Apr 14, 2012

My Titanic Connection

April 15, 1912 -  The Titanic slips under the waves; 1,500 die...
Shortly after the Titanic sank (100 years ago this weekend), a certain Dr. Jay Henry Mowbray published a compilation of newspaper articles about the great ship and the terrible disaster.  This book, "The Sinking of the Titanic," became a major source of information for later writers largely due to its having been published so soon after the sinking.  Chapter VIII, entitled Survivors' Stirring Stories, starts out as follows:
 "Standing at the rail of the main deck of the ill-fated Titanic, Arthur Ryerson, of Gray's lane, Haverford, Pa., waved encouragement to his wife as the lifeboat in which she and her three children — John, Emily and Susan — had been placed with his assistance glided away from the doomed ship. A few minutes later, after the lifeboat with his loved ones had passed beyond the range of his vision, Mr. Ryerson met death in the icy water into which the crushed ship plunged.
  It is now known that Mr. Ryerson might have found a place in one of the first lifeboats to be lowered, but made no effort to leave the ship's deck after assuring himself that his wife and children would be saved.
  It was not until the Carpathia reached her dock that relatives who were on hand to meet the survivors of the Ryerson family knew that little "Jack" Ryerson was among the rescued. Day by day since the first tidings of the accident to the Titanic were published, "Jack" had been placed among the missing.
  Perhaps of all those who came up from the Carpathia with the impress of the tragedy upon them, the homecoming of Mrs. Ryerson was peculiarly sad.
  While motoring with J. Lewis Hoffman, of Radnor, Pa., on the Main Line, on Monday a week before, Arthur L. Ryerson, her son, was killed. His parents abandoned their plans for a summer pleasure trip through Europe and took passage on the first home-bound ship, which happened to be the Titanic, to attend the funeral of their son. And now upon one tragedy a second presses.
  Upon leaving the Carpathia Mrs. Ryerson, almost too exhausted and weak to tell of her experiences, was taken in a taxicab to the Hotel Belmont. With her were her son "Jack" and her two daughters, Miss Emily and Miss Susan Ryerson.
  The young women were hysterical with grief as they walked up from the dock, and the little lad who had witnessed such sights of horror and tragedy clung to his mother's hand, wide eyed and sorrowful.
  Mrs. Ryerson said that she and her husband were asleep in their staterooms, as were their children, when the terrible grating crash came and the ship foundered. The women threw kimonos over their night gowns and rushed barefooted to the deck. Master Ryerson's nurse caught up a few articles of the little boy's clothing and almost as soon as the party reached the deck they were numbered off into boats and lowered into the sea."

By 1915, the Ryersons had moved to Cooperstown, New York.  But at some time between 1912 and 1915, the family, who had made a fortune in the steel industry, resided at least briefly in Schenectady, New York.  They attended the Albany Street Methodist Church, where young Jack was a member of my father's Sunday school class.

I didn't know anything about this connection until I was around 7 or 8 years old.  We lived only a couple blocks from the Schenectady County Public Library main branch.  I spent many Saturdays browsing through both the children's division and the "grown-up" books upstairs.  Somehow I ran across the Mowbray book and became totally obsessed with learning all I could about the Titanic.  One day my father saw that I was reading a book about the great ship and shared the Ryerson connection with me.  According to my dad, he and Jack Ryerson were fairly close friends while they were in Sunday school together.  Eventually, the family moved away, Jack ultimately settled in West Palm Beach, Florida.  He played serious amateur golf, having participated in some 425 tournaments around the world prior to his death in 1986 at the age of 87.

And so it was that exactly 100 years ago today the largest and most luxurious ocean liner ever built was to hit an iceberg, an event that further devastated the grieving Ryerson family, and was to cause them to cross paths with my family.  What a small world!

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