looking for lifebelts.  I started to go down to my cabin to get the one I had placed ready on a rack over the berth, but by that time the ship had listed over so heavily that it was too risky.  Just then one of the huge funnels fell down onto the deck with a terrific crash, which may have been mistaken by some for a second explosion. “Finally I managed to get one of the lifebelts from a box on deck and jumped over the starboard side aft into the water about nine minutes after the explosion.  There was only room in the boats for women and children.  I had hardly hit the water when a lifeboat crashed down beside me, narrowly missing my head, and seemed to have the bottom stove in by the fall.
Legs Cut by Propeller.
“The five men in it were pitched out and one of them got caught in the swirl of the starboard wing propeller and had both his legs almost severed when I managed to get him clear and put a rope in his hand.   The poor fellow was bleeding terribly and could not have lasted much longer. “I saw a woman near by with a lifebelt on who had a child in her arms and was clinging to a piece of wreckage.  A lifeboat came along with twenty to twenty-five persons in it, and I managed to steer the woman to it, and she was hoisted on board with her child.  After that I started to swim for a wooden life raft about 200 yards away, which appeared to be waterlogged as if the seams had opened.  There were several women on it screaming wildly, and the raft was rocking heavily because they would not keep still.  I swam to the bow and another man went to the stern to try to keep it upright. “We shouted to the women to keep quiet, but they were so hysterical that they took no notice and the craft turned turtle, throwing them all into the water.  Two women grasped an oar, and one could swim while the other kept up with her lifebelt.  I guided the oar and, with the aid of the woman who swam, we managed to reach a raft about a quarter of a mile away, on which seven men were standing. “By this time the other woman was nearly drowned and was lifted onto the raft in an unconscious state, but she recovered later.  We drifted about for two hours and were picked up by the tug Indian Empire at 5:30.  After I reached her deck I collapsed through the shock and exposure.” Dr. Foss said that he saw the Lusitania sink below the water with her stern pointing skyward and her propellers still churning wildly.  After she disappeared the water was dotted with the bodies of the dead, mingled with the wreckage.  The tug reached Queenstown at 9:30 o’clock that night, and the survivors were taken to hospitals. “I cannot condemn too strongly the sacrifice of human life, mainly through the reduced speed at which the Lusitania was going at the time,” Dr. Foss said.  “I firmly believe that the tragedy might have been averted if the liner had been running at full speed.  She would then at least have stood a chance of outdistancing the submarine.” Dr. Foss said that he was leaving almost immediately for Harlem, Mont., and expected to go abroad again soon to join the English Red Cross service. Edward Skay, an assistant cook on the New York, said that he was a second cabin steward on the Lusitania and denied that the crew helped themselves to lifebelts and disregarded the cries of help from the passengers on deck, as stated by Dr. Foss. “There was very little time to do anything after the explosion,” Skay said.  “I went on deck ten minutes after it happened and the ship was listed over so far that you might have walked on the port side.  Any one could have seen that she was going down.  I had a lifebelt, but I jumped overboard and swam 300 yards away to wait for the Lusitania to sink, so that I should not get drawn under.  Afterward I swam to a lifeboat in which Lady Allan of Montreal was sitting with other passengers.  There were about fifteen of the crew in it and only two of them had lifebelts on.” The agents of the Cunard Line, which asked about the criticism made by Dr. Foss on the economizing of fuel on the day the Lusitania sank, replied that as the ship was twenty-five miles west of Queenstown at 1 o’clock she had not conserved her speed till [sic, ‘til] then.  They did not know why Captain Turner had reduced the speed, but at the inquest he had stated it was in order to arrive off the bar lightship early Saturday morning.  Until the investigation was made by the Board of Trade the agents could not make any comment.  Other survivors had praised the crew of the Lusitania for their efforts to save passengers, the agents said.
A daughter, Margaret, was born to Carl and Elda in 1916. After the Great War, Foss became involved in a property dispute involving his sister and a man named Krause.  Krause had been in the right, but Foss and his brother and two other guys murdered Krause.  Foss spent one year in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Kansas, for the crime. Foss developed kidney disease and died on 25 February 1924 in Havre, Montana, presumably caused by the contusions and shock caused by Foss’s four-hour immersion in the water the day of the Lusitania sinking.  His widow, child, and estate received $23,500.

Related pages


Carl Foss at the Mixed Claims Commission
Contributors: Michael Poirier References: Bailey, Thomas A. and Paul B. Ryan.  The Lusitania Disaster:  An Episode in Modern Warfare and Diplomacy.  The Free Press, 1975, page 322. Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981, pages 185, 232, 249. New York Times, Tuesday, 25 May 1915, page 4.

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