Several interview excerpts by Helen and family details

article excerpt

Providence Journal

The Oslo-born family 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 drowned 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. 

It would seem Helen remained vivacious and strong-willed to the end.  Today, if one calls her church, Grace Episcopal, 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. 

The entire Ostby plot and family markers may be seen online at  www.revdma2.com/forgetmenot.html

Excerpt from an article first published in TIS Journal. VOYAGE (On the Road-Rhode Island)

Related Biographies:

Engelhart Cornelius Østby
Helen Ragnhild Østby

Contributor

Shelley Dziedzic