Sunday, January 16, 2011

On the Titanic; First Class

Eva's boarding pass


Boarding Pass of Mrs. Edwin Nelson Kimball Jr. (Gertrude Parsons)




First Class Dishes

Third Class Dishes

Second Class Dishes
I stepped onto the gangplank with my two little girls.  It was exciting!  One of my bucket list items is to go across the Atlantic by water.  I wondered what those people who had stepped across the gangplank of that unsinkable ship so many years had felt.  Excitement?  Trepidation?  Wonder?  Sadness? 

I'm sure all of these emotions and more crossed their minds.  It was with this thought that I accepted the boarding pass to tour, Titanic, the exhibit at The Museum, in Kitchener, Ontario.

I gasped when I read the name on my boarding pass and showed it to the girl explaining my shock.  Now, while they do try to match up the boarding passes a little, a child will get the boarding pass of a real child, a woman, that of an actual woman who travelled on the ship and a man will get a man's pass etc.  beyond that it's very random.  So how is it, that out of the stack of over 2000 names, the one handed to me is that of Mrs. Edwin Nelson Kimball Jr.  Her maiden name is the same as mine and I'm shocked as I read it, Gertrude Parsons. 

Adding to the coincidence that this Ms. Parsons is exactly my age when she travelled and was born in 1866 and I was born 100  years later in 1966.  She is from Boston.  Anyone who knows my lifelong fascination with that city(and its hockey team) will see that as further coincidence.  My interest in Boston came from my knowledge as a little girl that I had wealthy relatives/ancestors there and it seemed so exotic and foreign.  I cannot help but wonder..but I cannot find anything about her family on that side.   Her husband was president of a piano company and they travelled on business.  They were first class passengers.

My little girls were handed two boarding passes as well.

 Martina got the pass of a 6 year old little girl, Annie Jessie Harper who was travelling with her father, a minister and a cousin, to Chicago.  Her mother had passed in childbirth.  She was called Nina.  She travelled second class.

Sophia became 7 year old, Miss Eva Miriam Hart, she was travelling with her mother, Esther and her father Benjamin to Winnipeg to start a new life.  Esther was terrified on the ship and stayed up at night to watch over Eva as she slept.  She thought the billing of "unsinkable" was a direct insult to God and only slept in the day as the ship travelled along on its voyage.

In another strange coincidence.  Though the kid's cards were picked from two different stacks.  The bottom of Nina's pass said "While on board, Nina found a playmate and friend in fellow seven-year old Eva Hart.  Yes, the girls had been issued the boarding passes of two little girls who had been friends 99 years ago,  on Titanic. 

As we toured through the exhibit, marvelling at how well preserved many of the artifacts were, viewing the opulence of the grand staircase and reading the descriptions of Titanic and gaining some scope of the size of her and the project, I became attached to the people on those little cards in our hands.

 Was little Nina as curious as my Martina.  Would she have asked, as Martina did when I explained what a "Mayday" call was, "so, do they go Mayday Mayday or do they go Mike Alpha Yankee, Delta Alpha Yankee?" (Anybody know this? Because I thought they went SOS..anyway.. )

Would little Eva have been as shocked as my Sophia was that there weren't enough lifeboats for everyone and asked, "Have they done something about this problem in modern times?" Which made the man next to us giggle and shake his head in amusement.

Little Nina and Eva touched the iceberg display, amazed as I was that it was real ice.  As we went along, the time on the wall posters letting us know about ice warnings, it became increasingly important to me that Eva and Nina be on the survival list that awaited at the end of the display.  What if they weren't?  What if their short lives had ended in those cold Newfoundland waters 99 years ago this spring.  I almost couldn't bear the thought of it.  What if one did and the other didn't.  How would I explain it to my little girls.  I consoled myself with the knowledge of the sad fact that, because they were second class passengers, the odds were with them.  I also felt oddly guilty at that thought and wondered, did the other Ms. Parsons have the same sort of guilt if she survived.  Was she grateful for not being one of the steerage passengers whose lives were so undervalued that most didn't make it?


Replica Chairs from Titanic

Finally we come to the end and my eyes are drawn to the wall where the lists are.  The passengers are divided into three boards, first, second and third class.  A forth board lists the crew.  I search for the names of survivors in second class, not allowing them to drift down to the list below of those who perished in those cold Atlantic waters.

Yes! There is Eva on the survivor list, and yes, nearby is Nina!  Both survived.  So did their female travel companions but both lost their father on the voyage. Women and Children first.  I shed tears in relief.  I'm sappy like that.  A man beside me looks at his card and says he didn't make it.  He was in first class.  How the  universe draws its straws is a mystery.
Eva and Nina aka Sophia and Martina

Then I go to the first class list.  I discovered that Ms. Gertrude Parsons Kimball and her husband were both on the survivor's list.  I was a little perturbed by the fact that so many first class men survived however, then I realised, life boat 5 was not even half full.  There was no life to be saved by his being lost.

What does one do when they've survived against all odds in one of the greatest marine tragedies, and certainly the most famous one, of all time.  I came home and started googling for answers.  Here is what I found out.

All three lived to be quite elderly.

I was delighted to be able to tell Sophia that yes, someone had done something about safety in marine travel in modern times and one of them was that young girl on her boarding pass, little Eva Hart.  When her parents wrapped her in that blanket and took her to lifeboat 14 they gave her the opportunity to make a difference and she was a staunch spokesperson for the cause of marine safety all of her life.  She died on Valentine's Day in 1996 at the age of 91.

Nina, born January 1, 1906,  became an orphan with the loss of her father, when he handed her aboard life boat 11 that fateful April night, and she was forbidden by her family that raised her, to speak of the tragedy.  She did, in later years however and she also corresponded with Eva Hart, her playmate on Titanic, all of her life.  She died on April 10, 1986, on the anniversary of the day Titanic left port on her maiden Voyage.  She was 80.

But what of Ms. Gertrude Parsons Kimball, first class passenger on Titanic.  Did she take advantage of her second chance?  Was she a first class passenger or a first class person?  I like to think that being given such a gift as this she would have made her life momentous and lived it well.  But there is nothing about her in the Boston archives that sets her apart from her husband's accomplishments, though he passed away in 1927.  Perhaps she remarried and her name changed.  She lived until 1962 and was 96 when she died. Surely she did something remarkable but if she did, I can't find evidence of it.  I'll continue to search.

Class divides people.  Not just in the sense that it gives people an advantage but because so many people set such store by it. 

Perhaps the lesson best taken away from this is that a person who is first class in the material sense, may leave no particular mark on the world.  It is those who who behave in a first class manner and have first class character, who seem to be remembered better and longer.  The stories of heroism and sacrifice posted on the walls of the exhibit tend to attest to this.  Their class status was not included in their stories of bravery.  It was irrelevant.

The exhibit is in Kitchener for the next ten days and then moves on to Calgary.  I highly recommend attending if it comes to your city.



The final resting place of Titanic and  many of her passengers and crew

Made famous by the James Cameron Movie, Rose's necklace

2 comments:

Kim Hutcheson said...

My boys loved the exhibit too, especially Brayden. They were given cards with 2 brothers names on them - both in their early 20's. Brayden worried the whole time that the brothers may have died. When we came to the end,I found the brothers'names on the deceased list. I looked back at Brayden, sitting nervously on the bench with his arm around his little brother, waiting to hear of their fate. I did the only thing I could bring myself to do - I lied. I told him that both brothers survived. He was so happy and it made for a happy ending rather than a painful one.
I'm glad your girls enjoyed it!

April Lindfors said...

Nice post...extremely fascinating!