|4/11/2012 7:25:00 AM|
Titanic: Chilton family on board fateful ship that day a century ago when it sank in Atlantic Ocean
|Former Chilton resident William Minahan lies entombed in Green Bay, one of fewer than 300 Americans whose bodies were recovered, identified and returned to the U.S. following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.|
Mary Matsumoto photo
The stars were dazzling that night in a moonless sky, the wind still, the ocean calm.
If the temperature hadn't plunged drastically during the day, turning bitterly cold, perhaps first class passengers might have been out strolling on the promenade, enjoying the unbroken umbrella of crystals in the sky.
Dr. William Minahan, his wife, Lillian, and his sister, Daisy (Ida) Minahan were returning by ship, the Titanic, from a European tour, cut short by Daisy's appendicitis attack and subsequent surgery in Europe.
By that time, Dr. Minahan, 44, was a respected doctor and surgeon in Fond du Lac, but he and his sister, Daisy, 39, were born in Chilton-William in 1867 and Daisy five years later. William had graduated from the high school there. The two siblings were part of a much larger family, and their father, William Burke Minahan served as county superintendent of schools in Calumet County.
Trip might do her good
But recently, Daisy was having health problems. She would travel with William and his wife to Europe. The trip might do her good. They left in January 1912.
After the unexpected attack of appendicitis, however, the threesome decided to return to Wisconsin immediately and booked a first-class cabin on the maiden voyage of what was hailed not only the largest ship on the seas but the safest as well. Of the 1,317 passengers, 324 of whom where in first class, some of the world's most wealthy and influential had come aboard to take the ship's maiden voyage. It was the thing to do.
The monstrosity ship had been a challenge indeed to build, and during construction six workers died on ship, two others in the shipyard and one just before the launch when a piece of wood fell on him. No shipbuilder had ever before attempted to construct a vessel of this size. It cost $7.5 million, and took 3,000 men two years to build. The price of a single first-class ticket was $4,700 (about $50,000 in today's economy).
The Minahans boarded at the ship's second stop and last one before heading out to sea, Queensland, Ireland. Their parents were Irish immigrants, and they had been visiting relatives there. Before they left, William sent a post card to a friend in Fond du Lac from Killarney, Ireland, that he would be home in late April.
It was partly cloudy, relatively warm with a brisk wind at 11:40 a.m. on Thursday, April 11, when the ship arrived. Because of the size of the vessel, the Minahans had to be tendered to the boat.
They must have been impressed with the luxury that they encountered, even though they were well-to-do, already used to the finer things in life. The rooms were designed to give the feel of contemporary high-class hotels, like the Ritz. A variety of decorative styles, ranging from Renaissance to Victorian were used to decorate both the cabins and public rooms in the first-class section of the ship. It gave the feel of entering the hall of a grand house, rather than a ship.
In addition, first-class passengers could use an on-board telephone system, a library, barber shop, swimming pool, gymnasium with the latest exercise machines, squash court, and Turkish bath.
Sights to behold
They could choose to eat at the Café Parisien on a sunlit veranda with trellis decoration and the best French haute cuisine or the A La Carte restaurant headed by an Italian born chef or their formal dining room.
And the Grand Staircase was a sight to behold. It descended through five decks of the ship and was capped with a dome of wrought iron and glass to admit natural light in. Each landing gave access to ornate entrance halls lit by gold-plated light fixtures.
Expensive furniture, ornate wood paneling, marble toilets-only the best for their first-class guests. One can only imagine how the Minahans spent their first days aboard ship amidst all that elegance.
On that starry Sunday night, April 14, at 11:40, passengers who were still awake reported hearing a dull thud, a shudder, or as one person put it, a sound like "the tearing of calico, nothing more." Most were not overly concerned. Passengers came out on the deck, one by one, some in pajamas, some in evening gowns. People talked about the ship hitting an iceberg, but the ship was unsinkable, wasn't it?
Earlier in the evening, the Minahans had dined with John Jacob Aster and his wife, but by 11:40, Daisy and the others were asleep in their stateroom, C-78.
Crying woman wakens her
Suddenly, Daisy was awakened by a woman in the hallway who was crying. She woke her brother and his wife. Though no one came to warn them of danger, they dressed and went to the deck on the port side.
The deck towards the bow of the boat slanted, giving Daisy the first warning that something was dreadfully wrong. Then an officer came, commanded the women to follow him, and led the way to the starboard side.
"There's no danger," he told them, "but I want you to get into a lifeboat as a precaution."
Daisy's group made three attempts to get into the boats and finally succeeded to board lifeboat no. 14.
"Be brave," said William after escorting the women to the boat. With the "women and children first" rule, William did not attempt to board himself.
"The crowd surging around the boats was getting unruly," Daisy said later.
Officers were yelling at men to stand back and let the women get into the boats. Women were crying, not wanting to leave their husbands, and husbands were begging their wives and children to hurry and get into the lifeboats.
"At times, when we were being lowered, we were at an angle of 45 degrees and expected to be thrown into the sea," said Daisy. "As we reached the level of each deck, men jumped into the boat until the officer threatened to shoot the next man who jumped."
By the time the boat hit the inky sea, there were 48 passengers inside. From there, they quickly rowed out into the blackness of the open sea.
No food or water on lifeboats
Once they reached what they considered a safe distance, the passengers were told to feel around under the seats for food and water but came up with nothing.
Officer Lowe, possibly in an attempt at humor to break the tension, would say things like, "A good song to sing would be, "Throw Out the Life Line," and "I think the best thing for you women to do is to take a nap," cracks that Daisy didn't appreciate and moved her to accuse him later of being drunk.
But what was no doubt the most difficult thing to endure was watching the Titanic sink.
Across the placid water, they could hear the band play, song after song, until their final one, "Nearer My God to Thee." Those in the lifeboat watched the ship sink lower and lower, extinguishing the lights, deck by deck. They could hear the screams, too.
"The cries were horrible," Daisy said-as they truly must have been, knowing that one of those cries may have been that of her brother.
And as the ship listed, they saw people in clumps, in pairs, and singly, fall from the ship to their watery deaths. Though the ship did not have enough lifeboats for the amount of people onboard, just about everyone wore a lifejacket, but those left behind on ship died, not so much by drowning as by the icy cold of the 28-degree water-four degrees below freezing.
Two hours and 40 minutes after the Titanic hit the fatal iceberg, her forward deck dipped underwater. Survivors reported hearing a loud explosion as the ship split apart. The stern remained afloat for a few minutes longer, rising to a nearly vertical angle with hundreds of people clinging to it. At 2:20 a.m. it slowly slid beneath the water, the remaining passengers and crew plunging into the icy sea.
The cries continued for about 45 minutes, then faded away into silence.
By 4 a.m., the lifeboat Daisy was in was sighted by the Carpathia. Within three hours they were taken onboard and treated, as Daisy put it, "with every kindness and given every comfort possible."
Yet, there were frantic moments, too, for many of the survivors who searched for family members, hoping they had been saved, too. Others sat silently and mourned the loss of a husband or father or brother. Two or three who were sick or injured were rescued from the sea, only to die on the way home.
Not among survivors
In the Wednesday, April 17, 1912 issue of the Chicago American, a blurb announced Mrs. W. Minahan and Miss Daisy Minahan as being among the survivors of the Titanic but continued, "Dr. Minahan whose name is in the passenger list was not named in the list of survivors."
In the Chicago Daily News that day, an article reported that a wireless message from the steamer Carpathia received that afternoon by V. I. Minahan, one of William and Daisy's brothers, requested he meet Lillian and Daisy at New York on the arrival of the steamer.
When it pulled into port at 9:30 p.m. on April 18, some 40,000 people were waiting in heavy rain. Reporters stormed the ship, all wanting to be the first to tell the survivor's stories.
William's body was recovered later by the CS MacKay-Bennett, embalmed and brought to Halifax. The ship found so many bodies that the embalming supplies aboard were quickly exhausted. They decided to preserve only the bodies of first-class passengers. Others were buried at sea. A large temporary morgue was set up in a curling rink for those bodies that returned on ship and undertakers were called in from all across Eastern Canada to assist. About two-thirds of the bodies were identified by relatives.
William is described as being No. 230, male, estimated age 60 (he was only 44), hair: gray, clothing: black suit and overcoat. His personal effects were a pocketbook, papers, gold watch, keys, knife, fountain pen, clinical thermometer, memo book, tie pin, diamond ring, gold cuff link, comb, checkbook, America Express, $380, collar button, £16 10s. in gold, 14 shillings, and a nail clipper.
Of the 1,503 people who died that night, fewer than 200 bodies were both recovered and returned to the U.S. for burial. William Minahan was one of them.
Brother identified body
His brother came to identify the body and take him home. Another brother, John, built a granite crypt for his body at Woodlawn Cemetery in Green Bay. Joggers and bicyclists can see it from the Fox River Trail, as well as a marker along the path that tells about his ordeal.
In the 1997 movie, Titanic, a scene depicts John Jacob Astor IV standing shoulder-to-shoulder with William Minahan after they had worked together to place their wives in the same lifeboat. Their last words to their wives, as had been reported by Daisy as actually having been said by her brother, were, "Be brave."
Today, the Titanic lies over 12,000 feet or 2-1/3 miles below the ocean's surface. The two sections are surrounded by debris that stretches over a field of five by three miles-hundreds of thousands of items from furniture to personal items.
Daisy Minahan's health did not improve after her trip. She spent time in area sanitariums and eventually moved to southern California where she died on April 30, 1919, just seven years after her rescue.
Lillian, William's wife, also moved to California, where she met and married another physician. The couple moved to Arizona in the 1920s. When this husband died, she moved back to California, married again, and resided there until her death in 1962.
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