Mr Harry Elkins Widener, 27, was born on January 3, 1885 the son of George and Eleanor Widener he lived in Elkins Park, PA. Harry studied at Hill School, a private establishment in Pottstown, PA; graduating in 1903 he left to study at Harvard (graduated 1907).
Harry was a noted collector of rare books, included in his collection was a Shakespeare Folio and a Gutenberg Bible. Harry developed his bibliophilic interests while in college, when he did research among early books with coloured plates illustrating costumes for a Hasty Pudding Theatrical. In the spring of 1912, he went to England to buy books (including the second edition of Bacon's Essais, 1598) and it was while returning from this visit that he lost his life along with many of the books purchased.
Harry boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with his father and mother, George Widener's valet Edwin Keeping and Mrs Widener's maid Emily Geiger. The Widener's occupied cabins C-80-82.
On the night of April 14th Harry and his parents threw a party in honour of Captain Smith which was attended by some of the most wealthy passengers on board the Titanic.
Later that night Harry helped his mother into boat 4 and then stood back to await his fate, at one point he was joined by William Ernest Carter who advised him to try for a boat but Harry "I'll think I'll stick to the big ship, Billy, and take a chance."
A story, never confirmed by Mrs Widener, romanticizes the death of her son. He was about to step into a lifeboat that would have saved his life when he remembered his newly acquired copy of Bacon's Essais and ran back to get it.
After his death Harvard librarians turned to Mrs Widener for a donation in memory of her bibliophile son. His mother gave $2,000,000 for the construction of a building that would house her son's collection and in 1915 the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library was dedicated. 1
Legend had it that the conditions of Mrs Widnener's donation made it mandatory for all Harvard men to be able to swim before graduating (thinking this might have saved her son). For years it was a requirement to pass the freshman swim test but this actually dated from the time when the Navy had men at Harvard.
Harvard still pays for fresh flowers to be placed under a portrait of Widener in the chapel.
A plaque at Hill School which Widener attended reads:
HARRY ELKINS WIDENER
The Hill 1903 - Harvard 1907
Born January 3, 1885 Died April 15, 1912
Generous Patron of the Fine Arts Distinguished Collector of Rare Books. Lover of Beauty, Culture, and Good-workmanship. When death met him on the Titanic he faced it gallantly and unafraid.
This Tablet is erected by his Classmates
His mother gave Hill School $300,000 to open the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Science building which also has a library.
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