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Titanic - The St. Cloud Connection by stcloudtimes

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Morgan P. Woodward describes St. Cloud's connections to the Titanic.

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									                       Titanic: The Saint Cloud Connection

                                      by Morgan P. Woodward




       For those of us who live in central Minnesota April means the first true month of spring:
robins, melting snow, and mud. If you are a history lover it is a busy time of year. The Battles
of Lexington and Concord rang in the beginning of the American Revolution with the “shot
heard round the world” in 1775. Cannon fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, opening the
Civil War in 1861. Four years later, with that same conflict coming to a close, President
Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. And the Titanic sank
into the cold, dark waters of the north Atlantic, taking more that 1500 people with her.

       Yes, April is full of historical coincidences. Coincidences like icebergs drifting farther
south than anyone had thought possible, a flat, glasslike ocean surface the night of the collision,
preventing the crew from spotting the iceberg until it was too late, and the ship that was called
“practically unsinkable” sinking with an appalling loss of life. Most of us know the story of the
Titanic disaster. Royal Mail Steamer Titanic was the largest ship afloat in 1912. She carried
well over 2200 passengers and crew on her maiden voyage from Europe to New York City. She
brushed past an iceberg at about 11:40 pm on the night of Sunday, April 14, the fifth day of the
voyage. She plunged beneath the waves approximately two-and-one-half hours after the
collision, taking with her over 1500 passengers and crew, most freezing to death.

       The Titanic’s sinking has become a popular culture icon, in part because of James
Cameron’s visually stunning film of the same name, partially because of the dramatic way that
the wreck was located. It was found in September of 1985 using towed underwater cameras and
explored by tiny submarines which took human beings over two-and-a-half miles down to the
wreckage. Titanic is perhaps one of the most written about subjects in history. It seems that
every few years another book is written with a new theory on the details of the sinking. And it
seems that there is not a corner of the western hemisphere that was not touched by the disaster,
including Stearns County. Much has been written about the catholic priests who gave passengers
last rites as the ship plunged into the freezing water. In fact, one of those priests, Fr. Josef
Peruschitz was bound for Saint John’s in Collegeville where he was supposed to teach
mathematics and music. Father Peruschitz never completed his journey. The community of
Saint Cloud never boasted a Titanic victim or survivor, but the sinking did have an impact,
however comparatively small, on that city in the center of Minnesota.

       The morning of Monday, April 15, 1912, began with reports of Titanic’s collision with
the iceberg on the front pages both the Saint Cloud Times and the Saint Cloud Journal-Press.
Thanks to Marconi’s wireless telegraph, which Titanic and many other ships were equipped,
newspapers had almost up-to-date news of the disaster. Rumors suggested Titanic was still
afloat, and that all of the passengers were safe. It was not until the next day, Tuesday, April 16,
1912, that it dawned on most readers that Titanic was not only lost but also that the death toll
was enormous--both papers reporting figures of well over a thousand. The news of the disaster
and subsequent investigation by Congress dominated the news constantly until early May. Most
stories were of the generic sort that was run all over the country: news of the sinking, those
rescued, the rich and famous that were not accounted for, and so on. However, a few stories
involved Saint Cloud, Minnesota; people related to residents, near misses, even financial gain
from the disaster.

       The Wednesday, April 17, 1912, weekly edition of the Saint Cloud Times ran a story
about the lucky Saint Cloud resident Alfred Swanson. It seems that Swanson, who worked in
Saint Cloud’s booming granite industry, had returned to his native Sweden for a few months to
visit his parents. He wanted to return home on the Titanic for her maiden voyage, but due to a
coal strike in the British Isles, and anxious to return to work, Swanson decided not to wait, and
instead booked passage on Titanic’s slightly smaller sister ship, RMS Olympic. Alfred Swanson
arrived back in Saint Cloud less than a week before the disaster. Swanson was fortunate, and an
eager audience in Saint Cloud must have been fascinated by the near miss that one of their own
had experienced relating to the sinking.

       Another story of good fortune was reported by the Tuesday, April 16, 1912, daily edition
of the Saint Cloud Times. The headline declared: “Interested in Snyders-St. Cloud people were
much interested in the safety of Mr. And Mrs. John Pillsbury Snyder, who are well known in this
city. Mr. Snyder, who is an automobile man in Minneapolis, was a university graduate, while his
wife, formerly Miss Stevenson, attended an Eastern school. They were returning from a
wedding trip.” It seems that Mr. and Mrs. Snyder were known to a number of people in Saint
Cloud. Their story is well known to Titanic-buffs, and a collection of several photographs taken
by the couple during the rescue of other survivors by the Carpathia recently went up for auction
and received much attention.

       Not all news of Titanic relating to Saint Cloud was so happy. Doctor W. E. Minahan, of
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was lost in the sinking, the Thursday, April 18, 1912 daily edition of
the Saint Cloud Times reported. Apparently, Dr. Minahan was the second cousin of both Mrs.
Margaret V. Dueber and Mrs. Julia A. Thielman, both residents of Saint Cloud. Less than a
week later, the Wednesday, April 24, 1912 weekly edition of the Saint Cloud Times ran a strange
paragraph following up on the death of Dr. Minahan. It would seem that a fortune teller told the
doctor that he “would lose his life on his second trip abroad.” Minahan took this prophecy so
seriously that he took out a $30,000 vacation accident insurance policy. Interestingly, Minahan’s
body was recovered by the morgue ship Mackay-Bennett a few days after the sinking, and
returned to his family in Wisconsin.

       The Wednesday, May 1, 1912 weekly edition of the Saint Cloud Times carried the
headline “Passed through St. Cloud to Halifax to Bring the Remains Home.” Druggist H. T.
Halvorson of Alexandria, Minnesota, well known in Saint Cloud, passed through town by train
on his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to claim the remains of his brother, which had been
located. Even though Halvorson was not a resident of Saint Cloud, the article suggests that there
was sufficient interest in him to place a short article about his sad journey on the front page.
Perhaps it was just a way to drum-up readers by linking local people to the disaster for as long as
possible, no matter how tenuous or distant the relationship.

       Another story that connected Saint Cloud to Titanic appeared in the Saturday, April 20,
1912, daily edition of Saint Cloud Times. Fred Reed, “well known in St. Cloud, and a resident
here for many years,” told the Times of an experience of his in 1856. Mr. Reed was crossing the
Atlantic in a wooden sailing vessel that struck and iceberg when he was 14 years old. Mr. Reed
recalled how the ship was saved only through the constant bailing of water and by rigging a
makeshift patch out of canvas, arriving in New York three weeks later. Reed remarks that
“wooden ships had the advantage over the iron ones, for you could patch up a wooden ship and
could keep it afloat for a long time.”
       Despite the terrible loss of life, as with all disasters it seems, there were those that stood
to gain financially. Saint Cloud was no exception to this rule. A number of Saint Cloud
residents owned stock in the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. A number of ships had
been equipped with the Marconi wireless telegraph a few years before Titanic sank. Its value
was seen in January of 1909, when another White Star Line ship, Republic, was accidentally
rammed by another ship in heavy fog off of Nantucket Island. Republic sent out a distress call
and all but three passengers, who died in the initial collision, were saved. Following the
Republic’s collision progressively more ships were equipped with the system that would allow
them to communicate with other vessels and shore stations.

       Prior to Titanic’s sinking prominent stockholders of Saint Cloud such as F. H. Dam,
Charles J. Metzroth and John N. Bensen had purchased several shares each of the Marconi
Company’s stock for $25. Following news of the sinking Benson received an offer of $150 per
share for his stake in the company. Benson declined. Put in perspective, a share in Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc. costs around $60 in 2011 dollars. Benson was offered the equivalent of over $3300
in 2011 dollars for each individual share that he owned in Marconi Wireless Telegraph
Company! It is unknown whether any stockholder sold any shares immediately following the
disaster, but the fact remains that there were those who stood to gain by the tragedy, and gain
most handsomely indeed.

       Saint Cloud, Minnesota, had no direct involvement in the Titanic’s loss like Belfast,
Ireland, or Southampton, England, which had supplied a large portion of the ship’s crew. Saint
Cloud lost no favorite sons. However, these stories, a century old now, demonstrate the impact
that such a horrific loss of life and catastrophic failure of technology had on a relatively small
city in the Midwest. A number of people were touched by the disaster. They lost a cousin or
friend. Perhaps they almost sailed with the great liner. Or maybe they made money from an
investment that paid off in the wake the tragedy. Nevertheless, Saint Cloud was connected to the
sinking of Titanic and mourned her loss. This is a largely forgotten chapter in the history of the
region, but one that still deserves attention exactly 100 years after the giant ship slipped beneath
the waves of the icy Atlantic Ocean.

								
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