Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Images from Danbom grave and website

 Added: Apr. 16, 2012
A long lost relative on my fathers side, whos history I have heard since I was young. A facinated story but so sad!
 Added: Feb. 26, 2012
You were my grandmother's 1st cousin, and she missed you very much when you suddenly drowned with the Titanic. RIP
Philip Sederquist
 Added: Jun. 4, 2011
Oh hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea. May you rest in peace.
 Added: Oct. 9, 2010
R.I.P. Ernst
 Added: Oct. 23, 2009

Barbara Hammons Davis, Dalt's Mom
 Added: Jul. 31, 2007

Nils M. Solsvik Jr.
 Added: May. 23, 2006

 Added: Apr. 18, 2007
In loving memory of Ernst.
 Added: Apr. 13, 2007

Nils M. Solsvik Jr.
 Added: May. 23, 2006

Images from Ernst Danbom's Find a Grave page.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Swedish passengers on the Titanic

My Titanic alter-ego, Anna Danbom, was from Sweden.  Her "last residence," according to the Encyclopedia Titanica, was  Göteborg Västergötland Sweden.  There were 18 others on the ship from Västergötland, in yellow on this map.  One survived.
Anna and her husband, Ernst, were travelling from Sweden to Stanton, Iowa, and that's where his body is buried.  Why were they on the Titanic?  Here's what Encyclopedia Titanica says:

Ernst was a farmer and emigrant recruiter from Stanton, Iowa. He was married to Anna on 30 November 1910 and they made a one year honeymoon trip to Sweden, where their son Gilbert was born. Ernst got commission from White Star for emigrants he recruited and he had quite a lot of cash when he left Sweden. It was meant that the family could eventually settle in Ernst's fruit farm in Turlock, California.

I'd never heard of emigrant recruiters.  I wonder what those emigrants planned to do here in the U.S.  Maybe Ernst had some ideas for them.

I guess Ernst had recruited family; the Danboms were travelling with Anna's sister, Alfrieda Andersson, her husband and 5 children (they were from  Östergötland). None of the Anderssons survived.  

Ernst's body was found, and brought to Iowa and buried in Mamrelund Cemetery just outside the Stanton.  

Here's Stanton, Iowa.  It's near Red Oak.  Which is near Omaha, Nebraska, so Stanton is at the western edge of the state.

View Larger Map
I imagine that the Danboms were doing pretty well in Stanton--there was a Swedish community there, and Ernst was part of it.  Encyclopedia Titanica says that "the relatives were not considered in need of money from the relief fund."

The town's website still emphasizes its Swedish heritage:  it's the home of "Mrs. Olson" of coffee commercial fame, it has a park called Viking Lake State Park, and a watertower that looks like a Swedish coffeepot.

It would be interesting to go see Ernst's grave.  I wonder if their town is doing anything Titanicish this year.

This article from BBC News shares more information about Swedish passengers on the Titanic.  The stories are heartbreaking.

Did I mention that I have Swedish roots?  My great-grandparents on my mother's mother's side were from Sweden.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Encyclopedia Titanica is a great online resource for Titaniacs and anyone interested in learning more about the ship.  I've been spending some time with its lists.

It has lists of passengers, which can be sorted by class (1st, 2nd, 3rd), lifeboat, and "survivor or victim."

I'm finding them eerily fascinating.

Of course, I wanted to look up some of my Titanic friends.

First, I looked up Anna Danbom, whose boarding pass I got at the Brucemore exhibit.  Here she is, with the picture courtesy of findagrave.com
Look!  On her lap, there's a tiny child. That's her son, Gilbert Sigvard Emanual.  He's just 4 months old at the time of the voyage.

The Brucemore exhibit didn't let on that she'd had a son.  He was lost, too.

What must it have been like for Anna and her husband Ernest, as they struggled on the sinking ship with a baby? As a mom, I remember that fierce protectiveness that comes along with being a mom of a newborn.

Yet both she and her child perished.

I also looked up Walter Douglas.  Oh, here's his picture, from the Brucemore website:

I remembered that the Brucemore exhibit said his body was recovered and buried here in Cedar Rapids.  So there was some information about Douglas on the "Descriptions of Bodies Recovered" page of Encyclopedia Titanica:

N0. 62. - MALE. - ESTIMATED AGE, 55. - HAIR, GREY.
CLOTHING - Evening dress, with "W. D. D." on shirt.
EFFECTS - Gold watch; chain; sov. Case with "WDD"; gold cigarette case "WDD"; five gold studs; wedding ring on finger engraved "May 19th, 84"; pocket letter case with $551.00, and one £5 note; cards.

You may or may not know this (I didn't), but White Star commissioned a ship to go out and recover bodies.  With the crew on board that ship, the Mackay Bennett, were an Episcopal priest and an embalmer.  They quickly realized that there were more bodies floating at the wreck site than they could take back.  

I cannot imagine this scene.

Alan Wolf, who wrote my favorite book (so far) about the Titanic, The Watch that Ends the Night, imagines this scene very movingly.  I'll share some passages from that book in a later post.  

Meanwhile, back to those lists . . . 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A dreadful book about the Titanic

Put.  The book. Down.  Now step AWAY from the book.

Listen to me: do not read this book about the Titanic.  It is dreadful.

I am speaking from experience.  I read it.

Why?  I guess I read a review of it somewhere that intrigued me.  I mean, the concept is good:  young woman gets an opportunity to be a craftsperson by getting hired by fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon, who is a passenger on the Titanic.  The young woman survives and begins her career as a dressmaker.

A book about a young artisan, historic fan-fic, focus on work with a bit of romance thrown in.

But it was awful.  Cardboard characters, silly romantic developments, ridiculous plot elements.  I kept thinking it would get better at some point, but it did not.

The worst, though, was the way the author treated the sinking of the ship.  She took no time at all with it, as if all we cared about was whether the main characters would get into lifeboats. Kind of the opposite of Walter Lord.

Oh well.  It got me intrigued to read a better book about the Titanic--that's what led me to Walter Lord's A Night to Remember.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A dude who was REALLY into the Titanic

Just look at this guy.  Does he look like a classic nerd, or what?

I'm speaking with fondness here.  Keep in mind that I have nerdy tendencies.

This guy is Walter Lord, best known for his book A Night to Remember, which is "still considered a definitive resource on the Titanic," says Wikipedia.  It was one of the first Titanic books I read, and one of the ones I like best.  Here's the cover.
The back cover says that Lord became fascinated with the Titanic after riding on its sister ship, the Olympic, when he was a boy. By the time he was 10, he was reading all about the ship, and making drawings of it.  He went to college and got a job, but in his spare time, "with unflagging devotion," (according to the back cover of this book) he began tracking down and interviewing the survivors. He contacted and interviewed 60, and even became friends with some! That's shoeleather research!

How exciting that must have been, to talk with people who had been there, especially for a Titaniac like him.  To hear the stories from people who'd experienced the sinking must have been both fascinating and harrowing. 

The cool thing about this book is that it puts the reader in the shoes of the people on the ship.  Lord uses what critics called "literary pointillism" to bring together the experiences of the survivors he interviewed.  The story moves from place to place, from person to person, and tells about what happened all over the ship largely in their voices.  He doesn't add any additional elements, and is pretty restrained even about commenting on the meaning of the sinking.

I read the book twice this summer, once in my "gulping" reading style, getting so tied up that I could hardly put the book down.  I was a Titanic noob. I didn't even know the chronology of the events of that night.  I knew there was an iceberg and not enough lifeboats, but that's about it!  So the first time I read, it was just to find out about the Titanic.

And Lord's book has great pictures!  It was the first time I encountered photos of what it looked like on the deck of the ship
and met Captain Smith (on the right).

And saw the tiny lifeboats coming up to the Carpathia.

I won't say that reading this book gave me nightmares, because it didn't.  But lying in bed at night, I'd think about the traumatic stories I'd read. Cold water, panicked people, women leaving husbands and grown sons on the deck as they were lowered in a lifeboat . . . or standing with their children below decks with the rest of the third class while the water rises.

It kept me up a couple nights. 

Still, I read the book a second time. Why? Fascination with the traumatic?  Maybe.

Maybe because of that fascination/horror, I needed to think more about how different people reacted to the disaster. Did they believe the ship was unsinkable? How did they face having to leave it?  How did they face knowing they or their loved ones would die?  How did they react to the needs of other people?

And of course: What would I have done?

Lord's book really helps you imagine you ARE there because he shares the voices of the people on the ship.

Here are the voices of Mahala and Walter Douglas, brother and sister-in-law of our Cedar Rapids George Douglas:

"Walter you must come with me," begged Mrs. Walter D. Douglas.
"No," Mr. Douglas replied, turning away. "I just be a gentleman."
"Try and get off with Major Butt and Mr. Moore," came a final bit of wifely advice; "They are big, strong fellows and will surely make it."

And Ida Strauss:
Mrs. Isidor Strauss also refused to go:  "I've always stayed with my husband; so why should I leave him now?"

Lord occasionally tells someone's story, like the tale of Baker Charles Joughin, the last person off the Titanic:
" . . . he felt the stern beginning to drop under his feet--it was like taking an elevator.  As the sea closed over the stern, Joughin stepped off into the water.  He didn't even get his head wet.  He paddled off into the night, little bothered by the freezing water."

And the last minutes of the Titanic itself:
". . . slowly she began sliding under, moving at a steep slant.  As she glided down, she seemed to pick up speed.  When the sea closed over the flagstaff on her stern, she was moving fast enough to cause a slight gulp."

The book hasn't gone out of print since it was published in 1955.  I can see why.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Titanic at Brucemore

This picture is of Iowans Sylvia and Albert Caldwell and their son Alden on the deck of the Titanic.  They were on their way back from a mission trip visit friends in Cedar Rapids.  (credit for this picture goes to Julie Hegpeth Williams--more about her in this article.)

I didn't know them before this spring.  I am not a Titanic buff, otherwise known as a Titaniac (like maniac).

I just got interested in the Titanic this year, the centenary of the disaster, after I went to a very cool local exhibit about the Titanic.  The exhibit, at Brucemore historic site in Cedar Rapids, is called "Unsinkable Stories: 100 Years Later," and it focuses on local (Cedar Rapids and Iowa) connections to the Titanic.

Bruce, Robbie, and I visited the exhibit this spring, and today I got a chance to go back with my friends Anne and Paul.

That local connection is probably what got me entangled in the story.  The Titanic seems kind of distant--in time and space.  But it turns out that there were about 3 dozen people with Iowa connections on the Titanic! The Iowa connections make the theme of the small but very nicely researched and curated exhibit.

At the exhibit, you can pick up a boarding pass with information about one of the passengers. I picked up this one for Anna Danbom, who was going to Stanton, Iowa.

Next to the boarding passes was an Iowa map with little White Star Line flags marking where Iowa-connected passengers came from or were headed to.

Some very important Titanic passengers had Cedar Rapids connections.  Walter and Mahala Douglas, 1st class passengers, were the brother and sister-in-law of George Douglas, the owner of Brucemore. "Mrs. Walter Douglas" survived, and her testimony to the Titanic investigation panel is quoted in the Titanic literature quite a bit!

Along with the information about Iowa-connected passengers, there was also some "Titanic-era clothing" and information about the ship.  There was also the diary of one of the Brucemore maids, who mentions the Titanic, ever so briefly.

More interesting was a wall with large prints of the local paper from mid-April 1912. 
The Gazette is still our locally-owned paper.
The exhibit encourages visitors to follow the way the disaster was reported by looking at the papers.  The paper above was one of the later ones.  The first couple had news stories from the Associated Press that reported that the Titanic was on her way to Halifax "under her own steam."  Wonder where that idea came from.  Here, below, is a statement by the White Star officials.

Do you see that word? "unsinkable."  "absolutely unsinkable."

I was very interested in how the local reporters and writers wrote about the Titanic.  Early on, papers hoped Walter Douglas survived.

 Later, The Republican, the evening Cedar Rapids paper ran a story of the testimony of Mahala Douglas.

A later issue described the funeral for Walter Douglas, whose body was found, identified by his shirt monogram and his name in his cigarette case.  He's buried in the family mausoleum in Oak Hill cemetery here in town.

Mahala Douglas wrote a poem about the Titanic--the exhibit says she was a "talented and enthusiastic" writer--and she donated money to Coe College in her husband's name.

And what happened to Anna Danbom, the person whose boarding pass I picked up?

My passenger died, along with her husband.  They were third class passengers.

The first time I saw this exhibit, I found it harrowing.  I think it's because of the personal connections it encouraged me to make--with people from my own home state, my neighbors, really. Brucemore is practically my next-door neighbor--we walk the gardens almost daily in the spring, and love to go to the Christmas celebrations in the mansion.

To read about how my Brucemore and Iowa neighbors survived, or find out that they did not survive the Titanic's sinking is different from just reading about "Titanic survivors" or "victims."

One of the previous visitors drew a picture.  He was interested in accuracy.
The orange pictures (behind "Brayton") are the bow and stern of the ship.  On the right hand drawing is this message:  "Both parts of the ship broke.  2000 feet away from each other."

That's true!  The ship did break in two, and the pieces are lying on the ocean floor, 2000 feet from each other.  It's cool that this child (Finn--you can see his name on the left-hand picture) has that kind of knowledge.  He might be a budding Titaniac.

But for me, I'm more interested in the people and their stories--how they survived, or didn't.  What they felt, what they did, what they said that fateful night.  How they made sense of the event later, if they survived.

It's that age-old question: What is revealed about our souls when they come under stress?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting started

I've been on a bit of a Titanic kick recently. 

Of course this is the 100th anniversary year of the disaster, so it's probably been on the minds of other people, too.  Goodreads has a list of 60 books about the Titanic, all published in 2011-12 "in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster."

The 1997 Titanic movie directed by James Cameron was re-released this year, in 3D.
 There was even a Titanic memorial cruise, following the ship's fateful journey, and stopping at the disaster site on April 17, 2012.

And me?  Well, I knew about the Titanic.  Doesn't everyone?  But I'd never seen the movie, never read any books until this year. 

I have excuses, as in "I had a newborn and a 2-year-old when that movie came out--I wasn't going to watch it."  Or "I read other kinds of books, not pop bestsellers."

Really, the reason I never got into the Titanic before is this: the story terrified me. I didn't want to read it because I knew what it was about:  a frightening, fateful, heartbreaking story of the loss of thousands of souls.  I was afraid I would be drawn into the story, unable to hold it at a nice, safe distance, and find my heart broken by the tales of those who lived and those who died.

But, starting with a small 100th anniversary exhibit here in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I was drawn into the story of the Titanic this year, and I've become fascinated as well as heartbroken.  And I want to know more about the Titanic--not just the ship and the historical disaster, but about why it has held such a grip on the psyches of people. 

Why do we remember it above all other disasters?  Why do we want to hear the tales told over and over, even when they are terrifying and harrowing?  Why does it fascinate us so?

In  this blog, I'll share with you my reflections on the Titanic story in American culture: the books, the exhibits, the images, the maps.  Maybe I'll talk with others about their reaction to the Titanic.  Maybe you'll share your thoughts with me!  And maybe we'll figure it out together:

What does the Titanic mean?