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TITANIC: 100 years ago tonight, Wisconsin passengers on Titanic each had their own harrowing stories
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TITANIC: 100 years ago tonight, Wisconsin passengers on Titanic each had their own harrowing stories

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Daisy Minahan awoke to find a woman crying in the hallway, who she believed was Madeleine Astor.

Just above her on B Deck, Edward Crosby left his family behind to check out the thump he heard.

When the ship engines stopped, Jennie Hansen went to tell her husband, only to be told to go back to bed.

And in the lower bow of the ship, third-class passenger Anton Kink was shaken awake having been to a steerage party earlier in the evening. He traveled upstairs with his brother to see the giant iceberg Titanic had just hit.

None of these people knew the other, but they were all heading to Wisconsin 100 years ago tonight. Some were returning home from a trip. Others were in search of a new life in a new country.

Titanic changed all of their lives in the two short hours after they were awakened.

Some would live, some would not. Some would watch their loved ones on deck as the mighty ship split in two.

And one, just one, took the leap of his life.

Ship of dreams

It was an era of opulence, and the social season was about to begin across the ocean.

The Astors, the Guggenheims, they had more money than they could spend. And what better way to travel back to their summer home in the states than on a grand new ship.

“Titanic was the most luxurious ship that existed in the world at that time to attract the wealthy people to travel on the White Star Line,” said Bob Bracken, treasurer for the Titanic International Society and an expert on the passengers.

The rich would travel to Europe during winter and come back for the social season that began near the end of April.

America would never see a time quite like this again, Bracken said, with World War I fast approaching.

At noon on April 10, 1912, Titanic set sail from Southampton for New York in hopes of setting a speed record across the ocean to show off the impressive — and unsinkable — new ship.

While first-class passengers were on Titanic for luxury, many others were transferred onto the ship because of a coal strike.

The ship, however, was only a little more than half-full.

“A lot of people thought it was a bad omen to take a maiden voyage on a ship because you never know what was going to happen the first time out,” Bracken said.

The world was on Titanic that day when she sailed. And the class system was well intact.

First class lived the high life and expected nothing less on Titanic with extravagant cabins and fine food and drink. Second-class passengers were not millionaires, but well-off people like doctors, lawyers and businessmen.

But more than 700 passengers on the ship were third class, and they knew their place. They were to never go through the areas where the upper class stayed, with gates set up as reminders. The gates were also a way to keep passengers coming into contact with any third-class person because of strict immigration laws.

“Third class were primarily immigrants, or had immigrated and went back (to Europe) to visit and were coming back,” said Bracken in a phone interview from his home in New Jersey.

Even though the class system was in place, the ship’s accommodations were the best for steerage of any ship.

No longer was there one large room to sleep in, but separate cabins for third-class passengers.

There were four, and six bunks to a room, depending upon the cabin. And families didn’t stay together — women were in the back of the ship and men in the front.

“I have accounts of a lot of third-class survivors who were amazed (at the luxury),” Bracken said.

“They walked into the dining hall and they actually had tables, linen cloths. They had silverware and china. They had never seen stuff like this,” he said.

“They saw fruit they had never seen before. Unbelievable. They were in awe of what they had on board.”

The upper decks

Filet mignon, lamb and oysters were on the 10-course menu for first-class passengers the evening of April 14.

The night was clear, the nicest weather yet on the journey.

The ship was making good time, some 500-plus miles the day before with hopes of setting that record into New York.

Many people turned in early that Sunday night.

William Minahan, a first-class passenger from Fond du Lac, was traveling with his wife Lillian and sister Daisy.

He was a doctor visiting family in Ireland and was taking Titanic back home. He was staying with his family on C Deck.

That night, the Minahans went to dinner at 7:15 p.m. When they entered the dining area, there was a dinner party at a table with Captain Smith as the guest.

Near 9:25 p.m., the captain bid the group good night.

At the same time, Daisy and her family decided to turn in. They waited for one more orchestra song and departed.

Staying one deck above the Minahans, Edward Crosby, a captain himself who ran steamers out of Milwaukee, was traveling with his wife Catherine and daughter Harriett.

They traveled to Paris to bring Harriett home. She had a child out of wedlock just two months prior to the trip on Titanic.

“For first-class people at that time this was unheard of,” Bracken said.

Harriett was in Paris to study music and had fallen in love with a Frenchman who got her pregnant. Her parents decided to bring her home, and made the choice to leave the baby in the care of another.

“But she had not given up her rights to the child,” Bracken said. “She left with the idea she was coming back.”

Bringing a newborn child aboard Titanic with no husband would have been scandalous for a first-class passenger.

“It would not have boded well,” Bracken said.

The lower decks

Claus Peter Hansen sold his barbershop in Racine so that he and his wife Jennie could take a trip to Denmark. They traveled there to visit his parents and brothers who he had hadn’t seen in 21 years.

For the trip back on Titanic, Peter’s brother Henrik decided to come to Racine with them.

They were third-class passengers who were in bed early that night.

For Anton Kink and his wife Luise, they also found themselves in steerage bringing their 4-year-old child to a new life in Milwaukee. Anton’s brother and sister also accompanied him on the trip.

“My grandfather was meticulous about getting good deals,” said Joan Randall in a phone interview from Davis, Calif. She’s the granddaughter of Anton and Luise. Her mother was the 4-year-old child on board, also named Luise.

Anton and his brother joined a steerage party on the night of April 14 as a few men played accordions while others danced and played cards.

They turned in about 10 p.m., having their fill of the night.

At 11:40 p.m. Titanic struck an iceberg along the starboard side.

The crash was like an earthquake for Anton, and he was thrown out of his bunk.

Panic to get on deck

Having been thrown awake, Anton and his brother headed out on deck. There they saw the iceberg the ship had struck.

They quickly headed back down to tell the women and find life vests.

“Water was already beginning to come into their cabin, so they went to get the women,” Randall said.

But most third-class passengers were unlike Anton and his brother. Many did not come up from steerage.

“People in third class knew that people in first class would be taken care of first, second class would be taken care of next,” Bracken said.

Officers told the third class to wait in their area.

“And when it was their turn, someone would come for them. So they waited. Only the more adventuresome managed to get on the deck in time to get in a lifeboat. So you had whole families who sat in third class general area or their cabins waiting. And nobody came to get them.”

When the iceberg gashed the ship along the starboard side, Jennie Hansen felt no shudder or sudden movement. She only awoke when the churning sound of the engines stopped.

As a third-class passenger, she rushed to her husband Peter and knocked on the door, only to be told everything was alright and she should go back to sleep.

She returned, but then heard other steerage passengers moving up stairs.

“I looked out again,” she told the Kenosha Telegraph Courier on May 2, 1912. “I saw the cabin stewards with life belts on and people rushing around. I asked again what the trouble was and an officer yelled at me to get a life belt on and get out on deck.”

She rushed back to Peter and Henrik and they all got dressed and headed out on deck.

The gates

While gates did exist to separate the third class from the rest, Bracken said they were only chest or waist high and used as a reminder.

“Locked gates for third class — absolutely not. There were no locked gates,” he said. “And there were no gates from floor to ceiling.

“People could have climbed over them. Why they didn’t is because the class system at that time is so rigid,” Bracken said.

Trying to get up on the top deck where the ship eventually upends was a difficult task for the third class. Not passing through other class areas, many climbed from their deck up to the next.

“The men would hoist the women up on their shoulders and get up on the next deck,” Bracken said.

Three stewards eventually went down to the third class sections, Bracken said, and each brought up 20 to 30 women and children.

They were put in some of the last lifeboats — numbers 13 and 15 and 14 and 16.

“Not a lot of opportunities for third class to get on deck,” Bracken said.

In the lifeboats

The Minahans from Fond du Lac made it on deck easily from their first-class cabin.

William helped his wife Lillian and sister Daisy into Boat 14 and told them to “be brave” as he stayed behind.

Edward and Catherine Crosby from Milwaukee, who had traveled to Paris to retrieve their daughter, were separated after he left to see what was going on. He never saw Catherine and Harriett again as they were placed into Boat 7.

Panic on deck was setting in as the last of the 20 lifeboats where lowered. Many of the ones already in the water were far from the 65-person capacity.

“There were shots fired, especially with the last lifeboats,” Bracken said.

“On the starboard side, Officer Murdoch was (letting on) women and children first, but then he was filling the boats with men. So on the starboard side, a lot of men survived. On the port side, practically none.”

That’s because the officer there was following orders — women and children only.

“Say you were coming up as a first-class passenger on the grand staircase and you turned to the port side, you weren’t going to survive.

“John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Straus, they all turned that way when they came up to the boat deck,” Bracken said.

“Kind of a luck of the draw in a way.”

For a third-class passenger like Jennie Hansen, being placed in a lifeboat was somewhat luck. She was told by an officer to get into the boat, but begged to stay behind with her husband Peter.

“An officer grabbed hold of me as I kissed Peter, and threw me into a lifeboat,” she later said.

With Titanic slipping further into the water, Jennie could see her husband Peter and his brother standing on the upper deck.

“It was the most pathetic sight I ever hope to witness,” she said.

Only a few boats left

No one will ever know what Anton Kink was thinking as he leapt off the deck of Titanic toward a lifeboat.

The stern had become crowded and panic set in as the mighty ship was in its final half hour before disappearing into the watery abyss.

Boat 2 near the bridge had room for 45 souls but the ship was sinking quickly. Many passenger had left that area and headed to the rear. The boat had to be lowered with water less than 20 feet away.

A sailor placed Kink’s 4-year-old child and wife Luise into the boat and began to lower them, and 14 others, into the Atlantic.

Kink was touched upon the shoulder and told to step back.

Looking up at her husband among the crowded group of souls whose fate was already decided, Luise, a boisterous German woman in a high-pitched yell, called to him.

It was in those few seconds something propelled Kink to do what few men would.

He ducked down and broke through those standing near the edge, past officers Wilde and Smith who were overseeing the boat.

With a few steps, he jumped off the ship.

His fate was going to be decided in those few seconds, not by Titanic’s crew, and not by his third-class ticket.

“I can tell you I’ve heard my grandmother scream and holler,” said Randall.

“If anything she caused other people to be paralyzed.”

Anton landed in Boat 2 at 1:45 a.m., 35 minutes before Titanic was completely under and before the mighty ship split in half.

He would be the only male passenger, outside of two crewmen, to make the boat.

“... after Titanic went under we heard the cries of the dying in the water,” Anton told the Milwaukee Journal on April 24, 1912.

Only one boat came back for those dying of hypothermia in the cold Atlantic water.

“The women that were in those boats were petrified. They heard the screaming and yelling,” Bracken said. “And they saw the people at the end swarming on deck, like ants, they said.”

As her lifeboat was about a mile away from Titanic as it went under, Jennie Hansen described the scene.

“It was pitiful how we had to refuse to take drowning women and men in the boat, but we couldn’t because it was so crowded. We would see them in the water, trying to swim and crying and begging, but they had to drown.”

Afterward

The Minahans: William Minahan’s body was recovered. His wife Lillian later moved to California. She remarried in 1914 and moved to Jerome, Ariz. After her second husband died, she moved to Hollywood and married again. She died in 1962 at the age of 86.

The Crosbys: Edward Crosby’s body was recovered. Catherine died in 1920 in Milwaukee. Their daughter Harriett journeyed back overseas a year later to get her child, but never married the Frenchman she fell in love with.

She maintained her love of music and moved from Milwaukee to California. She died in 1941, listing her husband as Edward Boudoise, her French lover. Although they never married.

The Hansens: Claus Peter Hansen’s body was never recovered. Neither was his brother Henrik’s body. Jennie Hansen returned to Racine and remarried in 1915. She died in 1952 at age 85.

The Kinks: Anton Kink survived and found work in a factory in Milwaukee. He and Luise divorced in 1919, and he returned to Austria. He remarried and moved to Brazil, but moved back to Austria in 1939. Anton died in 1959.

Luise Kink remarried and bought a farm in Menomonee Falls. She never talked about her experience on that fateful night. She died in 1979.

Luise Margaret Kink, their 4-year-old daughter, lived a full life. She became one of the few Titanic queens to travel to talk about Titanic.

She married Harold Pope in 1932 and they had four children. She died in 1992.

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