Encyclopedia Titanica

Led wife and sister to safety

Dr Minahan stayed on Titanic

The Reporter

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For Dr and Mrs William E Minahan, and his sister, Daisy, the trip to Europe had been an eventful one – for many reasons.

The Minahan's had visited Killarney, Ireland, and had sent back postcards to their friends in Fond du Lac, telling them the joys of seeing the open "auld sod."  Daisy had been stricken with appendicitis while they were in Italy, and Dr Minahan had rushed her to Paris to perform the operation.

And then there was the coal strike that prevented them from catching the liner back to the United States that they had intended to take.  But they were in luck. They were able to book first class passage on the White star line's "unsinkable" new steamship, scheduled to leave Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York on April 10, 1912.

The name of the beautiful new ship was the Titanic.

When they boarded the Titanic it's unlikely that Dr Minahan recalled the fortune-teller who told him he was to die on its second trip to Europe. His friends had heckled him about that, good-naturedly of course. They told him he didn't have to worry the first time he went abroad.  

But before he departed from New York on January 20, 1912 they'd reminded him what the fortune-teller had said and to be careful, since this was his second journey.

It was a good joke, something to laugh about. But Dr Minahan also saw that he was well insured for the voyage in the amount of $130,000.

- - -

Life had been good to Dr Minahan. A native of Chilton whose parents had settled as farmers in Calumet County after coming to the United States from Ireland, he was one of 10 children. He had five brothers and four sisters, with two of his brothers surgeons and another an attorney.

Dr Minahan and attended Oshkosh normal school for a time, while also working as a printer on the Chilton paper. But he also had the means, and the ability, to study at Rush Medical College in Chicago, graduating with high honors with the class of 1891. 

He succeeded his brother, Dr Robert Minahan, as a doctor at Calumetville. His brother moved on to establish a growing practice at Green Bay. Dr Minahan also left Calumetville, coming to Fond du Lac where he quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding surgeon.

Dr Minahan was described as "aloof from membership connections," meaning that he didn't believe in joining clubs and civic organisations. But he was regarded as an excellent social companion, being learned and witty. He had married some years earlier and was the father of a daughter, Maude, who later settled in New York. He married for the second time on February 3, 1903. His bride was the former Lillian Thorpe of Arkansas City, Kansas, and they were regarded as a devoted couple.

Dr Minahan and his wife found a handsome home on East division Street and had the money to travel in an era when only the rich could afford it.

It didn't surprise anyone to learn that the Minahans, along with the doctor's sister, Daisy, from Green Bay were going abroad. And even though fate was to cast them together, the minions didn't know that another Fond Du Lac group was planning a Mediterranean trip at the same time they were leaving Southampton on the Titanic.

Others enjoying a vacation cruise from Fond du Lac included Dr and Mrs T.A.Hardgrove; Dr and Mrs F.M. McGauley and their daughter, Stella, and Mr and Mrs Maurice McKenna. Residents who enjoyed history and poetry knew McKenna, for he wrote to both, even though his main profession was that of an attorney.

While the Minahans were steaming out of Southampton, the Hardgroves, McGauleys and Mckennas were en route to Naples aboard the ship named the Carpathia. 

It was Sunday night after leaving Southampton and the Minahans had enjoyed a lavish dinner party aboard the Titanic. Attending were such persons as Mr and Mrs John J. Astor and Maj. Archie Butt, the latter military aide for President William H. Taft and who, incidentally, had been in Fond du Lac with the president only six months earlier. The dignified, gray-bearded captain of the Titanic, E.J.Smith, also was at the dinner as were many of his executive officers.

The Titanic was a ship that had everything. Some called it a floating palace. And some were so unwise as to label it "the ship that God himself couldn't sink."  

Wine flowed freely at the dinner that night and the Minahans, rather than remaining up late for such festivities, decided to retire to the staterooms around 10 pm.

One hour and 40 minutes later, while the Minahans slept, the giant Titanic slipped into the steel-like jaws of an iceberg that sliced a 300 foot gash in her bottom off the banks of Newfoundland. For most passengers it was not a jarring impact – and nobody worried. There had been warnings of icebergs, but the Titanic was unsinkable.

No one alerted the Minahans.

Daisy Minahan was the first in the Fond du Lac family to realise that something was wrong. She'd heard a woman scream, reportedly Mrs Astor when her husband insisted that she enter a lifeboat. She awakened Dr Minahan and the 45-year-old surgeon escorted the two women on deck.

Mrs Minahan and her sister in law wore only their nightclothes and kimonos and carried blankets to fend off the cold night air. Dr Minahan observed the disorganised activity and recognised the seriousness of the matter. There was still a semblance of order for first-class passengers, but cries and shouts could be heard from every level.

He quietly ushered Mrs Minahan and his sister towards a lifeboat, waiting for room and to see that they got safely aboard. It was nearing 1 am – and many already had gone into the ocean in lifeboats. Some had leaped overboard in lifejackets.

It was one of those moments in life when things are done quickly, without discussion. Other couples, with more time to see what was happening, had argued over parting. The Minahans didn't argue.

The doctor guided his wife and sister to safety smiled and gave each a kiss. There were 52 in the lifeboat, with 50 of them women. That was the rule – women and children first. And there were only 20 lifeboats on a ship that carried 2207 passengers. Dr Minahan looked into his wife's face as they parted and had only one comment.

"Be brave," he said. "No matter what happens, be brave."

In a matter of seconds the lifeboat was lowered down the side, and the last time Mrs Minahan saw her husband on the Titanic he was peering over the side, watching, and waving goodbye.

The lifeboat carrying Mrs Minahan and her sister in law drifted, perhaps a little more than a city block away from the stricken liner. Another lifeboat, with fewer passengers, bumped its side. Some persons transferred from one boat to the other.

The Titanic became like an eerie haze on the sea now. There were screams of anguish. From the decks could be heard the music of the band, playing what many survivors said was "Nearer my God to thee."  The huge ship made a hissing sound, and there were explosions, and many in the lifeboat said they could hear the shots of revolvers. Nobody knows for certain, but it seems there were suicides when the Titanic neared its final minutes.

The cold sea was alive with young and old, shrieking to be saved, with many shouting away their energy until taken by an icy death. Mrs Minahan and others in the lifeboats saw the Titanic in its final agony. The time was 2:20 am on Monday, April 15, 1912. The bow began to sink. Then the stern, like a crippled monster of the sea, rose from the water. The lights went out, and in the blackness screams and more explosions filled the air. 

And then, finally, the Titanic was gone in a hideous fragment of history that was unbelievable to behold.

Suction stirred the waters, and the lifeboats rolled. Women strained to see where the great ship had been only moments before. Now there was emptiness.

And soon the cries of terror were replaced by the mournful sobbing of survivors, cast about in darkness upon the waves.

- - -

The Titanic had tried to summon aid. Messages of distress had been sent. Rockets had been fired. But the ships nearby were slow to react, and wireless procedures were not yet geared for immediate action.

Little more than an hour after the Titanic had gone down, carrying more than 1,500 to their deaths, the rockets of the approaching Carpathia were seen on the horizon.  Passengers aboard the vessel, including those from Fond du Lac, were not even aware that the ship was on a belated rescue mission.

Mrs Hardgrove later wrote a letter while aboard the Carpathia on its return to New York.

"We were 60 miles away," she wrote, "and our boat went to them, endangering ourselves with the icebergs and putting on extra speed.  But we did not know the dangers surrounding us. The poor people were let out on lifeboats, about 30 for that boat full of people... I cannot tell you all of the awful experiences they told about...

"Tuesday we found Mrs Minahan aboard. The doctor is missing, but of course some of the lost may be found... It is a lucky thing that our boat was near at the time or all of those people might have perished. There is not much difference in station now, they are all putting up with great inconvenience..."

Dr McGauley noted that Mrs Minahan and Daisy Minahan were "saved with nothing but a few garments." He added that, in his opinion, the Titanic was "going too fast, was too large, with not enough lifeboats... carelessness is the cause of the disaster..."

McKenna observed that he counted 20 icebergs in the area around the Titanic's lifeboats, with some of them nearly 100 feet in height. Survivors were lifted aboard the Carpathia in slings.

The Minahan family in Green Bay tried to find out if, through some miracle, Dr Minahan had been rescued. By April 17 a message had been relayed via Halifax that there was no hope. A brother, Dr John R. Minahan, met Mrs Minahan and Daisy Minahan when they landed in New York.

He had a cab waiting and rushed them to the Astor hotel where he treated both for shock, and was told how they had received medical aid from Dr McGauley of Fond du Lac while aboard the Carpathia.  Dr Minahan also ordered new wardrobes for the two women and by Saturday of that week had made arrangements to get them to Chicago by train, en route home.

In Chicago as well as Milwaukee, Dr Minahan protected his sister-in-law and Daisy from the reporters who wanted "eye-witness" accounts of the tragedy. Another brother, Atty., V.I. Minahan was checking into his brothers will and handling financial arrangements. It was learned that the Fond du Lac surgeon left insurance amounting to $130,000 and real estate holdings worth $80,000.  His wife and daughter, Maude, were to share in the estate.

Mrs Minahan did not stop at Fond du Lac, but was taken directly to Green Bay. A newsman who interviewed her on the train noted that she was "living in a sort of daze... Unable to speak of the disaster without breaking down completely..." Mayor Frank J. Wolff of Fond du Lac managed to go to board the train when it stopped in Fond du Lac and, on behalf of the city, conveyed the community's sympathy to Mrs Minahan. 

While Mrs Minahan recuperated at Green Bay, a "morgue ship," loaded with 200 caskets, plus embalmers and undertakers, had been searching the scene of the disaster for bodies. On April 22 the Reverend J.J. Collins of Saint Joseph's Church in Fond du Lac said a mass for the victims of the Titanic, with a special mention offered for Dr Minahan.

Then news came on April 27. The body of Dr Minahan had been recovered.


Encyclopedia Titanica (2021) Led wife and sister to safety (The Reporter, Friday 12th April 1968, ref: #450, published 20 April 2021, generated 25th January 2022 12:32:47 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/led-wife-and-sister-to-safety-450.html