Karen Abelseth

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Boarded at Southampton.  Third class
From: Orskog, Alesund, Norway
Destination: Minneapolis, Minnesota/Ingleside, California

The prospect of life in sunny California must have seemed a terribly attractive prospect to a beautiful 16-year-old Scandinavian schoolgirl. Kalla (Karen) Abelseth had heard the stories of her older sister who had previously left the village of Orskog, Norway for the warm climate and financial opportunities of the western United States. Originally intending to leave her native land after completing her education in the summer of 1912, fate intervened when a former neighbor, Olaus Abelseth, came back to Orskog for a visit.

Karen was born September 14, 1895 and was the fourth of nine children born to Iver Kristian Nilssen Abelseth and Nikoline Petrine Asmundsdatter Tosse.  “Consumption” claimed the mother in 1907 and a couple of years later the oldest sibling, Anne Marie, emigrated to the home of a cousin, Ella Knudsen, in Los Angeles.  Karen was anxious to join her sister and when Olaus Abelseth arranged to return to America in April of 1912, Kristian Abelseth seized the opportunity to send his daughter on her way in the company of someone he could trust to protect her. Little did he know that virtually any voyage, at any time, in the company of anyone else, would have been a safer bet.

Sailing from Alesund, Norway to Newcastle, Karen, Olaus, and a group of other Norwegians boarded the Titanic at Southampton as steerage passengers, sharing a cabin with Anna Salkjelsvik. On the night of the sinking, Karen went to sleep prior to the encounter with the iceberg and was unaware of the impact.  Awakened by a traveling companion, Karen and Anna quickly became fearful as a result of the urgent activity their fellow passengers seemed to engage in.

The Norwegian men escorted her to a lifeboat and watched as she was lowered safely from the doomed ship.

On May 28, 1912, Karen wrote a letter to her father detailing her horrendous experience.

“Well, now I must try to write some words to you, so that you can hear that I’m alive.  Oh, it has been a terrible time, the experience that I have had since I left  you.  If I had only known, I would never have traveled.  Suppose I must tell you  something about what has happened.

Sunday evening we went to bed at about 10.  At 12 o’clock they came down to wake us up.  I didn’t know what it meant when Adolf Humblen stood in front of my bed and said that I must hurry up because we had hit an iceberg.  When we had come out in the corridor, many people had already got up and were dragging their suitcases along.  Dear you at home, had you only known how terrible it was.  I hardly managed to stand.  Sigurd had to stand and hold me.  Oh, Sigurd! He isn’t any more, he who was so kind to me.  I have almost cried to pieces, but it doesn’t help at all.

When we came upstairs and went over to the railing, the ship was tilting heavily. After a while, people began to enter the lifeboats.  Olaus, Sigurd and Peter followed me up to the lifeboat.  Just think how hard it was when I was to enter the boat and they had to stay behind.  I didn’t want to get in, but Sigurd said ‘Just be strong.  It will all end well.’  That was the last he said to me.  I was the last who went in that lifeboat, and there was only one lifeboat left.  If I had waited any longer, you would never have heard from me anymore.  Then we were lowered.  The others had to stay behind.  I wish that I was there, and that somebody else could be saved.

When we had come a short distance away from the ship, we saw how it started to sink.  At the end we heard a terrible noise, and Titanic went under with over 2000 people.  As soon as it sank there was a terrible scream.  Oh, if only you could have heard it.  I will never in my life forget it.  I thought I was going to lose my mind, the way they cried.  Imagine when so many people start to call for help, and no one can give them any assistance.

First Titanic sank, then she resurfaced close to where we were, and overturned twice. We heard the cries for many hours.  Those were the worst hours I have ever experienced, and I hope I will never experience such a thing again.  Imagine, those cries, those cries.

At 6 o’clock we saw a ship far away, and then we were very glad, as you can imagine. We came alongside the ship at 7 o’clock.  There we got blankets around us.  But it didn’t matter, I thought, because I didn’t see any of my company, except Anna, the girl who joined us in Aalesund.  After a while we went through a corridor.  There was Olaus.  You can imagine there was joy.  I wouldn’t have had an ----- if he was not saved. But Sigurd and Peter were not there.  I have hardly tasted any food since I was on board the Titanic.

Now there was a nice young lady here and she took me on her lap and was so kind to me. We are at a hospital.  Here everything is so sad.  They are only speaking English, every one.  Anna is sitting and writing, and Olaus is ill.  It was so hard for him that Sigurd was not to be saved.  ‘Oh, had it only been me who died in his place,’ he says.  You should have seen how much he is crying sometimes.  Just imagine what would have happened to me and Anna, if he had drowned as well.  Anna also lost her companion. That was Adolf Humblen, brother of our schoolteacher.  He was so kind, so kind.   Everybody was kind.

One day we were ill, so we could not go downstairs to eat.  They then first came with food, and then with all kinds of fruit, and we had such a nice time.  Then the dreadful thing was going to happen.  Many tears have fallen down on this paper.  It isn’t easy making sense of what I’m writing today, because I have got a terrible headache, I have  difficulties writing to the others, but will make up for it when I arrive.”

Karen Abelseth eventually made her way to her sister’s home in California and on April 3, 1916 married Harry Sylvester Little. The union was blessed with 5 children and Karen lived a happy life as a mother and homemaker in Ingleside, California.  During the 1930’s she worked for Ideal Undergarment Company in Los Angeles.  Parkinson’s Disease claimed her life on July 27, 1969 and she was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery on July 30th.  Harry Little survived his wife until June 27, 1973.  Two daughters and a son survive today.

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Kalle (Karen) Marie Kristiane Abelseth


Phillip Gowan


Encyclopedia Titanica (2004) Karen Abelseth ( ref: #1502, published 20 January 2004, generated 3rd August 2021 10:57:42 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/karen-abelseth-update.html