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Titanic Lectures



Dennis Ahern speaking about the Titanic

Belmont 'Titanic Connection' lecture planned for March 25
Belmont, Mass.—When the world marks the centennial of the Titanic's sinking next month, most people will know of the ship's famous survivor, Mrs. Margaret ("Molly") Brown. But few will know the story of the other Mrs. Brown, Belmont resident and first class passenger. Caroline Lamson Brown, who survived the liner's ill-fated voyage in 1912 as the last passenger to board a life boat.

Historian and Lecturer Dennis Ahern will relate Caroline Brown's suspenseful story in his lecture, "Belmont's Titanic Connection," at Belmont Public Library on Sunday, March 25, at 2 p.m. in the Assembly Room. Admission to the lecture, presented by the Belmont Historical Society, is free and open to the public.

"Belmont residents are frequently at the center of historical events," said Belmont Historical Society President Philip Hughes, "and the Titanic tragedy is no exception. Two of Titanic's passengers had Belmont connections." The second passenger was third class traveler Henry Hart, a former coachman for the E. F. Atkins family. Hart was lost in the sinking.

Speaker Dennis Ahern became interested in the Titanic after reading Walter Lord's book, "A Night to Remember," at a young age. "Lord's ability to weave many small individual stories into the larger story drew me in," he said recently. "My talk on the 25th will focus on a few of these stories, most notably those of Belmont's Mrs. Brown and Mr. Hart." Ahern, who has lectured on historical and genealogical topics in the U.S., Canada, and Ireland, is a trustee of the Acton Memorial Library and a past vice-president of the Arlington Historical Society. For more information, call 617-484-4916.

Belmont Citizen-Herald 23 March 2012

Belmont's Titanic Connection to Centennial Event
Belmont Historical Society's retelling of what happened
to two Belmont residents on the boat.
by Franklin Tucker
Scene 219: Exterior Boat Deck, Port. Jack Dawson (Leonardo DeCaprio), Rose (Kate Winslet) and others burst onto the boat deck from the crew stairs just aft of the third funnel. They look at the empty davits.
ROSE: "The boats are gone!"
She sees Colonel (Archibald) Gracie chugging forward along the deck, escorting two first-class ladies.
ROSE: "Colonel Are there any boats left?"
GRACIE: "(staring at her bedraggled state) "Yes, miss . . . there are a couple of boats all the way forward. This way I'll lead you." Jack grabs (Rose's) hand and they sprint past Gracie, with Tommy and Fabrizio close behind.

While the characters of Jack and Rose in the blockbuster movie, "Titanic," were fictional — there to add romance to the sinking of the great ship a century ago next month — many scenes and people in the movie were historic figures, actual men and women whose own stories were quite remarkable. Three such were Gracie (of the New York Gracie family which gave the city of New York it's mayoral residence) and the two women he was escorting, a pair who would go down in history for what occurred to them minutes after "Jack" and "Rose" rushed by. One of the women was Edith Evans, a 36-year-old spinster from New York, who had boarded in France after the White Star Line's lead ship had set sail from Southampton. The other woman was a wealthy widow traveling back to the United States after attending to and then burying her eldest sister, an English countess, who died in France. She was Caroline Lane (Lampson) [sic] Brown of Common Street in Belmont, the other Mrs. Brown on the RMS "Titanic." And it was at the insistence of Miss Evans that Mrs. Brown would survived the tragic sinking of the unsinkable "Titanic."

More than 50 residents and Titanic enthusiasts came out on a misty and cool Sunday, March 25, to attend a lecture by Dennis Ahern, Acton resident and former vice chairman of the Arlington Historical Society on Belmont's connection to the "Titanic" which sank on April 14, 1912. "There are a lot of human interest stories associated with the 'Titanic'," said Ahern on the enduring interest in the great ship and its tragic end. "It continues to be interesting because it's a story anyone can relate to," said Victoria Hasse of the Belmont Historical Society which sponsored the event at the Belmont Public Library.

An enduring story
"It's part of a great tradition. You have people who were brave, you have people who were lucky, you have heroes and you have evil doers," said Ahern, who also is a lecturer on genealogical subjects especially of the Irish in America. One aspect of the sinking of the boat after hitting an iceberg on a still, calm night off of Newfoundland was that many of those who drowned were poor, third-class passengers. And among them was a former Belmont resident, Henry Hart, who had been a coachman for the Atkins family. He had returned to Ireland with his wife, Emila McGillicutty, an servant for the Atkins, in August 1911 after being married in St. Joseph's on Common Street. [Henry Hart's wife's name was Delia, not Emila. -dja] For reasons unknown, Hart was on the "Titanic" with an itinerary of traveling to Marion, Mass., located near New Bedford. Ahern believes Hart was likely one of the first to die as the iceberg split open the area near the bow (front of the boat) where Hart would be located below decks. "He probably never knew what hit him," said Ahern.

For Brown — who was well-known in Belmont for helping to found All Saint's Episcopal Church also on Common Street — she was on board traveling with her two younger sisters, Charlotte Appleton and Malvina Helen Cornell, who had come to attend their sister's funeral. It was Gracie — who knew Evans, who happened to be Appleton's niece — who began escorting the "unattended" women to functions and dinners. And he would direct Appleton and Cornell to the second lifeboat and then bring Evans and Brown to the final lifeboat — a collapsible — to be casted off from the "Titanic." The two women were told there was only room for one more passenger and Evans told Brown — the widow of John Murray Brown, whose father founded Little, Brown & Co., the book publishers — to take the final spot as she had children (albeit grown) waiting for her. By all reports, Brown was the final passenger to board a lifeboat that faithful night, said Ahearn. [sic] (Gracie also survived the sinking, standing on an overturned lifeboat as many around him died. He would live another decade.) [While Col. Archibald Gracie survived the sinking, he did not "live another decade." His health was affected by his ordeal on the overturned collapsible and he died December 5, 1912. He had labored throughout the summer on what became one of the first survivor accounts to be published in book form. The book, "Titanic: A Survivor's Story" was published after his death and is available in the Minuteman Library network. -dja]

After being rescued the next morning, Brown — not to be confused with Margaret "Molly" Brown from Denver who became know as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown (played by Kathy Bates in "Titanic") — Brown traveled to Concord to be with her daughter. During that time, Brown was a celebrity, quoted in numerous Boston newspapers on her experience, much of which Ahern calls "completely made up." Six years later, Brown sold the house on Common Street — situated near Royal Road and the rail tracks — and would live in Acton in a house that is today the Sprigs Restaurant until 1928 when she died.

— Belmont Patch.com, 26 March 2012

Sacrifice at sea
Nearly 100 years ago, a friend gave the last seat in the last lifeboat
to a Belmont woman, allowing her to survive the sinking of the Titanic
[illustration]
Artist Willy Stoewer visualized the April 15, 1912, sinking of the Titanic after the massive ocean liner struck an iceberg. A Lexington banker and a Belmont coachman were among more than 1,500 passengers who died when the "unsinkable'' vessel went down on its maiden voyage. (United Press International/file)
In the final minutes before the Titanic plunged into icy waters, one of the ship's first-class passengers tried to shepherd two women onto a lifeboat ready to be lowered into the sea. The younger of the women, Edith Evans, held back. "You go first, you have children at home,'' she urged her friend, Caroline Lamson Brown, a 59-year-old Belmont woman returning from her sister's funeral in England, according to accounts. Brown obliged, and became the last person to step off the deck of the Titanic into a lifeboat, according to numerous accounts. (Some passengers who jumped or were washed off the sinking ship managed to get into lifeboats and survived.) Evans, 36, perished, along with about 1,500 other passengers aboard the British luxury liner in 1912. Her body was never recovered. "It was a heroic sacrifice, and as long as life lasts I shall hold her memory dear as my preserver, who preferred to die so that I might live,'' Brown said at a memorial service for Evans in New York City's Grace Chapel, according to the New York Herald. April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most infamous maritime disasters in history, when the "unsinkable'' ship sank in the North Atlantic hours after striking an iceberg near Newfoundland.

An Acton genealogist, Dennis J. Ahern, has been observing the anniversary by speaking about Brown, who also lived in Acton after she returned home. He will give a talk, "Acton's Unsinkable Mrs. Brown,'' at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Acton Memorial Library, 486 Main St. Ahern learned about Brown soon after he became a trustee of the Acton library in 1982. He heard that an earlier trustee had been a Titanic survivor, and he began to research her. Jonathan Keyes, who lives in Concord with his wife, Judy, is Brown's great-grandson. So was his cousin, Stedman Buttrick Jr., also of Concord, who died last year. The family had never talked about their relatives aboard the Titanic, Judy Keyes said. (Brown was traveling with her two sisters, who also survived.) Judy Keyes discovered her husband's link to the ship within the last five years, while doing her own genealogical research. "There was virtually no talk about it,'' she said. "I wonder if it wasn't extremely traumatic.''

Another local family lost a loved one in the disaster. Lexington resident Arthur Webster Newell and his two daughters, Madeleine and Marjorie, were returning to the United States on the Titanic after a trip to the Middle East. Newell's wife, Mary, and a third daughter, Alice, still recovering from an earlier three-month trip to Europe, had stayed at home in Lexington. Newell, chairman of the Fourth National Bank of Boston, wanted to visit biblical cities, including Bethlehem and Jerusalem. When the Titanic began to sink, Newell, 58, led his daughters to one of the lifeboats and helped them aboard. He told them they would have to row around until the ship could be repaired. He stayed behind. Newell's body was later retrieved from the sea, and his gold watch and chain were given to his family. He was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. His wife and daughters would eventually be buried beside him. Newell's wife, Mary, never remarried and died in 1957, at the age of 103. She slept with her late husband's watch under her pillow, and never allowed the Titanic to be mentioned in her house.

Another Belmont resident, Henry Hart, also perished when the Titanic sank. Hart, who was born in Ireland, worked as a coachman for a wealthy family in Belmont. He married Delia McGillicuddy, another servant in the household, in 1911 at St. Joseph's Church in Belmont, Ahern said. The newlyweds returned to Ireland shortly afterward to meet her family, and when Delia became pregnant, she stayed behind. Hart booked passage on the Titanic to return to America. Hart, 27, was a third-class passenger. Only about 25 percent of the third-class passengers survived, and few of the survivors were men. Delia gave birth to a boy, and named him after his father.

The story of Edith Evans giving up her seat to Caroline Lamson Brown traveled around the world. But it is not clear why Evans didn't also climb into the lifeboat, which was not filled to capacity, Ahern said. A new book suggests that a member of the crew, William A. Lucas, did not fill the boat with passengers because he believed one of the plugs was missing, which would allow water to seep in. Lucas initially turned away both Evans and Brown, according to Andrew Wilson's book, "Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived,'' but Evans persuaded him to allow Brown into the boat. Lucas, who survived, remained haunted by the legion of dead passengers, Wilson wrote. He committed suicide in 1921, when he was 35. Some researchers have suggested Evans might have been afraid to be lowered to the ocean's surface, Ahern said. In the cold and dark, when it wasn't yet clear that the Titanic would sink, climbing into a small lifeboat was frightening. Another account said Evans had once been told by a fortuneteller to beware water, Ahern said. "There's no real good reason why Miss Evans wasn't loaded into the boat,'' he said.

When Brown returned to Massachusetts, the local newspapers wrote repeatedly about her. "Girl Went Down to Save Another,'' read a headline in the Boston Daily Globe on April 21, 1912. "This heroic young woman gave Mrs. Brown precedence in getting into the last boat to leave the steamship, simply because she knew Mrs. Brown was a mother," the article said. "When Mrs. Brown had been dropped into the lifeboat the little craft was immediately cast off and the Massachusetts woman called to her friend to follow her, but called in vain." In her interview with the Daily Globe, Brown described the Titanic's final minutes. "We had not been away from the Titanic's side more than 15 minutes," she said, "when the end came for the steamship. From the way she sank I feel positive she was practically broken in two. Her bow went under first and she seemed to settle. Then we heard the most awful roaring and rumbling that seemed as if it must be heard over the ocean for miles. "Next the stern of the once-magnificent vessel reared high in the air and seemed to stand upright in the water for some time before it went down with a long slanting plunge. Dark as it was at the time, we were near enough to see every feature of the ending of the great vessel."

Brown stayed with her daughter in Concord, and then with her son in Acton as she recovered. Nine days after the accident, her daughter told the Concord Enterprise newspaper that Brown "seemed to have recovered somewhat from the terrible shock, but was still very tired, and her pale face told the sufferings which she had undergone.'' Brown helped found All Saints Church in Belmont, Ahern said, but eventually sold her home in town and moved to her farm in Acton. She died in 1928, at the age of 75, and is buried with her family in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Belmont woman last to leave Titanic on lifeboat

Caroline Lamson Brown of Belmont was returning home from her sister's funeral in England and was the last person to step off the deck of the Titanic into a lifeboat. She was traveling with her other two sisters and an unmarried friend, Edith Evans, who told Brown to take the lifeboat's last available seat because she had children. Evans died when the ship went down.

[photo]
Arthur Webster Newell of Lexington was returning from traveling in the Middle East with his two daughters. They survived the sinking of the Titanic, but he did not. His watch was recovered and his wife, who had not been on the voyage, slept with it beneath her pillow every night. She would not allow any mention of the Titanic in her home.




A boatload of Titanic survivors pulled alongside the liner Carpathia, April 15, 1912.
[photo]
Ahern (standing) addressed a group at the Westford Museum and Historical Society.
The Boston Globe 5 April 2012

TITANIC PRESENTATION
The Acton Memorial Library will present "Acton's Unsinkable Mrs. Brown: Titanic Survivor Carolyn [sic] Lamson Brown" on Tuesday, April 10, 7 p.m. Local historian and Acton Memorial Library trustee Dennis Ahern will tell the story of Caroline Lamson Brown, and how she came to be the last person to step off the deck of the Titanic into a lifeboat. The program is sponsored by the Acton Memorial Library Foundation.
Acton Beacon 5 April 2012

Woman with Acton ties survived Titanic's sinking
By Christine Kenney
Acton, Mass.—Caroline Lamson Brown's life changed forever on April 14, 1912, when the luxury passenger liner, the Titanic, struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic ocean floor early in the morning of April 15. A subsequent report of the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce states that in all, 1,517 of the recorded 2,223 passengers and crew aboard the ship died in the sinking. Brown would be among those fortunate 706 recorded as saved.

Brown, the 59-year-old widow of John Murray Brown of Little, Brown, Publishing Co., was one of the very last people to step onto a lifeboat at the sinking. She was a first-class passenger. Brown lived in a large estate on the Belmont and Watertown line at present day 21 Common St., but she later moved to a farm in Acton. She was an active member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Belmont, and she was an Acton Library Trustee from 1918 to 1928, when she died at age 75.

According to [Dennis] Ahern, a listing of books purchased at the Acton library during Brown's term showed not one book about the Titanic was purchased for the library. Jonathan Keyes, a Concord resident, is Brown's great-grandson, although he only learned Brown was on the Titanic five years ago when his wife Judy was conducting family research. Her experience was never talked about, which Keyes suspects is related to the trauma of the event. "Nobody was hiding anything. It was just that the connection was not mentioned," Jonathan said. While Judy is the one interested in genealogy, Jonathan said learning about his connection did make him more interested in the ship's historic sinking. "I guess it's more interesting, indeed, when you think of somebody of a survivor of something so horrible," Jonathan said.

Brown's Titanic journey
Dennis Ahern, former vice president of the Arlington Historical Society and currently an Acton Memorial Library trustee, gave a presentation at the Belmont Public Library on March 25, detailing the events of the infamous tragedy. He has also had a longtime passion for the subject, and gave a presentation on Lamson's role recently at the Acton Memorial Library. According to Ahern, the Titanic was believed to be an unsinkable ship due to its waterproof compartments, but when the ship struck the iceberg, the compartments proved to be insufficient in height. "It's like filling an ice cube tray," Ahern said. In an effort to reduce the flooding, crewman closed watertight doors, which according to Ahern aggravated the problem further. If the crew had allowed the Titanic to fill with water on an even keel, Ahern said, the outcome might have been different.

"It was very difficult to coax everybody into the first lifeboats that had been launched," Ahern said. "Third-class passengers probably had the least hope of getting onto a lifeboat." Some first-class passengers wanted to bring their luggage onto the 16 lifeboats and four collapsible boats.

Brown had attended the funeral of one of her six sisters in England. She and two of her sisters boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England to come home to America. She was also accompanied by her sister's niece by marriage, Edith Evans, who is believed to have told Brown to take the last available "Collapsible D" lifeboat seat. Evans, 38, pushed Brown to go because she had children while Evans did not, Ahern said. "Miss Evans went to the other side looking for the other collapsible being launched," Ahern said. But no collapsible was available, leading Evans to her death.

In her own words
Brown, who had become separated from her two sisters during the commotion, reunited with them later. According to a newsletter released by the Belmont Historical Society in 1987, Brown found safety on the Carpathia, a ship that rescued many of the survivors. The historical society newsletter includes an excerpt from a Boston American newspaper from April 19, 1912, in which Brown recollected her experience. Ahern said the survivors' recollections were largely false due to the shock most experienced. In the article, Brown spoke about her experience on the lifeboat. The article recalls her words this way:

"We did not despair while floating among all those cakes of ice. We knew that the wireless operator on the Titanic had sent out calls for help and we felt that they would be picked up by someone."

[photo]
Caroline Lamson Brown, who had ties to Acton,
survived the sinking of the Titanic.
About Caroline Lamson Brown, Titanic survivor:
  • Born on July 8, 1852 in New York City
  • Daughter of Charles Lamson and Elizabeth R. Marshall
  • Married John Murray Brown, who died in 1908
  • Boarded the Titanic at Southhampton, England when she was 59
  • Died on June 26, 1928 when she was 75 at Emerson Hospital in Concord
  • She had six children
Source: Belmont Historical Society
Acton Beacon 12 April 2012

Two Belmont residents fated by the Titanic
By Christine Kenney
Belmont, Mass.—Two Belmont residents' lives changed forever on April 14, 1912, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and later sunk to the bottom of the North Atlantic ocean floor, killing more 1,517 people and traumatizing the 706 who were lucky enough to survive. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy at sea.

Caroline Lamson Brown, the 59-year-old widow of John Murray Brown of Little, Brown, Publishing Co., was one of the very last people to step onto a lifeboat before the Titanic sunk to its doom. She was a first-class passenger. Henry Hart, a 27-year-old father-to-be and third-class passenger, did not survive. It is believed he was asleep in a room at the starboard of the ship, on the E deck near the post office, when his room flooded. Dennis Ahern, former vice president of the Arlington Historical Society and currently an Acton Memorial Library trustee, gave a presentation at the Belmont Public Library on March 25, detailing the events of the infamous tragedy. According to Ahern, the Titanic was believed to be an unsinkable ship due to its waterproof compartments, but when the ship struck the iceberg, the compartments proved to be insufficient in height. "It's like filling an ice cube tray," Ahern said. In an effort to reduce the flooding, crewman closed watertight doors, which according to Ahern aggravated the problem further. If the crew had allowed the Titanic to fill with water on an even keel, Ahern said, the outcome may have been different. "It was very difficult to coax everybody into the first lifeboats that had been launched," Ahern said. "Third-class passengers probably had the least hope of getting onto a lifeboat." Some first-class passengers wanted to bring their luggage onto the 16 lifeboats and four collapsible boats.

"Henry Hart probably never had a chance or even knew what happened to him," Ahern said. According to Phil Hughes, president of the Belmont Historical Society, Hart was originally from Ballisdore, Ireland. Ahern said Hart worked as a coachman for the Atkins family in Belmont until about 1911, when Hart and his wife Delia McGillicuddy went to Ireland. Resident Anne Allen lives on the Atkins farm property on Concord Avenue. She is a direct descendent of the wealthy family. She recalls her mother, Katherine, talking briefly about Hart, who Allen said moved to Ireland so Delia could be with her family. "Delia became pregnant, and at some point Henry made the decision to come back to America," Ahern said. Hart's decision led him onto the Titanic at Queenstown, Ireland. Ahern does not believe Hart was heading back to Belmont. Delia did not accompany him on his trip.

Caroline Lamson Brown
Brown had attended the funeral of one of her six sisters in England. She and two of her sisters boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England to come home to America. She was also accompanied by her sister's niece by marriage, Edith Evans, who is believed to have told Brown to take the last available "Collapsible D" lifeboat seat. Evans, 38, pushed Brown to go because she had children while Evans did not, Ahern said. "Miss Evans went to the other side looking for the other collapsible being launched," Ahern said. But no collapsible was available, leading Evans to her death. Brown, who had become separated from her two sisters during the commotion, reunited with them later. According to a newsletter released by the Belmont Historical Society in 1987, Brown found safety on the Carpathia, a ship which rescued many of the survivors. The historical society newsletter includes an excerpt from a Boston American newspaper from April 19, 1912, in which Brown recollected her experience. Ahern said the survivors' recollections were largely false due to the shock most experienced. In the article, Brown spoke about her experience on the lifeboat. "We did not despair while floating among all those cakes of ice. We knew that the wireless operator on the Titanic had sent out calls for help and we felt that they would be picked up by someone," Brown said, according to the newsletter.

Jonathan Keyes, a Concord resident, is Brown's great-grandson, although he only learned Brown was on the Titanic five years ago when his wife Judy was conducting family research. Her experience was never talked about, which Keyes suspects is related to the trauma of the event. "Nobody was hiding anything. It was just that the connection was not mentioned," Jonathan said. While Judy is the one interested in genealogy, Jonathan said learning about his connection did make him more interested in the ship's historic sinking. "I guess it's more interesting, indeed, when you think of somebody of a survivor of something so horrible," Jonathan said.

Brown lived in a large estate on the Belmont and Watertown line at present day 21 Common Street, but she later moved to a farm in Acton. She was an active member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Belmont, and she was an Acton Library Trustee from 1918 to 1928. According to Ahern, a listing of books purchased at the Acton library during Brown's term showed not one book about the Titanic was purchased for the library. In 1928, Brown, 75, died of pancreatic cancer at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Ahern said.

About the Belmont passengers
Caroline Lamson Brown
  • Born on July 8, 1852 in New York City
  • Daughter of Charles Lamson and Elizabeth R. Marshall
  • Married John Murray Brown, who died in 1908
  • Boarded the Titanic at Southhampton, England when she was 59
  • Died on June 26, 1928 when she was 75 at Emerson Hospital in Concord
  • She had six children

Henry Hart

  • Worked for the Atkins family in Belmont before leaving for Ireland in 1911
  • Married Delia McGillicutty at St. Joseph's Church in Belmont in July 1911
  • Boarded the Titanic at Queenstown, Ireland without his pregnant wife
  • Believed to be among the first deaths on the ship
Belmont Citizen-Herald 12 April 2012


This page copyright © 2012 by Dennis Ahern.
This page was last updated 16 April 2012.