Albert Francis Caldwell, 26, was born in Sanborn, Iowa, on 8 September 1885, the son of William E. Caldwell and Fannie Gates.
Albert attended Park College in Missouri, and whilst there he met Sylvia Mae Harbaugh. They graduated in 1909 and married on 1 September 1909 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The couple went to Bangkok, Siam (now Thailand) under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions where they were teachers in Bangkok Christian College for Boys. While there they retained their American Citizenship. On June 10, 1911, their son, Alden Gates Caldwell, was born in Bangkok. Unfortunately, his birth was not registered at the American Consulate. In later years, Alden found himself unable to obtain a birth certificate and had no official proof of his American citizenship.
In April 1912 they were returning to their home in Biggsville, Illinois.
Many years later Albert Caldwell wrote his own account of his family's experience. It relates how they travelled through Europe and at Naples saw a sign in the hotel advertising the sailing of the new White Star liner Titanic. He said they were unable to make a reservation there so they travelled on to London and got tickets by waiting in the White Star office for a cancellation. They boarded the Titanic in Southampton as second class passengers (ticket number 248738, £29).
"It was a carefree and happy throng that sailed with the Titanic on her first and last voyage... The rhythmic beat of her propellers would, as a matter of fact, not cease until the narrow Atlantic had been crossed. The weather was ideal and the sea was calm. Everyone was having a good time... The table were piled high with all the luxuries and delicacies that one would desire. All were interested in the record speed that we were making. No mention was made of the icebergs."
Caldwell recalled the hymn service held on the Sunday night in the second-class dining led by Ernest Carter. Albert spoke on the subject in "Perils of the Sea."
"How little did that happy group, who with reverent thoughts, were worshiping God, realize that within a few hours the majority of them would meet him,"
Mr and Mrs Caldwell retired to bed at 10 pm but were awakened by the sound of the collision and the sudden cessation of the throbbing engines. Going up on deck a sailor told them about the iceberg but said there was no danger to the ship. The Caldwells returned to bed but were awakened a second time by someone pounding on their doors, yelling "Everyone on deck with your life belts."
Putting on his clothes, Albert was clearly not alarmed as he left his best suit hanging on the wall and several U.S. gold pieces at the bottom of a trunk. Albert and Sylvia then walked up on deck, little Alden wrapped in a blanket. On the deck a great throng of people had gathered. There was no panic, and when the order came to fill the lifeboats, women and children first, passengers were initially reluctant:
"They felt that it was safer to stay on the big ship. She could not sink. Consequently, the first lifeboats left the ship half filled with women and children who were practically forced into them. I did not want to trust the lives of my wife and baby to a tiny life boat and be lowered into the ocean, and we like many others held back."
A stoker coming up from below was in a far better position to tell him the truth: water was gushing into the holds and the Titanic was sinking. Mrs Caldwell got into lifeboat 13, Alden was tossed to Steward Frederick Ray in the stern and Mr Caldwell stepped into the bow as the boat was lowered. From the safety of the boat they watched as the great ship sank:
"At first, she seemed unharmed but, as we looked toward the bow of the ship, we could see that the lower line of portholes extended down into the water. The lights on the Titanic burned until a few minutes before she sank. She tipped, headfirst, lower and lower into the water, until all that we could see was the stern of the boat outlined against the starry sky. She hung as if on a pivot and then, with a gentle swish, disappeared from sight.
"For a moment all was silence and then, across that waste of waters, wafted a sound that will ever ring in my ears, the cries of those perishing in the icy water. They did not drown for they could not withstand the cold water and died, one by one, from exposure."
After their rescue by the Carpathia, the Caldwells settled in Illinois. A second son, Raymond Milton Caldwell, was born on 21 December 1914 1.
In 1930, Albert and Sylvia were divorced. Albert later remarried to Jennie Whit Congleton 2, and they settled in Richmond, Va.
Albert Caldwell died on 10 March 1977. He is buried at Pinewood Memorial Park, Greenville.
Comment and discuss