In 1892 the "Review of Reviews", a journal part founded by William T Stead, carried a fictitious tale titled From the Old World to the New. The tale is the story of a clairvoyant - Stead was interested in spiritualism - aboard the White Star Line's Majestic who sensed a ship had collided with an iceberg.
In the story, the character Mrs Irwin describes what she'd witnessed. "I saw a sailing ship among the icebergs. She had been stove[d] in by the ice, and was fast sinking. The crew were crying piteously for help: it was their voices that roused me. Some of them had climbed upon the ice; others were on the sinking ship, which was drifting away as she sank. Even as I looked she settled rapidly by the bow, and went down with a plunge. The waters bubbled and foamed. I could see the heads of a few swimmers in the eddy. One after another they sank, and I saw them no more."
Later, in 1886 William Stead wrote How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid Atlantic, where a liner sank with insufficient numbers of lifeboats causing a great loss of life. In his story, the protagonist describes the dramatic sinking of the ship "I felt a mighty, convulsive movement; then the sea seemed to flash down on me in one mass, as if the wall of water fell from a high crag. Then I heard a humming noise in my ears, and with a gasp I was up amid a blackened, wriggling sheet of drowning creatures."
Twenty-six years after he wrote that piece first-class passenger William Stead, travelling to New York to speak at a peace congress at the request of the president William Howard Taft, found himself aboard a sinking liner. Many have expressed the opinion that his story was a premonition, or predicted the loss of the Titanic. Certainly, following his death in the sinking of the Titanic, both stories received greater prominence as a consequence.
William Thomas Stead died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was not identified. For much of his later life William Stead was interested in spiritualism, and in the days following the sinking a number of spiritualists claimed to have communicated with his spirit.
The memorial stands on Crown Street in Darlington, outside the library and opposite the offices of the Northern Echo, where between 1871 and 1880, he served as editor. The memorial is the form of a large granite stone resting on top a rough-cut rectangular granite block. A metal ring is set in to the top of the stone. Behind, affixed to the wall of Darlington Library is a inscribed tablet. The tablet carries the following inscription:
This stone, originally in possession of Mr. W. T. Stead when resident at Grainey Hill & to which he tethered his dogs & pony, is probably the only Monument in Granite to his memory in Darlington. The Boulder is a fitting symbol of his indomitable courage & strength of character & may keep green the memory of one of England's Greatest Men. His Body perished on the Titanic, when she sank April 15th. 1912. His spirit still lives.