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Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Mug Shot

R.M.S. Titanic
London, England
April 10, 1912

We boarded the great ship Titanic, the pride of White Star Line April 10. We sailed second class. My cousin and my daughter were going to America with me to Chicago, Illinois to start a series of revival meetings at the Moody Church in West Chicago. -Reverend John Harper

Actually, Those are my words, not John Harper's. I was John Harper for a little while on a Saturday in May of 2003.

I went to the Titanic exhibit at The Detroit Science Center with Mom, Tori, Rina, John and Scotty. The exhibit was traveling the country that year and it was something Mom really wanted to see. She didn’t have a hard time getting takers for the ride with her!

As we waited in line a our scheduled entry time, we read the information panels outside with facts and details of the ill-fated ship. When the people going into the exhibit entered, they were given a boarding pass. The boarding pass was your identity. At the end of the tour, you could look at the lists of survivors and dead to find out if you made it.

I was flattered when Mom and they guys told me they figured I’d be Molly Brown, or anyway, that I would make a good Molly Brown. I do take charge in times of trouble and have found myself with abilities I didn’t know I had rather than panic, but I didn’t want to be someone I knew survived, I wanted that element of not knowing! But, when I received my boarding pass and flipped it over, I told everyone I knew I didn’t make it. My title was mot Miss, Mr., or Mrs.. My title was “Reverend.”

The exhibit was so neat. There were actual artifacts that were recovered and informative panels. There were diagrams of icebergs showing that really, only the smallest part of an iceberg shows above water. Then there was the area where you could touch a wall that simulated the temperature of iceberg-infested water. I don’t think I’d have WANTED to survive floating in that kind of cold!

The boarding passes were so cool, because all six of us, even the two 8-year-olds, talked the whole way thorough about what our passenger might have been doing or what they might have been thinking through the voyage and then at the time that the ship started sinking.

In the end, Tori was the only one of us on the survivors list! Everyone else perished.

Some stats from the trip from my scrapbook:

I was Reverend John Harper, 39 years old, traveling 2nd class with my 10-year-old daughter, Nina, and my cousin, Miss Jessie Leiton. Nina and Jessie survived, my body was never recovered.

Rina was Mr. William Henry Nancarrow. He was 33 years old and sailed 3rd class with his aunt and uncle, Alexander and Charity Robbins. They all died in the sinking. The MacKay Bennett recovered the Robins’ bodies but, if Rina’s body was recovered, it was never identified.

Scotty was Mr. Benjamin Hart, age 47, who sailed 2nd class with his wife, Esther and his daughter, Eva. Esther and Eva survived the sinking and in fact, Eva was interviewed in the IMAX movie we saw afterwards. As an older adult by the time she was interviewed, she had a remorseful memory of crying as her father put her on the life boat because he wouldn’t go back to their room to get her teddy bear. Scotty never joined hs wife and daughter again. His body was not recovered.

John was Mr. William Harbeck, a 44-year-old filmmaker in the early days of that industry. It was believed he had been hired by the White Star Line to film Titanic’s maiden voyage. A tug was scheduled to take him to the dock to film her arrival. Harbeck was sailing with his 24-year-old mistress, Henriette Yrois. Don’t think John didn’t LOVE that! When the MacKay Bennett recovered his body, he was clutching Henriette’s purse. When his wife, Catherine, came from Toledo to claim his body, she was informed that she had died in the sinking with her husband. That’s how she found out about the affair! Johns’ body was put in an unmarked cemetery plot at Woodland Cemetery, in Toledo, Ohio. A private group has since put a headstone on the grave,

Mom was Mr. Frederick Giles, age 20, sailing 2nd class with his brother Edgar. They had been been scheduled to travel on the Oceanic, but the coal strike had altered that plan and they changed to the Titanic. Both brothers died. If Mom’s body was recovered, it wasn’t identified.

Our sole survivor, Tori, was Mr. Karl Albert Midtsjo, a 21 year-old from Norway. He was traveling alone, 3rd class. His roommate was Johan Tyrsee. Johan died in the sinking, but Karl Albert survived. Tori was picked up by the Carpathia, getting to New York City on April 18, 1912. After getting out of the hospital, Karl traveled to North Dakota to return his roommate’s watch to his family and he told them about Johan’s last days as a passenger on the Titanic.

I put our names into the recounts when reporting on the recovery process because that’s what we did on that day, the people whose boarding passes we had were who we were for the exhibit. Everyone at the exhibit was speaking about their passenger in the first person. It just made the experience somewhat haunting, but very real, very memorable.

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