Thursday, October 16, 2008


R.M.S. Titanic, 1912

Millvina Dean and her brother Bertram

When the R.M.S. Titanic hit the iceberg on that awful night in 1912, one of the survivors was a 2 month old baby girl named Millvina Dean.  The Dean family were steerage passengers on their way to America where Mr. Dean hoped to open a tobacco shop and find a new start for his family.  Mr. Dean did not survive the sinking, but little Millvina, her brother and mother were lowered into a life raft and did survive.  After the R.M.S. Carpathia arrived at the site of the sinking and found the Titanic gone, they rescued the survivors from the life rafts and transported them to New York.   Millvina and her family never became Americans as her mother decided to return home to England.   96 years later, Millvina is the last survivor of the Titanic disaster.  It was reported today that she is selling her Titanic memorabilia, including a 96 year old suitcase full of clothes given to the family after they lost all of their possessions in the disaster, in an attempt to pay her nursing home bill.  She has no family left and she never married, so perhaps she's at peace with having to do this.  Hearing this today made me really sad, I have to say.  We all have to pay our debts and yet I wonder if this poor woman hasn't lost enough already.  Sure, she has no memory of that terrible night.  But, having to sell off to the highest bidder the remnants of an event that surely and inextricably altered her entire life seems wrong to me.  I hope these precious things end up in the hands of a museum instead of in the safe of some uber-wealthy collector who will never allow them to see the light of day.  I think it would be nice if the shipping and cruise line giant, Cunard might buy Miss Dean's artifacts.  Cunard was the major competitor of White Star (who owned Titanic) and later absorbed the line to become the giant cruise line that they are today.  It would be a nice gesture and great publicity for them.
 Something about that ship and that night persists in our collective consciousness.  I've never been able to put my finger on it.  Inevitably, we imagine ourselves in the same impossible situation.  I suppose it must also be in part how the rich, first class passengers and the steerage passengers suffered the same fate regardless of their social standing.  Of course more of the wealthy passengers survived, but at the same time, captains of industry like Cabots and Astors died along side of working class people like Mr. Dean.  Even after the last survivor is gone, I doubt the fascination will easily fade. 

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