Norman Campbell Chambers was born on 27 April 1884 in Olean, Cattaraugus County, New York, son of James Campbell Chambers and Jeannette Hargleroad. Norman’s father was a United States Counsel and was stationed overseas. As a child, Norman returned with his parents and siblings Stockton and Edwin aboard the S.S. Normania, which sailed from Southampton and arrived in New York City on 27 June 1891. On 18 February 1892, Norman lived with his parents and siblings Stocton (born in Germany) and Edward (born in Russia) in Olean. His father was working as a counsel. The family apparently returned to Europe and Norman and his mother Janette arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Etruria on 1 August 1896.
In June 1899, Norman applied for a US passport while living in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he was a student. He was reported to be 5 ft 8 ½ inches tall, had a high forehead, grayish-brown eyes, straight-medium nose, medium mouth, rather sharp chin, reddish-brown hair, fair complexion, and a rather long face. He returned to the United States on 25 September 1904 aboard the S.S. Umbria after an eight-day-long voyage from Liverpool. He was listed as being a servant.
Norman was married 12 March 1906 in Ithaca, New York to Bertha M. Griggs. Bertha was born on 10 October 1879 (she would later report she was born in 1882 or 1883 on her passport applications, probably embarrassed that she was older than her husband) in Friendship, Alleghany County, New York, daughter of Ira D. Griggs and Elma Call. As an adult, she was reported to be 5 ft 9 inches tall, had a high forehead, brown eyes, straight nose, medium mouth, round chin, reddish-brown hair, a fair complexion, and an oval face. On 5 June 1880, Bertha was listed with her parents in Lyndon, Cattaragus County, New York. Her father worked as a printer. On 16 February 1892, Bertha and her widowed mother lived in Ithaca. On 1 June 1900, Bertha and her mother Elma lived at 109 Seneca Street in Ithaca. Her mother worked as a physician while she was attending school. On 1 June 1905, Bertha lived with her mother and a female servant at 109 E. Seneca Street in Ithaca. Her mother was working as a physician.
Norman and Bertha boarded the Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912, occupying Cabin E8. A newspaper story, widely published soon after the Carpathia arrived in New York City, stated “N. C. Chambers said that the Titanic struck the iceberg head-on. The passengers ran out, but being assured by the officers that the ship could not sink went back to their staterooms. After about two hours the alarm was sent out and the passengers started to enter the lifeboats. Mr. Chambers said that there was nothing like a panic at first, as all believed that there were plenty of lifeboats to go around” The couple was rescued in Boat 5.
Norman testified on the 13th day of the United States Senate Inquiry. He reported that he was a mechanical engineer residing at 111 Broadway in New York City. During the voyage he had gone to the swimming pool in the mornings. His testimony indicates he was in bed at the time of the collision and the he “noticed no very great shock.” Bertha asked him “to investigate what had happened, leaving her dressing. I threw on sufficient clothes, including my overcoat.” He went up to A deck and looked over the starboard side, but could see nothing. He went back down below and rejoined his wife and they went out to investigate again, noting that there was a list to starboard. He returned to the stateroom to finish dressing and at the end of the passage to saw the mail clerks, wet to their knees, and when he looked into the trunk room, could see that filled with water, within 18 or 24 inches of the deck above. He joked with the men about their baggage being completely soaked, “I personally felt no sense of danger, as this water was forward of the bulkhead.” Three officers came down and reported that the ship was not taking any more water. Norman and Bertha returned to their stateroom and their steward came by and told them they could go back to bed. He finished dressing and Bertha went out. She “came rushing back to me, saying that she had seen another passenger who informed her that the call had been given out for lifebelts and on the boat deck.” He went out and found their steward, who verified the order.
Norman put necessities into his overcoat pocket, including a small pocket compass and an automatic pistol. Bertha had already gone ahead carrying a lifebelt. They made their way upward, noting that people were not alarmed. They found the deck steward who gave them two steamer rugs. They went to the starboard side of the boat deck and Bertha took a drink from his flask, he filled his pipe, and then put on his lifebelt at Bertha’s urging, she having been alarmed since the collision. They wandered forward and Bertha climbed into Boat 5 and called for him to join her. He testified that he did not think it was safe, but jumped in, followed by two other men. The boat was lowered down and had difficulty releasing the ropes from the falls.
Norman applied for a passport in June 1914, reporting that he was a mechanical engineer who lived at 111 Broadway in New York City. Bertha applied for a passport in October 1914. At the time the couple lived at 109 E. Seneca Street in Ithaca, New York. The couple lived in Petrograd, Russia from December 1914 to January 1916. They returned home aboard the S.S. Bergensfjord, which left Bergen, Norway on 2 February 1916 and arrived in New York City on 14 February 1916.
The couple lived at 111 Broadway in New York City, with Norman working as a mechanical engineer, in August 1916 when they applied for passports to travel to London, England for business with the Niles-Bement-Pond Company; traveling on to Petrograd and Moscow, Russia; Norway, and Sweden. They planned to board the S. S. Bergensfjord on 5 August 1916. They lived in Petrograd Russia from August 1916 to April 1917. The couple returned to the United States, sailing aboard the S.S. Vondel on 8 May 1917 from Batavia, arriving in San Francisco on 15 January 1917.
The Niles-Bement-Pond Company operated seven plants and employed over 7,000 people. Among the work they conducted was shipbuilding. It was known as the world’s biggest machine tool business.
On 12 September 1918, Norman registered for the draft. He reported that he was living at 236 East 70th Street in New York City with his wife Bertha. He worked as a mechanical engineer for the Niles-Bement-Pond Company. He reported that he was tall, medium height, had hazel eyes, and light brown hair.
Another passport was applied for in August 1919. The couple’s home address was still listed as 111 Broadway in New York City. They were planning on going to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, leaving aboard the S. S. Vestris on 25 August 1919.
On 2 January 1920, the couple was listed with Bertha’s mother Elma C. Griggs at 109 E. Seneca Street in Ithaca, Tompkins County, New York. Norman was a mechanical engineer at a machine tool shop. His mother-in-law was still working as a medical physician. On 21 January 1920, the couple rented a room at 236 W. 70th Street in New York City. Norman was working as a “special” engineer.
Norman sailed from Rio de Janeiro on 20 March 1920, arriving in New York City on 18 April 1920 aboard the Francis.
Norman and Bertha sailed on the S.S. Orizaba from Havana, Cuba on 8 September 1923, arriving in New York City on 11 September 1923. One wonders if they traveled to Cuba to enjoy the alcoholic beverages banned in the United States during Prohibition. The couple sailed on the S.S. Siboney from Havana, Cuba on 5 September 1925, arriving in New York City on 8 September 1925.
Norman and Bertha sailed on the S.S. Rotterdam on 11 September 1929 from Rotterdam, arriving in New York City on 21 September 1929. The couple was in Moscow, Russia on 30 December 1937, when they applied for a passport, and sailed from Hamburg, Germany on 2 February 1938 aboard the S.S. President Harding, arriving in New York City on 12 February 1938.
The couple sailed from Lisbon, Portugal on 31 May 1941 aboard the S.S. Excambion, arriving in New York City on 9 June 1941. They reported their address in New York as 6 E. 44th Street. Portugal was neutral during World War II and it seems likely the couple had realized that the United States would soon be entering the conflict and decided to return home.
Norman registered for the World War II draft while living at the Hotel Weylin at 40 E. 54th Street in New York City. He worked at the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company.
Norman and Bertha at The Stork Club in the 1950s
(Courtesy of Phillip Gowan, USA)
Bertha died on 18 October 1959 and may be buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhala, Westchester County, New York.
Norman was married second to Isabel M. (Finegan) Cosgrove. Isabel was born 2 January 1909 in New York City, New York, daughter of William Henry Finegan and Margaret Albertine Tuthill. She had been previously married in 1930 to Dennis Theodore Cosgrove and they had divorced. Norman and Isabel lived at 45 Sutton Place South in New York City.
In the winter of 1966 they were on vacation at the Hotel Estoril-Sol in Cascais, Portugal. Norman died there on 9 February 1966 following a cerebral thrombosis. His body was shipped back to the United States aboard PAA Flight 155 on 13 February 1966 to be sent for burial at the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York.
Isabel died on 3 January 1999 in New York City.