News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 8, 2012

Sisters break silence about family connection to Titanic

By Wally Kennedy
CNHI News Service

— Sisters Valerie Anewalt and Orian Greene are distinctive descendants of the Titanic. Two family members survived and two died aboard the ocean liner that sank off the coast of Newfoundland 100 years ago.

Clara Hays, their great-grandmother, survived the disaster but her husband, Charles Hays, a railroad executive, did not.

Orian Davidson, their great aunt, also survived but her husband, Thornton Davidson, an investment banker, went down with the ship when it sank into the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.

During a recent visit to the Titanic Museum in Branson, Mo., Anewalt and Greene said only their closest friends knew about their tie to the Titanic as it was something the family did not talk about -- not even with their great aunt who lived to be 96.

That changed when the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interviewed descendants of the Canadian passengers at the Titanic Museum for a documentary on the 100th anniversary of the disaster. Their great-grandparents lived in Montreal at the time of the disaster, though both were Americans.

The sisters said they know from family conversation, and from what they have read, that there was public resentment of first-class passengers who survived on lifeboats.

Greene, 74, of Arlington, Mass., said many survivors lived with "an onus that they should not have survived. But it raises the question in all of us: What would have I done? How would I have handled it?"

Greene said their great-grandfather was "convinced that it would take several hours (for the Titanic to sink) and maybe not sink at all." It took less than three hours.

"How much courage did he have to not get in a lifeboat?" Greene asked. "He thought the ship would survive. That¹s what he told his wife and daughters when they got in the boat in the tradition of women and children first."

Many lifeboats were only partially filled with passengers, many from the first-class deck. The Titanic had only enough lifeboats for one-third of the more than 2,000 passengers.

"The horror of all of those lifeboats that did not have enough people in them," said Greene. "They could have had many more men in them and third-class passengers, too."

She said the Hays' were traveling on the Titanic as guests of J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line. the Titanic's owner.

Greene said that when Clara Hays was asked whether she might sue the White Star Line, she replied, "When one is a guest, one does not sue one's host."

Anewalt, 73, of Philadelphia, said a tour of the Titanic msueum in Branson made her aware of how little she knew about the disaster.

"What I have learned from this museum is the huge tragedy it was for survivors and those who did not survive," she said. "It¹s a little ironic that people are more interested now than at the time."

Anewalt said the family's connection to the Titanic was seldom discussed within the family.

"I don¹t know quite how to explain it, but we really had a silent growing up with regard to this," she said. "It was a family tragedy. They did not bring it up."

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Wally Kennedy is a reporter for the Joplin, Mo., Globe. Contact him at wkennedy@joplinglobe.com