Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A short Titanic Tuesday post

I know, it's been forever since I've blogged. It's no secret I'm not very good at keeping up with this, so I apologize again.

Last weekend, we took a short vacation to visit some family up in the Blue Ridge mountains, and along the way made a stop to see the traveling Titanic Exhibit. This is probably the 4th or 5th time I’ve been to one of them, but it never gets old for me, even though I’m no longer using the excuse of book research to attend them. The exhibitions are always changing around the artifacts, so every time there’s something new on display. This one was a little smaller than others I’ve seen, but still interesting. Unlike some I’ve been to, there was no tour guide, so you wandered the exhibit rooms at your own speed.

The reason I’m writing about it is because at the end, I had a moment of life imitating art that I had to share. Those of you who have read Destined will get the significance. When you enter the exhibit,  you are given a “boarding pass” with information about a passenger that sailed on the Titanic. At the end, you can match your name up with the list of survivors & victims to find out if your person lived. A little morbid, but it’s a nice way to make the exhibit more interactive and personal, because you can’t help to want to root for your passenger to survive. My family got all First Class passengers (boarding at Cherbourg), so we were hopeful. My passenger was Leila Meyer, who was traveling to New York with her husband, banker Edgar Meyer, to attend the funeral of her father, Andrew Saks. Yes, that Saks: founder of Saks Department Stores. Despite that claim to fame, I hadn’t heard of her before this, so I didn’t know what her fate would be. I also didn’t know the other two passengers we were given, Helen Ostby and Emil Brandeis. If only our passengers were in Second Class, I might have known them better!

Leila Meyer survived, but her husband did not. Their two-year-old daughter had not been traveling with them, so she was safe at home. Between the inheritance from Leila’s father’s estate ($100,000 plus) and nearly twice that from her husband’s, she was pretty much set financially. She remarried and died at the age of 71, never speaking publicly about the disaster.

Helen Ostby was traveling with her father on a research trip for his jewelry business. They’d been in Europe and North Africa, and were returning home to Rhode Island. She survived and spoke later about the voyage, recalling the luxury of the ship and lack of panic as everyone went up on deck after striking the iceberg. They all went up on deck to the boats right away, but her father returned to his cabin to get warmer clothes. Helen never saw him again. Also of interest is her account of the sinking, which made no mention of the ship breaking in two:

There had been no panic. But at the very end, we could see and hear that the people on board were realizing there was no place to go. As the ship began to stand on end, we heard a big rumbling, rattling noise as if everything was being torn from its moorings inside the ship. All of a sudden that stopped, and she stood on end very quietly for a minute, then went down like an arrow.

We thought that, being a First Class passenger, Emil Brandeis had a better chance at survival, but unfortunately, he did not make it. Brandeis was the son of Jonas Brandeis, founder of the Brandeis Department Store, and was returning home early from a vacation to visit family in Europe. There is no mention of why he changed his plans: perhaps in order to sail on the famous new luxury liner?

As we were studying the list, I overheard a couple next to us talking to one of the exhibit employees. He was stationed there to answer questions and help people find their passengers, and had just asked them if they were having trouble with theirs. I couldn’t resist eavesdropping, partly to see if I would recognize the names, and partly to check up on the employee’s knowledge. One had a member of the Allison family, and he immediately launched into the story of how nearly the entire family perished because they stayed on board to search for their infant son, Trevor, unaware that their nurse, Alice Cleaver, had already gotten him onto a lifeboat. It’s one of the sadder stories in First Class, as their young daughter, Loraine, was the only child in First or Second Class that was not saved. I have to give the exhibit employee credit for knowing his stuff, but what caught my attention most was the passenger in question. For those who have read Destined, you might recognize that the Allison family was used there as well, in a very similar situation to mine. It was a little creepy, to be honest. Of all the passengers those people could have had, what were the chances they’d have one of the Allisons?


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