Miss Eleanor Ileen Johnson

Eleanor Ileen Johnson

Miss Eleanor Ileen Johnson was born in St Charles, Illinois on 23 August 1910.

She was the daughter of a Swedish father, Oscar Walfrid Theodor Johnson (b. 1882), and a Finnish mother Aliina Vilhelmina Backberg (b. 1884). Her father had come to the USA in 1901 and worked as a journalist, in a bowling alley and as a barman whilst her mother had arrived in the USA around 1905; they were married on 6 April 1907. She had one elder sibling, her brother Harold Theodor (b. 1908).

In the months prior to her birth Eleanor's family appeared on the 1910 census living at 254 Sixth Avenue in St Charles, her father being described as a worker in a bowling alley.

Eleanor, her mother and brother returned to Finland in early 1911 to visit her dying grandfather; he died before the party reached there. With plans to return to America her mother wrote to her father in Illinois, informing him that they would be travelling aboard Titanic and that she expected to be in New York on 18 April.

For the journey her mother was escorting two Swedish girls across the Atlantic; the identity of the pair is debateable as the Chicago Daily Journal (17 April 1912) and Chicago Daily Tribune (18 April 1912) states that they were the sisters of her father. This clearly isn't the case as there are no passengers matching that description it is generally regarded that the two women were Helmina Nilsson and Elin Braf, both from her father's birthplace of Ramkvilla where she also visited with her mother and brother.

On the night of the sinking her mother took she and Harold to the upper decks, accompanied by their two charges. Mrs Johnson and her children are believed to have escaped in one of the aft starboard lifeboats but in which one is not clear (possibly lifeboat 13 or 15); she and Eleanor climbed in, followed by Helmina. Elin Braf, who was holding on to little Harold, remained on deck frozen in fear and would not follow. Alice had to call out for Harold and eventually the young boy was pulled from Elin's arms and pushed into the boat, Elin remaining behind. Although Eleanor was too young to have any memories of the sinking, she would state in later years that she was haunted by a memory of being held in her mother's arms whilst at a great height, surrounded by people and with many hands reaching around her and the sounds of screams. She later attributed this vision to an early-life memory of her time on Titanic.

Eleanor's father received word via telegram that his wife and children were safe and being cared for in St Luke's Hospital in New York and fainted in a dead stupor, overcome with emotion. Not wishing to wait any longer he asked those in his community if he could borrow the money for his fare to New York. Instead on loaning him money, charitable souls raised funds of over $100 for him to travel to New York and return with his family.

Harold and Eileen Johnson

Back in America Eleanor and his family resettled in St Charles and in 1913 she and her brother Harold were gifted with a sibling in 1913, Herbert. Sadly her father Oscar died on 31 October 1917 aged 35 and her mother was remarried in 1918 to Hans Thorvald Amundson (b. 1881), a Norwegian man. The marriage was tragically brief and Amundson died less than a month later on 23 December. However, Eleanor gained a half-brother from this union, Vernon Hans Amundson (b. 1916). Her mother took another husband in 1920, dairy farmer Carl Oscar Peterson (b. 1885) who was a widower, bringing to his second marriage four step-siblings for Eleanor: Clifford, Einar, Hedwig and Esther. Another half-sibling would also come from the marriage, Irene (b. 1925).

The large blended family consisting of nine children settled in Wayne Township in DuPage County, Illinois, appearing there on Smith Road on the 1930 census.

Eleanor later worked in a watch factory in Elgin, Illinois. It was here that she met her future husband, Delbert Earl Shuman (b. 13 September 1909), a native of Elkhart, Indiana and who was of mixed Swiss and German ancestry. The couple were married and made their home on Liberty Street, Elgin, appearing there on the 1940 census. Whilst Delbert still worked in the watch factory, Eleanor was now working as a telephone operator for the Telephone Company and continued in that role until her retirement in 1962. Their only child, Earl Delbert, was born on 6 July 1944.

During the 1950s Eleanor, her mother and brother Harold were guests at screenings for both Titanic (1953) and A Night to Remember (1958). She was also a guest of honour at two screenings for Titanic (1997), experiences she found emotionally draining and she was also the only Titanic survivor that director James Cameron met. She was interviewed for radio, television and newspapers countless times and was called upon to sign endless autographs. She also attended several conventions of the Titanic Historical Society and was aboard a special cruise to the wreck site in the late 1990s.

Image

Eleanor became a widow when her husband Delbert died on 2 September 1981. She lived at her own home in Elgin, Illinois for the remainder of her life before she died in the Sherman Hospital in Elgin on 7 March 1998 aged 87. She is buried at Lakewood Memorial Park, Elgin.

 

Pictures

Eleanor Johnson Shuman
Daily Herald  (1997) 
ELEANOR JOHNSON SHUMAN
Edith (Brown) Haisman with Frank Aks and Eleanor Johnson Shuman
Delaware News Journal  (1987) 
EDITH (BROWN) HAISMAN WITH FRANK AKS AND ELEANOR JOHNSON SHUMAN
The Johnson Family c.1958
(1958) 
THE JOHNSON FAMILY C.1958
Eleanor Johnson Shuman in her Elgin, Illinois home
ELEANOR JOHNSON SHUMAN IN HER ELGIN, ILLINOIS HOME
Eleanor and Harold Johnson after their rescue
ELEANOR AND HAROLD JOHNSON AFTER THEIR RESCUE
Eleanor Ileen Johnson
ELEANOR ILEEN JOHNSON
 

Articles and Stories

Unidentified Newspaper (1998) 
Boston Globe (1998) 
Chicago Sun-Times (1998) 
Chicago American (1959) 
Chicago Daily Tribune (1912) 
New York Times (1912) 
Unidentified Newspaper 
San Diego Union Tribune 
Unidentified Newspaper 
 

Comment and discuss

  1. charles parker said:

    i am a personal friend of earl shuman,son to eleanor shuman. we have researched his mothers accounts in many papers and personal accounts. there seems to be a lot of controversy about which boat she and brother and mother were on. if history is correct,she left on the very last boat to leave titanic and that would have been collapsible D. i also think that i have found photographic evidence that alice,eleanor and theodore were on collapsible D,rather than any other lifeboat.

  2. Caroline Chavez said:

    Hi Everyone, I read on webcenter netscape factmonster com/spot/titanic.html, that a lady named Eleanor Shuman, that was on the actual titanic had to do with something from the acting of Kate Winslet. Was there someone like (Kate Winslet) on the real titanic? I know this might not make sence cause it's hard for me to explain. But try to make it out the best that you can! (lol) THANKS -Caroline

  3. avatar

    Dave Gittins said:

    The statement on the site is unsupported by any documentation. Always mistrust such assertions. Eleanor Shuman was 18 months old at the time of the disaster, so she bore no resemblance to Rose. Eleanor's name at the time was Johnson and her biography is on this site under that name, among the third class passengers. If there was a rebellious first class girl like Rose on board, which I doubt, she would have had to engage in dalliance within her own class. Any hunks in third class were out of reach. The nearest approach might be Miss Phillips, who was having an affair with her boss, Mr... Read full post

  4. avatar

    Fiona Nitschke said:

    Apart from what Dave posted above, Eleanor Shuman (nee Johnson) was travelling in third class. Maybe it's a misunderstanding of the statement that Eleanor Shuman was the only Titanic survivor that James Cameron met? From the San Diego Union Tribune obituary on this site:quote: ...More recently, Mrs. Shuman had acquired photographs showing her and James Cameron, director of the current hit movie, Titanic, at its Chicago premiere in December. As the only Titanic survivor Cameron met, Mrs. Shuman got royal treatment. ... Read full post

  5. Darren Honeycutt said:

    Eleanor Shuman saw the world premier of the Titanic movie in Chicago and met director James Cameron there. She is quoted as saying, "He said I reminded him of Rose, the girl in the movie". Maybe this is where that story came from.

  6. Aron Paxton said:

    After spotting a thread about Mrs. Shuman, I couldn't keep myself from sharing the following tidbit. First, I absolutely agree with Darren's explanation of how Eleanor "inspired" Rose. A while back, I came across a letter that was written by Eleanor Johnson Shuman long after the disaster (the contents are based on what Eleanor's mother told Eleanor when she was growing up). I re-typed the letter and saved it to my computer. What follows is what I typed (copied from a Word document). Mrs. Shuman's original letter (which I have a crude photocopy of) contained some small, superficial... Read full post

  7. avatar

    Kyrila Scully said:

    I had the opportunity to see Douglas Kirkland at a local photography festival in downtown Delray Beach just after the movie's release in '97. He explained that Mrs. Shuman reminded Cameron of the character portrayed by Gloria Stuart, not Kate Winslet. Does that make better sense? All the best, Kyrila

  8. Steve Anderson said:

    I won't comment about "Rose" and the Cameron Titanic Movie. As for if Cameron thought Eleanor J. Shuman was like the Gloria Stuart (Old Rose) character it would seem more likely. At the time of the movie if I remember correctly there were only about three survivors still alive living in the United States. And Eleanor Shuman was the only one from the United States speaking with the press at the time. However, Eleanor Shuman did return to the "Titanic" like the Gloria Stuart (Old Rose) character on a Titanic Salvage Expedition. In 1996 Eleanor J. Shuman, Millvina Dean, Edith... Read full post

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  9. Aron Paxton said:

    Hi Steven! Thanks for posting the picture!

  10. Darren Honeycutt said:

    Melinda Ratchford of North Carolina also took an excellent photograph of Eleanor Shuman on board the ship with the White Star Line flag in the background. It was published in the Charlotte Observer. I will try to get it scanned and posted here. Millvina Dean did not take the cruise to the disaster site. The only survivors that did were Michel Navratil, Eleanor Shuman and Edith Haisley.

  11. Steve Anderson said:

    Here is the second image of Eleanor Boarding the 'Royal Majesty' on August 25, 1996. Darren, you are correct that Mellvina Dean didn't take the cruise to the disaster site. However, she was onboard the 'Royal Majesty' after its return to Boston, MA for the large gathering that originally was to be a celebration for the recovery of the "Big Piece". We all know the story.

    attachment
  12. Andrew Maheux said:

    Very nice photos, thanks for posting them Andrew M.

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Credits

Günter Bäbler, Switzerland
Gavin Bell, UK
Arthur Merchant, USA
Becky Ross, USA
Jon Neville, USA
Leif Snellman, Finland

References and Sources

Claes-Göran Wetterholm (1988, 1996, 1999) Titanic. Prisma, Stockholm. ISBN 91 518 3644 0
Boston Globe Obituary, March 1998
Chicago Sun Times Obituary, March 1998
Chicago Tribune Obituary, March 1998
Newark Star Ledger Obituary, March 1998
Record Herald, April 1912
San Diego Union Tribune Obituary, March 1998
Search archive British and Irish newspapers online

Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2018) Eleanor Ileen Johnson (ref: #909, last updated: 28th September 2018, accessed 8th August 2020 14:27:09 PM)
URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/eleanor-ileen-johnson.html