April 13, 2012

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Missourians on the Titanic

The movement occurring all around her was like ean evil kaleidoscope in black and white. In the frigid cold of the North Atlantic Ocean, there was frenzied movement everywhere. In the midst of it, a young mother named Selma Asplund tried to comfort her five-year-old daughter Lillian to silence the child’s sobs. A younger child named Felix clung to her tightly in bewilderment. But these two children were not her primary concern at that moment. As her lifeboat lowered farther and farther from the boat deck of the RMS Titanic toward the black water below, her focus was on what had been left behind. Above her at an ever-lengthening distance and silhouetted against the lights of the great ship and the night beyond, four terrified faces peered down into the lifeboat. There were still empty seats in the lifeboat, but it had begun to lower before Selma’s husband and three older sons had a chance to enter. Looking up at them, she could barely make out their features — only their ghostly forms. That was the last vision of her husband and sons — a vision that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

In early 1893, a young Swedish girl named Selma Johansson left her home in Smaland, Sweden, and set out to make a new life near relatives who had settled in Kansas City. She was not quite twenty years old, and the promise of a prosperous future in the American Midwest had been tantalizing. Perhaps there was a husband and family in her future. Maybe someday grandchildren would sit on her lap. There was nothing but promise beyond.

But things did not work out in Kansas City, and Selma never felt at home. America was so different from Sweden, and adjustment didn’t come easily. When relatives invited her to join them in Worcester, Massachusetts, she decided to move. There was a large Swedish population there, and she could gradually blend into America while keeping the familiarity shared by people with similar backgrounds. In 1896, she met the man of her dreams, Carl Asplund, whom she married that same year. Five children were born to them in Massachusetts, though one died in infancy. The last two children were twins, Lillian and Carl Edgar, born in October 1906.

Not long after the birth of the twins, Carl Asplund decided to return to their native Sweden, and the entire family left for the town of Alseda. While in Sweden, Selma gave birth to her last child, a son named Felix. But Carl had trouble finding work, and by the end of 1911, the family began to make plans to return to Massachusetts. In April, the family made its way to Southampton, England, and boarded the new luxury liner Titanic as steerage passengers. It would be Carl Asplund’s sixth trip across the Atlantic.

Prior to sailing on the Titanic, a young Irish colleen named Bridget Delia McDermott was nervous about the trip. She was on her way to the home of her cousin, Maria Finnerty of St. Louis, and hoped to find work as a domestic servant with a wealthy family in Missouri. She was thirty-one years old and still unmarried. Born in Lahardane, County Mayo, Ireland, Bridget was like so many other young, Irish women of the day and knew she might never see her family again once she left for America.

Bridget traveled to the nearby town of Crossmolina, where she purchased new clothing for her trip. She was especially proud of a fine new hat she bought; she wore it almost every day, even before departure. In early April, she joined a group of fourteen people who departed the town of Addergoole for Queenstown where they would join the maiden voyage of the great ship everyone was talking about. It would be the adventure of a lifetime. But her excitement was tempered by something that happened the evening before she left her hometown. She was out with friends when a strange, unknown man tapped her on the shoulder. Assuming that he was also traveling and in need of money, she started to give him a few pennies. Then the man told her he knew she was going on a long journey and that there would be a tragedy. After that, the man seemed to simply vanish. When she mentioned the incident to others nearby, they claimed not to have seen the little man.

April 13, 2012


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