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The incredible true stories behind these stunning Titanic artefacts

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
Published

A new exhibition is set to reveal some of the amazing stories behind objects recovered from the Titanic. We take an exclusive look at some of the artefacts set to go on display.

A poem written to a dead friend

Claes-Göran Wetterholm Collection

Third Class passenger Carl Asplund was returning to America and had this poem in his memo book when his body was recovered. He was buried in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was travelling with his family – his wife and two children survived, but three sons were also lost.

(Translation from Swedish to English)

You are near to me
To your grave I want to go
When the winter’s flakes are falling
Like the clear stars
Pleasant memories are shining
You are not dead you are still alive
You are floating over the hills
It is just the body of my friend
Which is mouldering down in the ground
Your spirit Oskar is close to me
And from light heavens a special peace is given to me
When the night storms brew

This poem was found on the body of Third Class Swedish passenger Carl Asplund when it was recovered from the water. It is a religious poem, dedicated to a dead friend of Carl’s, which he may have composed himself. He and his wife Selma were active in the Lutheran Church: so shocked were they by the drinking and carousing in Third Class that they vowed they would never travel on a ship again. 

It was their second emigration to the United States. They had lived in Massachusetts for several years but had returned to Sweden. Their eldest son Filip however, who had been born in the USA longed to return, so the family, now numbering seven, were on board. After the ship struck the iceberg the family managed to find their way to the Boat Deck and had resigned themselves to dying together, when the two youngest children were grabbed and thrown into Boat 15.

A call went out from the boat to send in their mother, and Selma was similarly thrown into the boat. Her last view of her husband and four eldest boys was them heading for the other side of the ship in search of a boat.

John Chapman’s gold watch

Darren Newbery

John Chapman, from St Neot, had emigrated in 1906 but had returned in 1911 to marry his sweetheart, Sarah, on Christmas Day in the Wesleyan Chapel, Liskeard. The two of them travelled Second Class on the Titanic. Sarah refused to enter a lifeboat, saying “If John can’t go, I won’t go either.” The watch was retrieved from John’s body, along with his marriage certificate.

Darren Newbery

John, 37 at the time of Titanic’s sinking, was born in St Neot, Liskeard in Cornwall. He had emigrated in 1906, first to Canada then to Spokane in Washington State in the far west, where he worked as a farm labourer. Left behind was his sweetheart, Sarah Lawry, but in 1911 he returned to Cornwall and on Christmas Day they were married in the Wesleyan Chapel in Liskeard. 

They boarded the Titanic in Southampton with Second Class tickets, where they met other couples and families from the West Country. On the night of the sinking, they were with Mrs Richards, from Penzance. She and Sarah were boarding Boat 4 when Sarah turned to her and said ‘Goodbye Mrs Richards. If John can’t go, I won’t either’. 

They both died: Sarah’s body was never recovered but John’s was found and among his effects were Sarah’s handbag, their marriage certificate and this watch. John was buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia and there is a memorial stone dedicated to them in the churchyard at St Neot. 

The Titanic’s Disaster - A song for Mr and Mrs Straus

Claes-Göran Wetterholm Collection

Many Yiddish ballads about the Titanic focussed on the wealthy dying alongside the poor. Ida Straus refused a place in a lifeboat preferring to stay with her husband Isidor. At a time when the Suffragette Movement was gaining momentum they were immortalised as the epitome of old fashioned marital values. Isidor Straus was the co-owner of Macy’s department store in New York.

More than a hundred songs were published between 1912 and 1913 to commemorate the sinking of the ship. This ballad was composed by the prolific Yiddish singer-songwriter Solomon Smulewitz. Born in Pinsk (now in Belarus) he had emigrated to the US in 1889 and was one of the most prolific writers of Yiddish popular songs. Social conditions were a recurring theme in his work and The Titanic’s Disaster focuses on the unique circumstances in the final moments of the ship when rich and poor found themselves facing the same fate. 

The couple on the cover about to be crowned by an angel are Isidor and Isa Straus. Isidor was the multi-millionaire co-owner of Macy’s department store in New York, and one of most famous incidents of the sinking was when Isa almost entered Lifeboat 8 but turned back to stay with her husband, saying: “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” They were last seen sitting side by side on the Boat Deck.

Titanic Stories, a major new exhibition at The National Maritime Museum, Cornwall will open from 8 March 2018 - 9 March 2019. For tickets and further information, click here

Images: Claes-Göran Wetterholm Collection / Darren Newbery / Rex Features