Sunday, May 07, 2006

“There’s Talk of an Iceberg, Ma’am”*

[[O B I T]] * Just as I was surprised recently to hear that survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire are still around to tell their stories, so I am astounded to discover that the last American survivor of the 1912 Titanic sinking has only just died. Lillian Gertrud Asplund was 99 years old when she passed away at her home in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, west of Boston. She’d been but 5 on the night the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg in the frigid North Atlantic Ocean and--despite being called “unsinkable”--went down quickly, killing more than 1,500 people. Slightly more than 700 survived.

According to the Associated Press, Asplund lost her father and three brothers in that maritime disaster. She, as well as her mother and another brother, made it through alive. Recalling the family’s heart-rending plight, AP explains:
The Asplund family had boarded the ship in Southampton, England, as third-class passengers on their way back to Worcester from their ancestral homeland, Sweden, where they had spent several years.

Asplund’s mother described the sinking in an interview with the
Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper shortly after she and her two children arrived in the city.

Selma Asplund said the family went to the
Titanic’s upper deck after the ship struck the iceberg.

“I could see the icebergs for a great distance around ... It was cold and the little ones were cuddling close to one another and trying to keep from under the feet of the many excited people ... My little girl, Lillie, accompanied me, and my husband said, ‘Go ahead, we will get into one of the other boats.’ He smiled as he said it.”
Because they lost all of their possessions and money, the city of Worcester held a fundraiser and a benefit concert that together brought in about $2,000 for the surviving Asplunds.

Lillian Asplund never married and spent most of her lengthy existence doing secretarial work. At the time of her demise, she was one of only three known Titanic survivors, and “the last with actual memories of the sinking,” the AP reports. Two others, both living in England, were too young at the time to have memories of the Titanic’s sinking.

Despite almost a century of interest in the mighty ocean liner’s fate, Ms. Asplund is said to have “shunned publicity and rarely spoke about the events.” However, the online Encyclopedia Titanica explains that, during an interview some years back, “she recalled the disaster and relayed how she remembered being passed through what she described as a window (later identified as the First Class Promenade Deck) into a descending lifeboat and looking back up at the sinking Titanic. Having left three of her brothers, including her twin, Carl, and her father onboard the doomed ship, she maintains she was haunted by their faces peering over the rail at her for much of her life.”

Whatever others memories Asplund had of that harrowing night at sea are now lost to history.

* A quote attributed to Titanic steward Walter Bishop on April 15, 1912.

1 comment:

Linda L. Richards said...

It sounds like she was really lovely. In The Globe piece I read yesterday, it said she seldom spoke publicly about the disaster and even refused offers of money in exchange for interviews. She told her lawyer (who seems also to have been a confidant), that since she lost three brothers and a father to the Titanic, she couldn't imagine wanting to profit from it all.