Halifax: "City of Sorrow"  


Titanic Titanic!   Titanic Titanic! 

(Above Left) The cable ship MacKay-Bennett charted by the White Star Line to recover bodies.

(Above Center) Canadian Ministry of Marine and Fisheries vessel MONTMAGNY -also  charted by the White Star Line to recover bodies.

(Above Right) Hearses and coffins await recovered bodies in Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 1912.

Titanic Titanic!

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(Above Left) Body preparation for the trip back to New York

(Above Right) Crew members of the cable ship MacKay-Bennett partake in the grim task of body recovery, days after the disaster.


"The Story is Far from Finished"

by Johan Tötterström

"Touchdown", I said silently to myself and smiled smartly as the aircraft took ground. It was the 24th of June 1994. Outside, the weather was cloudy, yet, as I stepped out of the plane, I could feel the fresh and salty air of Nova Scotia greeting me.
After a very delayed flight I was finally here, about to embark on my very own tour into history. A tour that was to take me to a few of those Titanic related places within the city of Halifax. Because of the delays, however, serious changes had to be made in my schedule, resulting my entire tour to be postponed one day.
     

 Early in the morning of June 25, I started towards the city centre, mind focused on what lie a ahead. I walked up to a taxi, but when I asked the driver of the "Titanic graves", he simply shook his head. Great, I thought the locals knew this tragic place. Obviously, I was wrong. "Fairview Cemetery", I then said and he replied "get in".

I felt the excitement grow inside me. After such a long time of planning and dreaming I was finally about to enter a dark piece of Titanic history. As we talked, his memory seemed to improve and he suddenly uttered: "I took a few people to where you are going... once".

As we headed up the driveway to Fairview Lawn Cemetery, he pointed and said: "The Titanic graves are over there". He seemed determined now, and I wondered if this was the same man as I had first approached only fifteen minutes earlier. I stepped out of the car and started walking towards the site. And there, suddenly, out of the mist a white sign appeared. Printed in black capitals, the sole name "TITANIC" confirmed I was there. From this moment on I continually took notes, but I quickly realized there just wasn't a way of describing what I felt, in words. It was a moving experience as row after row of victims of this haunting disaster appeared before my eyes. It wasn't until now, that the full impact of this tragedy hit me.

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As we headed up the driveway to Fairview Lawn Cemetery, he pointed and said: "The Titanic graves are over there". He seemed determined now, and I wondered if this was the same man as I had first approached only fifteen minutes earlier. I stepped out of the car and started walking towards the site. And there, suddenly, out of the mist a white sign appeared. Printed in black capitals, the sole name "TITANIC" confirmed I was there. From this moment on I continually took notes, but I quickly realized there just wasn't a way of describing what I felt, in words. It was a moving experience as row after row of victims of this haunting disaster appeared before my eyes. It wasn't until now, that the full impact of this tragedy hit me.

At Fairview Cemetery 121 victims of the Titanic disaster are resting. The other 29 victims buried in Halifax can be located at Mount Olivet Cemetery and Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. All in all, 150 victims were put to rest here, in the so-called "City of Sorrow".

 

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Two lists, compiled shortly after the disaster, exist to this day. One contains information about the 306 victims retrieved by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, during its two-week search for bodies drifting around Titanic's last known position. The other one contains information about those victims that were identified on site and in Halifax; shipped further or buried here. Among the identified is Alma Pålsson, 26, of Malmöhus Sweden, who emigrated with her four children. Her husband Nels, had left earlier, in order to prepare for the family's arrival in the States. Alma and her children perished as the ship sank; however the story does not end here... The crew of the Mackay-Bennett, were so touched when they came upon the body of a two-year-old boy, that they personally arranged for the child a stone at Fairview with the inscription: "Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster to the Titanic April 15th 1912."
 

 

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Little did they know at that time, that the boy actually was one of Alma's children, Gösta Leonhard Pålsson. By examining the list, one finds: "NO. 4. Male. Estimated age, 2. Hair, fair. Clothing-Grey coat with fur on collar and cuffs; brown serge frock.../... brown shoes and stockings. No marks whatever. Probably third class." In the updated version of this list, from May 1912, you find at the bottom of that page added in ink: "Possibly child of Mrs. Paulsson." This was indeed the fact, but why the name has not been inscribed on the gravestone, I do not know. Perhaps it was felt at the time it was not appropriate to change the beautiful inscription on the stone. For those interested, the list from May 1912 now contained the true identity of the "unknown child" anyway. Perhaps it all came down to "financial greed"; to change an inscription was a matter of money to the ones paying for it, which of course was White Star Line. By sheer coincidence, mother and son have come to rest only a few feet apart from each other.

Another fascinating read is the life of John Henry Chapman, known in the list as NO. 17. It reads: "Male. Estimated age, 30-40. Hair, dark. Effects - .../... Lady's handbag."

John Henry Chapman was of British origin, but had left Cornwall in 1906 and emigrated to Canada. He later moved to America, where he settled in Spokane, Washington State. Here he was employed at the local cemetery. In 1911, however, Chapman decided to return to his native England, in order to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elizabeth Lawry. They were wed on December 26th, but obviously John felt their home should be in Spokane. On April 10th 1912, they boarded the RMS. Titanic as second class passengers, and evidence strongly indicates that they were at each other's sides until the end. Sarah was never found. John's body was found, his hand still clinging to a lady's handbag... His real age was 30 years.

There I was, walking around Fairview Cemetery eagerly documenting everything I came upon. At this time, I only had information on some of the victims; this was long before I even got hold of copies of the two lists. Now, almost three years later I can look back at this remarkable journey into history, and still my memories are so vivid. It feels like I was there yesterday. Suddenly, I stumbled upon the grave of George Swane, the driver to the rich Hudson J Allison family. (For more information on Hudson J Allison, read the excellent story in the book "Titanic, An Illustrated History", by Lynch & Marschall.)
 

 

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He traveled second class with the family's cook Mildred Brown, and two other servants. Earlier in the night of the disaster, Swane and his roommates had had a violent pillow fight, which had made it almost impossible for Brown and co. to sleep in the adjacent cabin. When Titanic collided with the iceberg, Swane was quick to realize the seriousness of the situation. He got up and alarmed the neighboring girls. But Brown did not feel like getting out of bed. It was first when the others exclaimed that "she was probably the last person still in bed", that she got up, got dressed and went up top. What happened then? Well, Mildred Brown survived, but George Swane did not make it. Obviously they were good friends, and there could have been a little love between the two of them. Some facts support that theory. In the letter to her mother, Mildred is very concerned and wonders what happened to the "poor" George after she boarded a lifeboat. Further on, they both worked for Allison, and had adjacent cabins on board the Titanic... Well, these are only speculations, of course, we will never know.

At Fairview Cemetery, there are quite a few graves with newly made "white inscriptions". These graves have been subject to thorough research over the years, and as a result of that, TI (Titanic International) re-unveiled these graves in 1991; the previously "unknowns" finally had a name. Thrilling, that after so many years, a new chapter in the Halifax story could be written. One of these newly identified, was Wendla Maria Heininen, who came from Finland. She was 23-years-old at the time of the disaster. In the list she is known as body NO. 8, retrieved by the Mackay-Bennett on her first day on the scene.

[IMAGE]Perhaps the most interesting with Heininen, is the fact that she carried 150 Finnish marks with her. She had also had her initials "V.H." carefully sewn into her blouse. This was all documented in 1912. We must therefore ask ourselves why she was not identified then. They had the data, yet she became just one more "unknown"...Why? Did it all fall on the fact that she belonged to the lowest of categories, steerage. Was her life just one more life? Was there no time to dig deeper into the case? I think it was all about sheer ignorance. People just didn't care. Titanic was gone, and no one wanted to remember the terror of that night. The ship and her passengers were all still so close in peoples' minds, that they somehow chose to "let it go".

Claes-Göran Wetterholm, maritime expert in Stockholm, stated in the first edition of his excellent Swedish book on the ship, that he clearly thought NO. 8 was Heininen, when no other person existed with those initials in the passenger list. And so it was. With the help of international relations, in 1991, Heininen finally left the unknown, and became the known.

Many find the fate of the Titanic's Chief Deck Steward fascinating. If you look at this grave below, you may find the text at the bottom surprising you. "Erected by Mr. J. Bruce Ismay. To commemorate a long and faithful service." Yes, the scapegoat of the Titanic disaster himself arranged the inscriptions on Freeman's grave. Why? Because Freeman wasn't just the Chief Deck Steward aboard the Titanic. He was also Ismay's personal secretary... Obviously this man had meant a lot to Ismay.

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In the third row you find one of the Titanic's real heroes, John Law "Jock" Hume, violinist in the ship's orchestra. John's grave is like most graves at Fairview. Besides his name, it only contains: "Died April 15, 1912. 193" (193 was the number of John's body.)

During my visit to Halifax, I also toured the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which has the most wonderful collection of ship models and memorabilia. Not very strange; Sir Samuel Cunard was born here in 1787, and the upper floor of the museum has been dedicated to his life and world famous shipping line.

So many resting at Fairview are there, that it would probably take a lifetime to document them all. Information on many victims has yet to be discovered. In too many cases, however, there won't be any...

At Fairview Cemetery, the birds sing again, their own song of sorrow. For the spectator, they add special weight to the history of the men, women and children resting peacefully beneath the ground. Halifax has become their monument, though the story is far from finished.


Johan Tötterström, Swedish Titanic Enthusiast.

If you have any interesting information on victims buried in Halifax, feel free to e-mail the author at: johan.totterstron@swipnet.se

Text: ©copyright Johan Tötterström 1997.
Photos: ©copyright Johan Tötterström 1997.

Assorted bibliography:

"Record of Bodies and Effects, Passengers and crew S.S. Titanic. Recovered by Cable Steamer Mackay-Bennett, Including Bodies Buried at Sea, and Bodies Delivered at Morgue in Halifax, N.S."
Public Archives of Nova Scotia, April/May 1912.

"List of Bodies Identified and Disposition of Same"
Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Halifax, N.S.

"A Guide to the Halifax Cemeteries"
Michael Findlay/Brian Meister
Titanic International 1991.

Lynch, Don & Marschall, Ken: "Titanic, An Illustrated History"
Hodder & Stoughton / Madison Press Book, U.S.A. 1993.

Tötterström, Johan: "Halifax, sista viloplatsen"
Specialarbete vid Katedralskolan, Lund 1996.

Wetterholm, Claes-Göran: "Titanic"
Båtdokumentationsgruppen, Skärhamn 1988.
 


UPDATE

Bodies of Three Titanic victims exhumed in May 2001

AP Photo

A research team observes a minute of silence as they prepare to excavate the gravesites of three unidentified victims of the 1912 Titanic disaster at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, N.S. on Thursday. The team plans to use DNA tests on the bones to h elp determine the identities of the remains.

 

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) -- After a moment of silence, a research team on Thursday started to exhume the graves of three unidentified victims of the 1912 Titanic disaster in hopes of helping three families find lost relatives.

 

 

   Photo Credit: Lisa Stone

The three graves were marked with stones bearing only numbers -- 4, 240 and 281 -- and the date the luxury liner went down, April 15, 1912.

The team will carry out DNA tests on the remains in the graves -- belonging to a woman in her 30s, a man in his 20s and a young child -- which the families hope will prove to be those of relatives lost in the disaster.

About 150 of the 1,500 people who died when the ocean liner sank off the Newfoundland coast after hitting an iceberg were buried in Halifax. Forty-three of them were never identified.


FOLLOW UP

Titanic baby gets a name

 


Monday 09 December 2002


 

SCIENTISTS have solved the 90-year-old riddle of the identity of an infant who perished when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton.

For years the 13-month-old boy buried in a Canadian graveyard as "An Unknown Child" was thought to have been Swedish.

But, now, the boy has been named as Eino Panula, a Finn whose body was recovered after the disaster on April 15, 1912.

A 50-strong Canadian-based team of scientists, historians, genealogists and dentists discovered the little boy's true identity after matching DNA from fragments of bone and teeth to a family member from Finland.

It is the first time that any of the 1,503 passengers and crew who died when the Titanic sank has been identified by DNA technology. It has ignited fresh hope that dozens of other nameless victims could now be identified. One-third of the dead were from the Southampton area.

Eino's mother and four brothers also died in the tragedy.

His body was buried in a cemetery at Halifax, Nova Scotia, after the crew of the Titanic paid for his grave. His remains were exhumed in 2001 but will now be buried in his original resting place.

Article Credit - Southern Daily Echo, Southampton, UK


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