Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 15, 2012

Local family has Titanic ties

Tragedy reverberates for many, even 100 years later


TRAVERSE CITY — One hundred years ago, a local woman lost her sister.

Ida Andersson, 38, of Sweden, booked passage in third class aboard the then-biggest luxury liner, the Titanic, to make a new home in the United States.

She was headed to Manistee to visit her sister Susanna Peterson, and planned to settle in Ludington to care for her 10 nieces and nephews. Their mother — sister to Ida and Susanna — died in childbirth in 1909.

Ida never made it to Michigan. She was one of 1,517 who died in the frigid waters of the Atlantic after the infamous ship struck an iceberg.

"It just interesting that little Manistee has a connection to this worldwide event, which has just grown in curiosity all these years," said Mark Fedder, president of the Manistee County Historical Museum.

He uncovered the details surrounding Andersson's death — her last name was spelled with one "S" in some newspaper accounts — while researching for an event at the Manistee County Library to commemorate the anniversary of the disaster.

"For some reason, the sinking of the Titanic stayed in America's psyche, and it's fascinating to find out that Manistee has a tiny connection," he said.

On April 15, 1912, just before 2:20 a.m., the "unsinkable" Titanic slipped below the Atlantic.

The disaster reverberated around the world, even to northern Michigan, and stories and lessons from that day continue to fascinate.

Mary Gore is reminded of the tragedy every day when she walks into her home. A framed Boston Daily Globe newspaper from April 16, 1912, hangs in her hallway, a well-preserved account of the disaster that at the time was only about 40 hours old.

"Those words in the paper are so authentic," Gore said.

Gore received the paper from a friend about 10 years ago.

She was helping the elderly woman clean out her things, and was shocked to see her toss aside the piece of history.

"She came by this and I noticed what it said on it. She didn't say anything; just threw it right in the wastebasket. So I asked her, 'do you think I could have that? That's how it came to be mine," Gore said.

In the years since, Gore's been fascinated by Titanic and stories of the survivors.

"Anything that I can get my hands on I read about it now," Gore said. "That ship was the biggest and the best. And then to see something like this ... it's very tragic. You don't know how precious life is until something like that does happen. It makes you appreciate your own life."

Local historian and Traverse City History Center board member Steve Harold said a number of factors keep the Titanic fresh, even after 100 years.

"The Titanic, like the Edmund Fitzgerald, drew public attention. It was such a huge loss of human life, and it happened under such tragic circumstances," Harold said.

Harold has a special interest in maritime history, particularly in the Great Lakes.

He said the memory of the Titanic sometimes overshadows other disasters that happened closer to our shores.

On July 14, 1915, more than 800 people drowned in the Chicago River when the steamship Eastland capsized.

Laws passed in the wake of the Titanic's sinking required ships to add lifeboats for at least 75 percent of those on board.

According to "'Eastland': Legacy of the 'Titanic,'" by George W. Hilton, the weight of three extra lifeboats and six rafts added to the ship made it top-heavy and caused it to tip on its side.

It was only in 20 feet of water, but that was enough to kill hundreds.

Harold said the causes of wrecks like the Titanic and Eastland are tied to human error and overconfidence.

"(The Titanic) was said to be unsinkable, but we learned that wasn't true. We don't say that anymore. We design ships as best and as safe as we possibly can, but accidents still happen," he said, pointing to the foundering of the Costa Concordia in Italy this year. "Human error is often to blame."

The cost of human error on April 12, 1912, was great, and in northern Michigan, a family already grieving the loss of one sister who died in childbirth faced another tragedy.

But Susanna Peterson had to wait weeks before the news of Ida's passing was verified.

On the day of the sinking, Peterson received a postcard from her sister that let her know she booked passage on the Titanic and to expect her soon in Manistee.

But Peterson could not be sure that Ida set sail.

Fedder said the Manistee Daily News contacted a wire service in New York, who told them Ida survived the sinking and was rescued by the Carpathia.

The next day, they learned the wire service was mistaken.

Ida died on April 15. Her body was never recovered.

Fedder said the story is a grim reminder of the human cost of the tragedy.

"I had a couple of visitors this morning, and I've set up a few little boards with all the articles, and they were curious about it," he said. "I told them it was a lot of fun doing the research, but stopped myself. It's not really fun, but it is fascinating."