There’s an old phrase, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Researchers spend a lot time trying to decipher survivors’ accounts where there are conflicts. A good number of people will say, with conviction, that they left the Titanic in the “last lifeboat.” Other times, male survivors will say they swam to a lifeboat, to avoid the stigma of being saved while women and children were lost. Other things we watch for are reporters’ inventions, or a survivor trying to enhance his or her story either by knowing someone famous or doing some type of heroics. Of course, various people’s stories changed from each telling, especially as the years went on. Most of Anna Sjöblom’s accounts were fairly sober, with some minor deviations, but from 1912 through her final days, she swore a woman had died in her boat and then her husband died of shock. Let’s take a look at each account and try to figure out why she believed this.
“A terrible thing occurred right in our own boat. A young couple, well dressed and refined, were in the boat when it was lowered. The young woman fell overboard. She struggled about and finally the men in the boat pulled her aboard. Her husband, a fine-looking young man with black hair and beautiful features, sat on a seat in the middle of the boat, and helped to make her comfortable. Then a few minutes after she had been pulled aboard, she collapsed, fell forward and died. She lay in the bottom of the boat, her face upward. We were all of us powerless to move, so crowded was the boat.
“The young man just sat there and stared at her. He sat without moving for an entire hour. At the end of that hour, his hair, which had been very black before, had had turned to all white. He was about 30 years old. At the end of an hour, he looked like he was 70. He never spoke or moved after his wife died. The woman’s dead body remained in the boat with us until we were rescued. After we had been taken aboard the Carpathia, and the young man had been taken aboard, he collapsed on the deck of the rescue ship, fell over and died.” —Olympia Daily Recorder, April 30, 1912
“I recall one terrible experience in that little boat. There was a Swedish gentleman whose wife died in our boat. They lifted her overboard, but her husband held onto her arms and dragged her along. His hair went white and he aged years in those few hours. He went insane and died aboard the Carpathia.” — Tacoma Sunday Ledger, April 14, 1929, Tacoma Woman was on Titanic
“An older woman was stricken and died of either a heart attack or exposure. To lighten the boat it was decided to drop her body overboard. But when that was done, her husband grasped her hand in the water and held it a long time until he finally had to let it go. And then he began raving and was stark mad by the time the survivors were lifted into the Carpathia. He aged visibly 20 years in those few hours and he died, too, before the ship got back to New York. — Tacoma Sunday News Tribune, April 20, 1955
One woman aboard the lifeboat died of a heart attack before help arrived. Her body was dropped overboard to lessen the load.
The Sunday Olympian April 15, 1962
One woman suffered a heart attack and died. To lighten the loaded boat, the passengers put her body over the side. Her husband was distraught. He seized her hand and held on as long as he had the strength. Later he died on the ship that picked us up and they buried him at sea. — The Daily Olympian, April 15, 1973
Since there is no other known account of this happening in a lifeboat, we have to look at why she repeated this story. Anna did say that as the lifeboat was being lowered, a man jumped from the deck and landed right on her, leaving her stunned. Did she perhaps pass out during the night and dream it? Was she dazed when boarding the Carpathia and after possibly hearing the story of the Lindells, who swam to collapsible A and both perished before rescue, assume she saw it?
Or perhaps she heard a similar story about the Lahtinens? A friend of that couple, Reverend Matt Tauriainen, said he heard from “steamship officials” about the couple’s end. According to the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 25, 1912 edition, “Mrs. Lahtinen died after the ship struck the iceberg, but before the ship sank. She had been in poor health before they embarked, she suffered from seasickness on the voyage, so when she was told of the accident to the ship it was too much for her and died of heart failure, of a ‘broken heart.’ The clergyman remained by the body of his wife and in a few minutes and joined her in death.”
Accounts can be filled with little nuggets of information that put together pieces of the puzzle that is the Titanic, but it’s bits like this that definitely can throw researchers for a loop. While these accounts can’t be used as fact, they are a tantalizing record as to why she maintained this part of her account with every telling.