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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Titanic: The Wisconsin Connections

For months the mass media has been ramping up for the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic. A new 3-D version of the blockbuster 1997 film will be released this weekend, 14 different television programs will air, and hundreds of news stories have already appeared. So we decided to join the crowd and look for Wisconsin connections to the world's most famous maritime disaster. It turns out that three Wisconsin families were aboard the Titanic when it went down 100 years ago this weekend.

The Wisconsin Passengers

70-year-old Edward Crosby was the president of a Milwaukee steamship line and had spent much of his life on the water. He and his wife Catherine had gone to Europe to retrieve their 30-year-old daughter Harriet. She had spent two years studying art in bohemian Paris, and born a child out of wedlock. Harriet left her infant daughter and common-law husband behind when she headed home.

Peter Hanson, age 41, had saved up his meager earnings and sold his barber shop in Racine to take his wife Jennie to Denmark to meet his family. While they were there, his brother Henry decided to emigrate to America. The three of them were en route to Wisconsin to start new lives.

44-year-old William Minahan was a well-known Fond du Lac physician. After years of hard work establishing his practice, he had taken his first real vacation by going to Europe with his wife Lillian and sister, Daisy, a Green Bay schoolteacher.

The Titanic Goes Down

When the Titanic struck an iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, they all rushed on deck. It was soon clear that despite its reputation as being unsinkable, the ship had sustained so much damage that it could not stay afloat.

Unfortunately it carried only enough lifeboats for a third of its passengers and crew. Officers instituted a women-and-children-first policy. Capt. Crosby understood what this meant and calmly helped dozens of other people to safety, knowing that he himself would probably die.

Some of the women refused to go. "I stood there with Peter and Henry," Jennie Hanson told reporters, "and when an officer told me to get into a life boat, I was willing; but when they wouldn't let Peter go with me, I just hung on to him and begged and begged them to let me stay, too." Her husband encouraged her by saying, "Jennie, you had better go so that there will be one of us to tell the story back home." An officer had to physically throw her into a lifeboat with forty other women and children.

"As we pulled away from the sinking Titanic," Mrs. Hanson continued, "I could see Peter and Henry standing on the upper deck just where they were when we parted. It was the most pathetic sight I ever hope to witness, as the boat broke in two, with the people on board shouting and crying, while the band played 'Nearer My God to Thee.'" Catherine Crosby recalled that after her boat was rowed some distance from the Titanic, she heard explosions and then cries of people in the water "...and then we knew the steamer had gone down because her lights went out."

More than 1,500 passengers drowned that night, including Capt. Crosby, Dr. Minahan, and the Hanson brothers. The Wisconsin women were all rescued.

The Survivors' Later Lives

Catharine Crosby was met by employees of her husband's company and brought back to Milwaukee, where she died in 1920. Her daughter Harriet moved from Wisconsin to California, where her daughter Andree joined her from France. She died of cancer in 1941, at age 69.

Daisy Minahan and her mother returned to Green Bay highly traumatized. Daisy was admitted to a sanatorium for pneumonia the next month and was never the same afterwards. The two of them moved to Los Angeles for her health about 1918 , but she died a year later. A cousin wrote home, "Daisy's condition was very, very poor and the end could have been nothing but a great relief for her." Her mother remarried and lived in Southern California until her death in 1962 at age 85.

Jennie Hanson went to live with relatives, where for years she experienced such severe nightmares that she had to be restrained. She later remarried and lived in Wisconsin until 1952.

A fourth family were not Wisconsin residents at the time but were new immigrants en route to our state. 29-year-old Anton Kink, his wife Luise (age 26), and their four-year-old daughter, also named Luise, were third-class passengers who made their way into one of the first lifeboats to be picked up. Anton worked in a factory long enough to save money and rent a farm outside Milwaukee. He divorced Luise in 1919 and returned to Europe, but mother and daughter stayed in Wisconsin. They died in 1979 and 1992, respectively.

To learn more about the Wisconsin passengers who were on the Titanic -- including a long interview with Jennie Hanson -- see the Encyclopedia Titanica, the source for most of the information given here. Its servers may be overloaded this weekend, though.

:: Posted in Strange Deaths on April 10, 2012
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