When the White Star Line’s new ocean liner Titanic steamed for New York City on Sunday, April 14, 1912, it carried about 30 passengers heading for Lake Superior communities.
At least nine survived the disaster to unfold that night, including two women from Duluth – Constance Willard, 20 and single, and Alice Munger Silvey, traveling with her husband, William Baird Silvey, all in first class.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic event.
Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. in a glancing blow that opened five watertight compartments. Constance described it as feeling like a crash. “When I reached the deck after the collision, the crew were getting the boats ready to lower, and many of the women were running about looking for their husbands and children,” she later told the Chicago Tribune. “The women were being placed in the boats, and two men took hold of me and almost pushed me into a boat. I did not appreciate the danger and I struggled until they released me.”
Constance ran to her cabin to look for friends, without success. “A little English girl about 15 years old ran up to me and threw her arms about me. ‘Oh, I am all alone. Won’t you let me go with you?’ I then began to realize the real danger and saw that all but two of the boats had been lowered. Some men called to us and we hurried to where they were loading a boat.”
At another lifeboat, Alice Silvey, 39, was lifted aboard by her husband. He told her, “I will follow in one of the other ones,” according to Cris Kohl’s book, Titanic, The Great Lakes Connections. William was among more than 1,500 who went down with the ship.
Cris’ compelling book provides details for this story. His focus is on the entire Great Lakes region, and he says that 346 of the ship’s 1,343 passengers were bound for locations on or within 100 miles of the Great Lakes. Some were returning home; many were emigrating from Europe to join relatives and start a new life. Of that group, 128 survived to be picked up by the rescue ship Carpathia. Much background about regional survivors and victims also comes from www.encyclopedia-titanica.org, the most comprehensive website you’ll find on the subject.
Titanic was 883 feet long, 92 feet wide and 175 feet tall from the keel to the top of the four stacks – the world’s largest ship. It was considered the most modern ocean liner and an engineering marvel, with electric light and heat in the rooms and amenities such as a heated pool, squash court and a gym with a mechanical horse and a mechanical camel, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (a team from Woods Hole, led by Dr. Robert Ballard, found the shipwreck in 1985). First-class travelers enjoyed country-club facilities and all the comfort and elegance of the era’s top hotels. There were two libraries, four restaurants, four elevators (three in first class) and two barbershops. The three classes of passenger accommodations were segregated by barriers. For those in third class, conditions were marked by low ceilings and bare light bulbs; and most cabins were far down in the ship, above the engine and boiler level. Yet these steerage cabins offered more luxury than many first-class cabins on other steamships.
Lake Superior Ties
At 12:10 a.m. on April 15, Titanic sent its first distress signal. Carpathia, 58 miles away, was the closest ship to get the signal. Around 12:25 a.m., the order was given to put women and children into lifeboats.
As her lifeboat was about to be lowered, Constance Willard told the Chicago Tribune, “a foreigner rushed up to the side of the vessel and holding out a bundle in his arms cried with tears running down his face. ‘Oh, please, kind lady, won’t you please, please take the little one.’ Of course, I took the child. … In our boat there were seven men, about 20 women and several children. … Twenty minutes after leaving the Titanic, we heard an explosion and the vessel appeared to split in two and sank. Then a foreign woman in our boat began singing a hymn, and we all joined, although few knew the words. All around us we heard crying and sobbing for perhaps three minutes.”
Like many of the 20 lifeboats, hers was filled to only half its capacity. The sea was calm, the surface like glass. The sky was filled with stars. Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, two hours and 40 minutes after hitting the iceberg some 230 miles from Nova Scotia.
Those heading for Lake Superior destinations (based on Cris Kohl’s book and Encyclopedia Titanica) also included:
• Jenny Lovisa Henriksson, 28, who worked as a maid, and her cousin, Ellen Natalia Pettersson, 18, both of Stockholm, Sweden, dreamed of going to America. They were inspired to join their relatives, Wilhelm Skoog and his family. The Skoogs had lived for some time in Iron Mountain, Michigan, then moved back to Sweden and now decided to return to the Upper Peninsula. All of them – Jenny and Ellen, Wilhelm, his wife, Anna, and their children Harald, 5, Karl, 11, Mabel, 9, and Margit, 2, booked third-class passage on the Titanic. All eight died in the sinking. Jenny is buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with 149 others from Titanic.