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?

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