York County Links with the Titanic
There has been a lot of coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster this week. As with many events, there usually seems to be some kind of York County connection. There are several local ties to the Titanic story. Some have been known for years, but more seem to be appearing all the time.
No York County people went down with the ship, but there was at least one York County couple that was to be on board.
A deed to the Small family mansion was on the ship, and happens that the grandson of the builder of that house was the vice-president of the company that built and owned the Titanic. It was he who got the call with the official news of the tragedy, and he was also the focus of the Congressional hearings held shortly after the disaster.
Three years later, in 1915, a York native was a star expert witness against the steamship line during a liability trial, testifying how the ship’s construction led to the sinking of the ship thought unsinkable.
Finally, the last survivor of the accident, 70 days old at the time, became friends with Yorkers late in life and visited here several times.
See below for my recent York Sunday News column to see who these people were and find out their role in this historic and tragic event:
York County Links to the Titanic Keep Popping Up
The White Star Line’s great “unsinkable” ship, the Titanic, hit an iceberg and quickly sank just a hundred years ago, on April 15, 1912. Figures vary slightly, but about 2,225 people were aboard the great steamship; around 705 were saved, leaving approximately 1,520 lives lost. Links between that terrible disaster and York County keep popping up.
I told the story of a York native, Rear Admiral Richard M. Watt, in a previous column. Watt, former Chief Constructor of the U.S. Navy, was called a “star witness” in a July 1915 suit the White Star Line brought to limit liability in the sinking of the Titanic. Watt said that if the Titanic had had a water tight deck extending to the top of her bulkheads, she would be still be afloat and that longitudinal bulkheads would have increased the ships buoyancy. His opinion was that the owners of the Titanic were at fault because constructors were not given a free hand in the installation of safety devices.
Jim McClure has previously related the story of York’s Lafayette club connection to the disaster. The deed to the property, originally built by York businessman Phillip A. Small, was being conveyed on the Titanic from an executor of a Small family estate. It was later replaced.
McClure has also pointed out another Small family connection: P.A. Small’s grandson, Phillip A.S. Small Franklin was vice-president and spokesman for International Mercantile Marine Co., parent of the While Star Line. It was Franklin who was grilled by a U. S. Senate investigating committee less than a week after the sinking. He first heard the news when a reporter awakened him about 2 a.m. Shortly thereafter, Franklin sent a message to the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, trying to find out the truth. At 6:16 p.m., he received the message: “Carpathia reached Titanic’s position at daybreak. Found boats and wreckage only. Titanic had foundered about 2:20 a.m. … . All her boats accounted for. About 675 souls saved, crew and passengers, latter nearly all women and children
Franklin is quoted: “I started to read the message, holding it in my hands, to the reporters. I got off the first line and a half…and there was not a reporter left in the room. They were so anxious to get out to telephone the news. I want to say this: that during the entire day we considered the ship unsinkable, and it never entered our minds that there had been anything like a serious loss of life.”
Later in the hearing Senator Bourne asked: “The only deduction you have made is that it is impossible to build a nonsinkable ship?” Franklin replied: “It looks so today, from this experience. If you had asked me that a week ago I would have said no. I would have said we had them.” (Transcriptions of the American and British inquiries are online at www.titanicinquiry.org.)
According to several newspaper stories, Yorker James Raby was born in Smithburg, Md. and grew up in nearby Waynesboro, Pa. As a young man he went to South Africa and worked in gold mining. He and his new British wife, Nellie, decided to come back to Pennsylvania, cabling for a reservation on the Titanic on their way to England. When they arrived, they found that most steamship traffic was being held up due to a coal strike. Impatient to be on their way, the young couple managed to get changed to the Titanic’s smaller sister ship, the Olympic, which had enough fuel for the voyage. The Rabys shortly settled in the Ore Valley area of York Township. James became locally known as a pioneer local aviator and a salesman of Model T Fords.
The name Millvina Dean may sound familiar. She was only 70 days old when lowered in a mail sack from the Titanic deck into life boat 13. Her mother was in the same life boat, and the two were reunited with Millvina’s 19-month-old brother, Bertram, aboard the liner Carpathia and taken to New York. The father had perished with the ship. The Deans had been in the process of emigrating from England to Kansas, where they had relatives. With her husband gone, Mrs. Dean and the children only stayed in New York for about a week. As soon as they were recovered from the ordeal, they headed back home, settling in Southampton.
Mrs. Dean told Millvina and Bertram, who were too young to remember the tragedy, the story when they were about eight and nine. Working in various offices, including the British map making office during World War II, Millvina didn’t pay lot of attention to the Titanic. Then, in 1988, Titanic salvage attempts hit the news. Titanic societies started contacting aging survivors, who were dwindling fast. In good health, Millvina started accepting some of the many invitations she received to Titanic functions.
Art Rider, III, a native Yorker living in Virginia, was very interested in Titanic history, and he got to know Millvina. As related in a long 1998 York Daily Record article, “A life to remember,” by the late Jim Hubley, Rider brought Millvina to York to meet his family. Knowing Hubley’s interest in the Titanic, Rider and his father, Art, Jr. introduced Dean to Hubley. In the resulting interview, Millvina made it clear that she didn’t plan to see the then recently released motion picture, feeling that the facts were distorted and fictional events emphasized.
Hubley wrote: “During our talk I had asked her which she favors, steamship or plane. Very firmly she snapped, ‘Steamship, much nicer.’” Millvina enjoyed her visit to York, which included a tour of the Shoe House, before returning home to England. She passed away on May 31, 2009 at Southampton, the port from which she sailed on the adventure of her life 97 years before. She had been the last living survivor of the momentous catastrophe.