The Valley’s Titanic loss

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Titanic survivor Mollie Wick told her sister about watching the brightly lit ship sink into the North Atlantic, lights darkening row by row.

Titanic 100 Years Later

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The Titanic sank 100 years ago. Bill Lawson of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society recounts the importance of the event.

The RMS Titanic sank 100 years ago today, April 15, 1912, during a trip from Southampton, England, to New York City, taking 1,178 of her 2,200 passengers to a watery grave.

Prominent city resident Col. George D. Wick, the first president of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., was among those who died after the giant ship struck an iceberg about 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1912.

The ship sank about three hours later.

His body was never recovered.

His wife, Mary “Mollie” Wick; daughter, Natalie; niece, Caroline Bonnell; and her aunt, Elizabeth Bonnell, also were aboard the ship, which at the time was the largest vessel afloat.

As women and children were saved first, the other members of the Wick/

Bonnell party, all first-class passengers, piled into lifeboats and survived, rescued by the Carpathia and transported to New York.

In 1977, The Vindicator printed Mollie Wick’s written memories. Mollie Wick’s sister, Almira Hitchcock Arms, kept the writings and her own recollections in a book.

Arms’ daughter, Almira Arms Wick, shared the account with the newspaper.

While they waited in the lifeboat, “they watched the great Titanic slowly sinking to its watery grave,” the article says.

“The giant ship from stern to stern was ablaze with light and gradually, each row of brilliantly lighted portholes would slowly disappear beneath the water’s edge,

until finally, about ten minutes from the last, the lights went out and only the great dim outline loomed up against the sky then amid the noise of explosions, the fated ship plunged down two thousand fathoms deep, carrying with it to its last resting place over fifteen hundred souls. Mollie tells me in the shuddering silence of their lifeboat her only thought was ‘Oh, what if they all have not been taken off, what if there are any of the crew or sailors left to such an awful fate.’

“Their lifeboat was distant enough to hear only dimly and but for a short time, the agonizing cry that went up from those doomed men.”

Almira Arms Wick’s daughter, Laura Wick Howes of Kent, Calif., never met Mollie Wick, but she remembers her mother talking about the ship.

“My grandmother had to go to New York to meet the Carpathia and buy [Mollie] clothes,” Howes said this month.

Hitchcock Arms died when Howes was a young girl, but Howes’ mother talked about that trip.

“She didn’t talk about the ship’s sinking — of course that was general knowledge,” she said.

Years later, Howes met Natalie Wick while visiting England.

The Wicks had sailed for Europe on Valentine’s Day that year. George Wick had not been well, and the trip was planned to restore his health.

Mary Jones Chilcote grew up never knowing the enormity of Titanic, just its effect on her mother, Caroline Bonnell, who was with the Wicks on the ship.

“She always sort of cried when she talked about it,” Chilcote, 86, said of her mother, who was married to Judge Paul Jones. Chilcote lives in a Cleveland suburb.

Her mother died when Chilcote was 20, after a 10-year illness. Growing up, Chilcote always knew that her mother survived the tragedy.

“As a young girl, I don’t think I really understood the enormity of it,” she said.

Her mother kept a scrapbook with her Titanic boarding pass, telegrams she’d sent and newspaper articles depicting the events. After her father’s death in 1965, Chilcote found the scrapbook in his desk drawer and a few years later decided to have it preserved.

Since then she’s added to it.

She’s watched every movie about Titanic, feeling a sense of esteem that her family is connected to an important historical event. Her sons, David of Gates Mills, Thomas of Mechanicsburg, Pa., and William of Pepper Pike, are all fascinated by the story.

Paul Jones ran unsuccessfully for Youngstown mayor and was then appointed to a federal judgeship by President Warren G. Harding.

“At that point, my mother grabbed him,” Chilcote said. “They had been sweethearts since Rayen high school.”

Both of her parents are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Members of other prominent city families of the time also had planned to be aboard the fated ship.

Wick’s brother-in-law, Porter Pollock of the William B. Pollock Co. and William W. McKelvey, planned to join the Wick party on Titanic.

They left Youngstown March 5, according to Vindicator files, for business abroad.

Wick sent a cablegram from Paris: “Surprised. Delighted. Arrived last night. All well. Here one week. Come sure.”

Porter’s and McKelvey’s plans changed though, and they weren’t able to make the ship.

After the sinking, then-Youngstown Mayor Fred Hartenstein forbade showing in local theaters moving pictures of the Titanic disaster, according to “A Heritage to Share The Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio.”

In an article published April 19, 1912, Caroline Bonnell discussed the ordeal with a Vindicator reporter:

“It was nearly midnight, Sunday and we were in our berths,” said Miss Caroline Bonnell, “when we felt a slight jar of the ship, nothing severe, merely a gentle jolt, we were not alarmed.”

Upon hearing excited voices, they got up, dressed and gathered “easily transportable valuables and hastened on deck.”

The captain was shouting through a megaphone, and lifeboats were preparing to launch. Still, they weren’t alarmed.

“It was our idea that the sending of the passengers adrift in the lifeboats was merely a precaution and that when it was known the danger was passed they would be recalled,” the article says, attributing the words to Caroline Bonnell.

The four women got into a lifeboat when it was their turn.

“There were 27 women and children in the boat and three sailors to row,” it said. “There was room for many more but few seemed anxious to leave the ship, which everybody deemed practically unsinkable. The rule was ‘women and children first’ so Mr. Wick gallantly stood aside.”

They said goodbye to Wick and their lifeboat swung down into the water.

“It did not seem far to drop,” she said. “We wondered the distance was so short. We know why now, the ship was sinking. The last glimpse we had of Mr. Wick was as he stood near the railing watching our boat drop into the water. None of us then had the slightest idea but that he would soon follow us in another lifeboat.”

Wick told the women that he would meet with another man on the ship and follow in another lifeboat, according to an April 15, 1977, Vindicator article that relayed Arms’ written account of the event.

“The pitifulness of it seems positively heartbreaking,” it says, “no farewells, no tender messages, no last lingering looks of love when they parted, never to see each other in this life again.

“But, perhaps the very commonplace of that goodbye inspired the nerve and fortitude to bear the ordeal of those trying hours to follow,” the article reads.

Lifeboat occupants were told to row toward a light in the distance.

“All night long they kept that glimmering beacon as their goal, but it never grew any nearer, and finally flickered out into darkness,” the family’s written account says. “Fortunately, the night was starry bright and the sea a glassy calm. The piercing cold from the iceberg was from what they suffered most, but even from that they were much better protected comparatively than in other boats.”

Their lifeboat included two sailors, a steward who couldn’t row and 30 women. The sail and mast lay along the seat on one side. The rowers sat in the center seats while most of the women stood through the night.

Natalie and another girl steered “all those hours while Mollie took her turn at the oars to let the others rest. They could see other lifeboats in a wide circle around them, those that had lanterns occasionally holding them aloft to disclose their whereabouts,” the article says.

Near dawn, the lifeboat occupants saw the lights from the rescue ship, the Carpathia, which took them to New York. That’s where Mollie met her son, whom everyone called little George.

“In a moment almost, it seemed, Mollie was there sobbing in the arms of little George,” the article says. “We hurried from the dock for already the shrieks and cries of those heartsick, hopeless, disappointed ones had begun to rend the air.”

Published reports say that Mollie initially refused to believe that her husband had died.

But on April 19, 1912, it was apparent that all hope was lost.

Mollie “is at the Hotel Walcott and is strangely calm,” the April 19, 1912, Vindicator article says. “So long as she was on the Carpathia, she lived in hopes that her husband would be restored to her, but today, she realizes that all such hopes are futile, that there is not once (sic) chance in a thousand that any from the Titanic escaped except as were picked up by the Carpathia. Her grief is pitiful but it is dry-eyed.” shows the disparity of survivors by class.

Of the 325 first-class passengers, 202 survivied; 118 of the 285 second-class passengers were rescued; only 178 of the 706 third-class passengers survived, and of the ship’s 913 crew members, 215 made it.

Third-class passengers included immigrants from Croatia and Lebanon who were bound for Youngstown to find work, according to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Gerios Yousseff, 45, a shoemaker; Milan Karajic, 30, and Stjepan Turcin, 36, both general laborers; and Tannous Daher, 28, no occupation identified, and Tannous Thomas, 16, all died.

They were coming to the U.S. to get jobs in the Youngstown steel mills.

Yousseff, Daher and Thomas were traveling with a cousin, Shahnine George, also spelled Shawneene or Shawneenee in some references, who was returning to the U.S. from Lebanon where she had traveled to be with her dying son. George and Banoura Ayoub, 13, the niece of one of the men, survived the disaster.

She lived in Sharon, Pa., and died in 1947.

The house where Wick, who was a colonel in the Spanish American war, and his wife lived is now a Youngstown State University residence hall. A stone in the wall near the building’s entrance bears his initials.

Mary Hitchcock Wick, who was Wick’s second wife, is buried in Oakhill Cemetery, next to a memorial to Wick.

Another woman who survived the catastrophe is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Warren: Elin Hakkarainen and her husband, Pekka, boarded Titanic as third-class passengers, bound for America.

Pekka perished with the ship, but Elin got the last seat on lifeboat 15, according to the website Ohio’s Titanic Gravesites.

Elin later remarried Emil Nummi and they had a son, Gerald. She died in 1957.

Another survivor, Philip Zenni, also spelled Zanni in some accounts, stayed in Niles for a time before heading to Dayton where he settled. Zenni was a Syrian immigrant who came to the U.S. looking for work.

An April 25, 1912, article in the Niles Times relayed his story.

After he and a traveling companion were awakened after the ship struck the iceberg, they went up on deck and Zenni tried to jump into one of the lifeboats.

One of the crew members ordered him back, wielding a revolver with the order of “Women first.”

Zenni tried again and was ordered back a second time, but then the officer turned his back and Zenni jumped into one of the lifeboats.

“He took refuge under one of the seats and the boat was pulled away,” the Niles Times article reads. “There were twenty women and three men in the boat and in order to escape from the suction of the great ship those in the boat realized that it was necessary to row quickly. The men called on the women to row, when Zanni made known his presence and was placed at one of the oars. They rowed a distance of about two miles guided only by the morning star which shone brightly in the heavens and stopped when they believed themselves to be safely away from the ship, and watched the great ‘Titanic’ sink with its cargo of souls aboard. The cries of distress from those on board are still ringing in the ears of Mr. Zanni and he feels just as all the other survivors feel that many more lives might have been saved in the boats.”

The story of the giant sinking ship and the thousands who died with it has spawned books, movies and television shows for years.

Girard resident Frank Rendes, 54, started studying and researching the disaster after watching a television show about it at age 9. He’s amassed a collection of

articles, documents, postcards, photographs, books and other information.

He met several of the survivors before their deaths, and travels throughout the state talking about the disaster to interested groups.

A model of ship took him 21⁄2 years to complete as he researched every detail down to paint colors to create an authentic piece.

“I used a dentist’s drill to make the portholes,” he said.

He’s a co-founder of Titanic International, an organization of people who study the ship, although he is no longer affiliated with the group.

He considers himself a historian and collects memorabilia of other types as well.

“History teaches, it honors, it educates and respects,” Rendes said.