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Rhode Island - The small state with big Titanic connections!

Titanica!

As great as photographs and vital statistics can be, to really get an idea for how a person lived, there’s nothing like visiting their town or city, checking out the local library for data, scanning the 1912 local coverage in the daily paper, finding the place these special  Titanic people called home, and just maybe finding someone who remembers them.  It was heartening to see so many of the original houses are still standing, and the little villages and hamlets probably much unchanged since the fateful date in April 1912.

New England is a charming region of America at all times of year, and the small size of the states enables a person with limited time on hand to cover a lot of ground in a day.  Famous for the Fall foliage- declared "The Autumnal Display", millions flock north in late September and early October to drink in the color and crisp air of Vermont and New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine- and the last golden warmth of the beaches of Rhode Island.  The beauties of New England from Newport to Bar Harbor were not lost on the First Class Passengers of Titanic, and the dense industry including the textile mills and jewelry centers, factories and fishing harbors were the impetus for waves of immigrants to head North after passing through the gates of Ellis Island.  The great mills stand still and empty today, like silent sentinels recalling the glory days of the Industrial Revolution-spindle cities like Willimantic, Fall River, Norwich, Coventry, Taftville, Kenyon and Bradford.  Triple-decker mill houses where the thousands of workers were housed today are refitted for multi-family use.  In Newport, Marblehead and Bar Harbor, the great summer cottages are now open to the public as museums and cared for by preservation and historic societies with the today’s remnants of the Gilded Age families unable to keep up with the costs of living in America’s Castles.  A visit to these places is like a window on another age with a glimpse of the culture and surroundings  of the Titanic era available for viewing through the windshield of your car.

As Rhode Island is where I live, it seemed a good place to begin the quest with Marshall and Lulu Drew Opie’s hometown of Westerly, minutes away.  “Little Rhody” may be the tiniest state, but it is full of Titanic connections.  Known as the Ocean State on our license plates, the ocean is never very far from any point in the state, and the white sand beaches with rolling dunes and Atlantic breakers, were for many years the subject of Marshall Drew’s photographs and postcards. Marshall's mother, Elizabeth Brines, was a Westerly native, and William Drew, a Greenport stonecarver came to the seaside town for the famous Westerly blue granite from the renowned quarries.  Marshall's father had a carving workshop on the waterfront in Greenport, Long Island which is still standing today.  The Drew family hailed from another rugged seacoast town in Cornwall, England and it was to this ancient home Marshall, Lu and James V. Drew were headed in the Fall of 1911 aboard Olympic to visit Granny Drew.  Marshall recalled the massive chimney and hearth where one could stand inside and look up the chimney and see stars, the hearth flanked by a fender wide enough to sit upon.  A family descendant has traced famous stage actor John Drew's lineage to Marshall's family.  Lulu Drew and James had suffered the loss of an infant son, Harold, and so when Marshall's own mother died only a few weeks after his birth, Aunt Lu was quick to welcome the motherless little boy into her heart.  Marshall would always call her Mother.  Lu returned to Greenport after the sinking and in a year remarried Richard Opie, a Westerly man who happened to be in Greenport building boats.  The Dutch Colonial, or gambrel house at 74 Old Post Road would be Lu and Richard’s home until Lu had to retire to the Watch Hill Nursing Home nearby.  Marshall often recalled that he spent many days with Lu’s father, Uncle Henry Christian back in Greenport as Uncle Richard Opie was not over-fond of peppy small boys. Uncle Henry was a Civil War veteran and Marshall became a real expert on the subject as a result. Marshall bought the small cottage next door to Aunt Lu (68 Old Post Road) and spent summers there when he was a teacher, and later retired to the little gray cottage with the bright orange railing.  This would be home until he passed away in June of 1986 while on a visit to Greenport.  Both houses are standing today, and neighbors across the street told me many stories of Lu and Marshall.  

Bob Thompson, who solemnly handed me a business card listing his career as “fishing buddy” recalled that Aunt Lu gave him his first pocket knife with a pearl handle.  He has it still.  “She was a bitsy little thing with a tiny voice,” he added.  Then we reminisced awhile about Marshall.  “Marshall is the one who got me to pick up a paint brush,” Bob declared.  “I recall how my wife would play the piano and Marshall would strum the ukelele and another neighbor fiddled on the violin on Sunday afternoons –it was a sort of joyful noise,” Bob added with a smile. “Yes- my kids played with Marshall’s great-grandson, he was a nice man- made origami animals for the children.” Richard Opie’s niece lives just down the street and promises to furnish some photographs of Aunt Lu.

The city of Providence was home to eight Titanic passengers.  Known at one time as the center of the jewelry industry, Providence is a convenient one hour from Boston, and situated with a golden port on the Atlantic gateway.  Rosa Abbott and her sons Rossmore and Eugene, Amy Stanley Tanner, John Lamb, Bertha Mulvihill Noon and the Ostby family called this city home at one time or another.  Only Rosa Abbott’s house at 1 Gould Place is gone today, replaced by Benevolent House, a senior housing complex.  In Rosa’s day it was in the heart of the factory district with the Roman Catholic Cathedral and St. Xavier’s girls academy nearby.  

Rosa Abbott had always been a mysterious figure to follow after Titanic, although at last she has been “found” and her story revealed recently on this site.   What we do know about her is that she had a hard life.  George Stanton Abbott appears in 1893 in the street directories of Providence listed as an “athlete”.  He and Rosa met and married in England with him coming over first to Rhode Island.  By all accounts he was a rough sort of man, a pugilist and sports instructor by 1915.  Rosa brought her six year old son Eugene to Grace Episcopal Church on Mathewson Street to be baptized in 1904 and is listed as Rhoda Abbott along with Emil Shultey as Eugene’s sponsors.  Only Stanton appears on the church register in 1907.  Young Rossmore sang in the Grace Church choir which was begun in 1904 and attended the Oxford Street Grammar School.  Rosa worked hard to support the boys by taking in sewing. Rosa and Stanton divorced in 1911 and Rosa  took the boys back to England in August 1911 aboard Olympic- perhaps to put the unpleasantness behind her.  On the return voyage aboard Titanic, she was to met and befriend another third class passenger, Amy Stanley who would also one day live in Providence on Eliza Street.  The sad story of the loss of Rosa’s two boys, aged only 14 and 16 is a heart-rending one with Rossmore’s body  recovered and buried at sea on April 24th.

"I sank with the ship because I wouldn't leave my boys.  I was prepared to stay and meet death rather than leave them.  I went down with the ship, my sons clasped in my arms but we were torn apart by the swirling waters and I came to the surface alone.  The whirlpool caused by the plunge caught me and I went under a second time, but the second explosion aboard the Titanic forced me to the surface where I encountered a life raft" (Collapsible A)

The memorial service at Grace Church is found in this issue. Upon arrival in New York, it was found that both Rosa's legs were frozen and the doctors stated that her limbs looked as if they had been burned.  She was treated in a private room at St Vincent's and was considered the most severe case on the entire list of rescued.     

Rosa remarried to George Williams and settled in Jacksonville, Florida because of her ever-increasing ill health. Eventually they found their way back to England in 1928 when George had to settle his father’s estate in Barnes, Northeast Surrey. He suffered a stroke shortly after, and was faithfully attended for the next ten years by his wife until his death in 1938.  Although Rhoda always intended to return to America, war or illness prevented it, and she found peace at last on February 18, 1946 after a life of loss, illness and hard work. 

The fates of Rosa Abbott and Amy Stanley were to cross aboard Titanic.  Amy was to say of Rosa later,  

“We were very close since we were on the Titanic together. And her stateroom had been near mine. I was the only one that she could talk to about her sons because I knew them myself. She told me that she would get [sic] in the lifeboat if there hadn't been so many people around. So she and her sons kept together. She was thankful that [the] three of them had stayed with her on that piece of wreckage. The youngest went first then the other son went. She grew numb and cold and couldn't remember when she got on the Carpathia. There was a piece of cork in her hair and I managed to get a comb and it took a long time but finally we got it out. 

Amy, aged 24, had tried shop keeping and dressmaking for a living until she decided to become a domestic, in particular a nursery maid. She was on her way to New Have, Ct. aboard Titanic, third class, to find employment in that capacity and would have come over to America sooner if she had not been delayed by the coal strike.  Amy’s cabin was next to Rosa Abbott’s and in a letter Amy would write to her parents, she tells of attending to Rosa who was picked up “on a raft” with four men who later died, and speaks of her lost sons.  Amy mentions she was writing a postcard when the iceberg struck.  She had a feeling something unpleasant was going to happen beforehand, and had nearly missed the sailing at Southampton.  After the impact she bundled up her cabin mates and herself, and went out to see what had happened. Although stewards suggested she return to her cabin, she did not- and was assisted over the rails into a boat by two men who sat at her dining table at meals.  Amy’s account mentions shots being fired to hold back men rushing the boats, and she tells a story of a large man who jumped into the boat on top of her saying he had to save his baby.  Amy cared for the baby in between sessions of rowing to keep warm.  She also helped tether the women to ropes when Carpathia lowered them to haul aboard the survivors.  Her courage and selflessness are exemplary under these extraordinary circumstances.  She was given money to reach New Haven by the Red Cross.  She later married Eugene Sheldon Tanner in Brooklyn in 1918 and became mother also to two boys like Rosa, one named Alfred and the other Eugene-perhaps a reminder of Rosa’s child.  Amy died on April 21, 1955.  Her home in Providence and grave at Oakland Cemetery, Cranston are pictured in this issue.

Pretty Bertha E. Mulvihill’s head was full of wedding thoughts as she boarded Titanic as a third-class passenger at Queenstown.  She had been home to Athlone, County Westmeath aboard Lusitania to attend a wedding and was hurrying back to Providence to get ready for her own wedding to Henry Noon.  She would lose her trousseau in the sinking. Tpgether with her cabinmate Maggie Daly, they made it up to the deck with a coat on over their nightgowns after the collision and made it into Boat 15.  Here are her own recollections of the night: 

“It was about 11:45, I was in bed and was just getting to sleep.  Then came a heavy jar.  I lay still for several minutes not knowing what was the matter.  Then I slipped on a heavy coat over my nightgown and pulled on my shoes and went out into the passage.  The people were rushing up the staircase and way down in steerage I could hear the women and men shrieking and screaming.  The women called for their children.  The men cursed.  Then I hurried back to my room and stood up on the wash stand and took down a life belt.  This I adjusted about me and hurried out into the passage.  At the top of the passage I met a sailor whom I had become acquainted with. “

 Of the actual sinking she recalls,

“The big vessel quivered and began to settle, then it leaned over on the other side a little and slowly sank to her grave.  I heard the band playing. But it was a good ship-they went down bravely.  The sailors rowed hard thinking the suction from the big vessel would pull us down.  But the explosions threw the water away from the vessel so the small boats were able to get away all right.  Then began the long vigil for the rescuing ship.  All night we bumped about in the ice cakes out there on the Atlantic.  For an hour- although it seemed like an instant to me- we had fought and struggled on the Titanic, from midnight to dawn the next morning we wept and moaned on the face of the ocean. All the boats that had left the port side of the vessel had clustered together- and the starboard boats in another bunch a little distance away. It was awfully cold.  The water every once in in a while slapped up over the bow of the boat and covered us with spray.  None of us had on more than nightclothes with scant covering over those.  We could hear the women in the other cluster of boats sobbing and crying for their husbands and the stars shone bright above. Slowly the mist cleared and the big boat pushed toward us.  This was five o’clock in the morning.  We drifted until the Carpathia picked us up. It was bitter cold and the only thing I can remember very distinctly about those hours is a white cake of ice which bumped and bumped against the side of the boat near me-I laughed when another cake of ice pushed between it and the boat.  I think I must have been ill then.”

Bertha- called “Bert” by those near and dear, is described as an “apple-cheeked Irish lass with bright blue eyes, which yesterday were ringed with suffering, privation and terror”.  Bertha’s sister had no idea that Bertha was aboard Titanic and planning a surprise visit.  Fiance Henry Noon read her name in the Tuesday night Evening Bulletin , nearly fainted and ran right over from Lisbon Street to Bert’s sister, Mrs. Norton to tell them.  Henry and Mr. Norton left the next day for New York where Bertha praised the relief effort waiting when Carpathia docked.    “ See that hat over there?  That was given to me in New York and I wore it over here to Providence! (a pearl grey felt hat) When I got to the dock I met Henry and Mr. Norton and they rushed me right to Grand Central Station and took me to Providence,” Bertha said to reporters.   Mrs. Norton added, “She was hysterical on the train and kept thinking of the scenes she had witnessed.  The doctor told her she must eat sparingly and only liquid foods.  He would not let her go to sleep right away for fear that during her sleep she would review the scenes of the disaster , and waking, would not be in her right mind”. Bertha recalled  a boy on board who had a premontion: “It was a funny thing, there was a boy named Eugene Ryan from my town who was with us when we left Queenstown.  He told us he had dreamt that the Titanic was going to sink before we reached New York.  Every night after dinner he told us Titanic was going to go down.  On Sunday night just before we went to bed, he told us Titanic would sink that night-it was uncanny”. In April 1956 Bertha was featured again in the Providence Journal on the occasion of the publication of A Night to Remember, and was extensively quoted.  She died on October 15, 1959 and is buried at St. Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket.  Bertha and Henry had five children and a happy home on Wyndham Street in Providence which is standing still.  Henry Noon, Jr., living now in South Kingstown, has an unlisted number, weary of the flurry of calls after 1997’s Titanic film.

John James Lamb, of 92 Nichols Street,  worked in the world of theatre.  Lamb was born in 1881, and hailed from County Wicklow in Ireland, the son of a prosperous farmer, Martin Lamb.  He had gone home for three months to visit his family and was returning to the home he shared with his sister Catherine in Providence.  A bachelor, Mr. Lamb was 30-years-old when he booked second-class passage on the Titanic.  It was to be his last trip. He went to Ireland in September 1911 with his aunt, Mrs. Margaret Lamb, a very old woman who wished to return to the old country before she died. He also was to have taken another steamer back but wrote that as Titanic was a new boat and the largest in the world. he would wait and sail on her. His body was never recovered. He was survived by two brothers, Patrick and Martin, and a sister, Mrs. Catherine Lyons, all of 92 Nichols Street, Providence, and another sister Mrs. John Magee of 18 Locust Street.

Also Providence-bound was young Harry Sadowitz, son of Solomon Sadowitz of 78 Lippitt Street.  Harry's father lived with his sister and worked for the Providence Cornice Company.  Young Harry had been living in London and had never been to America.  His father had saved his passage and had sent it over for a booking on the Olympic. A cablegram was sent by the ticket agent informing Solomon that Harry got a passage on Titanic instead. 

When considering the Ostby clan in Providence, the word which springs to mind is DYNASTY!  The Oslo- born tribe sent its first members to America in 1866 to establish the foundation on which the family would build for decades to come.
Englehart studied at the Royal School of Art in Oslo and apprenticed as a jeweler.  Coming to Providence in 1869, he worked for several prestigious firms before starting his own in 1879 in partnership with Nathan B. Barton.  Ostby & Barton is known to this day in Providence.  A member of Grace Episcopal Church, Englehart was known for his good works, charitable acts, and astute business sense.  He became trustee and director on many boards and banks in the city.  He married Lizzy Macy Webster in 1876 and four sons and a daughter were born to the distinguished couple.  Helene Ragnhild, named for Englehart’s sister, would later drop the final “e” on her name and become plain Helen.  Helen was to lose her mother at age ten when Lizzy died tragically in 1899, leaving Englehart’s mother, Josephine to help raise the children. When Helen was about seventeen, her father would take the pretty daughter with him on business trips to Europe, especially Paris.  Helen got to see Norway at last in 1907.  While on the Grand Tour which included Egypt, they heard about the chance of returning home on the Titanic. Friends they had met in Egypt, the Warrens, were already booked, and so the Ostbys boarded First Class at Cherborg.  Englehart carried aboard his black leather bag filled with gems he had collected in his travels.    

The following recollection is given by Helen in 1912 and 1962.  She had been collected at the pier by her brothers and taken to the Belmont Hotel, where the hotel managers threw a crowd of newspapermen out of the lobby and got Helen safely to a fourth-floor suite.  The lobby is described as a pitiable picture as one survivor after another was half-led, half-carried into the office and whisked off upstairs to quiet rooms.  Some had to be carried in chairs and one or two on stretchers, and all looked as if they had stepped from the "very mouth of the Inferno". They hoped to get Helen on a train for Providence Friday morning if she could stand the trip.  She was attended in her room by Dr. Lamb and a trained nurse. The doctor was obliged to give her a sleeping draught about 2 a.m. Friday morning.  During the night, the brothers were trying to learn news of their father, as the word back in Providence was that both had been saved on Carpathia- the shock of the truth was overwhelming.  Dr. Emery Porter, of St. Luke's Hospital and a personal friend of Raymond Ostby from tennis-playing days at Brown University, finally convinced the brothers that Englehart was drown when he explained he had visited every sick person on Carpathia and Mr. Ostby was not among the saved.  The brothers called home with the sad news and the rest of the family took the midnight train from Providence to New York. The plan was made to spread out and check every single hospital and charitable group which had gathered in Titanic's survivors from the pier.  Dr. Porter had mentioned there were some bodies aboard Carpathia which he was not permitted to see, so their was still hope.  Helen related her story to her brother Raymond who released it to the the Journal as follows:

"When the crash came, father and I were in our cabins in bed.  The crash was terrible and we got up and stood there near the staterooms for a moment.  We put on a few clothes after a short time and about that time stewards and stewardesses came round telling us there was no danger.  Some of the people went back to bed again.  Father told me to go up on deck as I had bundled up warmly.  He said he would put on some more clothes and join me immediately so I went.  As soon as I got on deck I met Mr. and Mrs. Frank Warren and we remained together for a short time waiting for father.  Commotion had begun at that time and the escaping steam made it almost impossible to hear conversation.  People all around us were putting on life belts so we three did the same.   I wondered what kept father below however, and after about ten minutes I went down to try to find him.  I guess my father must have come up on deck some other way for I could not find him in the stateroom.  Thinking he had gone up and joined the Warrens, I too went back but he had not been around there.  I was waiting for him all the time when the crew came around and told us to get into one of the boats.  We all hung back awhile, I wanted father to come with us but the men insisted that we hurry up so we got in.   That is, Mrs. Warren and I got in with some other women and a man."

This later 1962 account continues

"It was a very unpleasant feeling stepping into that boat because although it was level with the boat deck, it was swung out over the water so that there was a little gap between it and the side of the ship.  An officer and two sailors manned the boat and just as it was lowering, two men from among the passengers were allowed to jump into it.  Once below the boat deck, there were no lights so it was difficult for the men on the deck who were letting the boat down by ropes to keep it level.  First on end would dip, then the other.  By the time we were lowered to the water, the Titanic had begun very noticeably to go down by the head.  The stars were out but it was pitch dark.  As we pulled away we could see the lights of the ship and the lighted forward portholes gradually disappearing. As we were sitting there watching, the first of about eight distress rockets went off so high in the sky that they startled everyone. Everybody began to talk in the dark and wonder whether our ship had been able to send off any wireless messages. 

Up until that time, things had gone on very calmly.  But at the end we could see and hear people on board were realizing there was no place to go.  As the ship began to stand on end we heard a big rumbling, rattling noise as if everything was being torn from their moorings inside the ship. She stood quietly on her end for a minute, then went down like an arrow.  Everybody was looking and hoping to see the lights of a ship.  Of course some complained of losing jewelry and clothing -and some the cold.  One woman was seasick.  When somebody happened to mention jewelry left behind, I remembered for the first time that I had lost a diamond bar pin which was given me by my father which was still pinned to my nightgown aboard ship.  I hadn't given it a though, and when I was reminded, it didn't matter. At dawn we could see the Carpathia was heading toward us. She stopped a mile or so away and let the scattered lifeboats come to her. They slung over a rope hitch like a bo'sun chair.  I sat in it and held onto the rope." 

1912 interview:

" Our treatment on the Carpathia could not have been better.  As soon as we were aboard, stewards wrapped blankets about us and led us into the dining room where steaming hot brandy was waiting.  This I think may have saved many lives.   There was also coffee and tea.   After that some went on deck, some to staterooms.  Standing there on deck I looked up and saw Mr. and Mrs. Chapin.  They took me down to their stateroom and Mrs. Warren went too. It was noble,  Absolutely everything was done that could be done. I tried to send a wireless Tuesday but the wireless men collapsed under the strain as they had so much to do.  The last I saw of Capt. Smith he was on the deck in charge of things.  My last sight of Mr. Ismay showed him in pajamas only helping women into boats. I have been told he put on evening clothes.  In that way he came aboard Carpathia.  Mrs. Astor had a cut on her face.  That afternoon we sailed along the edge of an ice floe miles long and in it, now and then, was a mountain of ice."  

Helen is recorded in newspapers as saying she had seen Col. Astor clinging to a life raft, until exhausted by the strain and overcome by the chilling waters, he relaxed his fingers and sank beneath the surface.  She also witnessed up on deck, the touching moment when Mrs. Straus stepped back.

Mr. and Mrs. Howard Chapin of Providence were on a honeymoon tour of Europe.  Helen had known Mrs. Chapin as Miss Hope B. Brown, the daughter of former governor D. Russell Brown.   Helen would go on to survive many other harrowing escapes.  IN 1914 she had been traveling in Germany when the war broke out but escaped through Flandres and arrived in Liege the same day as the German soldiers.  She later returned to Belgium and lived in Brussels for ten years.  One morning in 1940 she was awakened by German bombs from planes overhead.  During her last five months there, Belgium was occupied by invading Nazi armies.  When she returned to Providence in January 1941, she gave a first-hand account of the fleeing refugees.  She waited three months in Lisbon for passage home. 

Ostby & Barton continued on- managed by the brothers.  Englehart's address at 61 Cooke Street was found in his pocket.  The magnificent mansion stands today, not far from 230 Waterman where the family had lived many years before Titanic.  Helen, when unable to care for herself went to live a few blocks away in the luxurious Wayland Manor residential hotel.  About a decade ago, I stopped by there and met a distinguished elderly gentleman who had known Helen well at the end.  Impeccably clad in a pale yellow golf cardigan, his watery blue eyes gazed off into space a moment as if seeing her in the Past- "Helen Ostby, oh yes, I knew her - she was something!" It would seem Helen remained vivacious and strong-willed to the end.  Today, if one calls her church, Grace at the corner of Westminster and Mathewson, they remember the Osbys-  "Mr. Raymond used to lend his car for church canvassing back in 1916- they had one of the few automobiles around back then. That was a great family, giving in church and community."  Englehart was found and laid to rest in a magnificent mahogany casket at Swan Point Cemetery , a 17 foot granite Celtic cross above his head and his dynasty laid to rest all around him.  Mr. Warren was never found.

Related Biographies:

Rhoda Mary 'Rosa' Abbott
Marshall Brines Drew
John J. Lamb
Bridget Elizabeth Mulvihill
Helen Ragnhild Ostby
Amy Zillah Elsie Stanley

Acknowledgements

The Providence Journal

Citation

Encyclopedia Titanica (2004) Rhode Island - The small state with big Titanic connections! (Titanica!, ref: #3484, published 8 October 2004, generated 27th January 2021 07:45:11 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/rhode-island---the-small-state-with-big-titanic-connections.html