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Rhoda "Rosa" Abbott - Titanic's Woman of Sorrows

Loss ... Perhaps no single survivor of Titanic was to understand the word like Rhoda Abbott. While others lost spouses, parents, children, and friends, the only woman that went into the water and still survived probably wished at times that the frigid North Atlantic had claimed her as well. For the most seriously injured of the disaster's survivors, there would be a lifetime to think about what might have been.

It was in 1893 that former middleweight boxing champion George Stanton Abbott arrived on American soil. He was a 25 year-old Englishman looking forward to making a name for himself in the United States. Rhoda Hunt had been born in Aylesbury, Buckingham, England on January 15, 1873, the daughter of Joseph Hunt, a farm laborer, and his wife Sarah Green Hunt. The two married in England about 1890 and Rhoda followed her husband to America in 1894. They made their home in Providence, Rhode Island and in due course started a family.

Rossmore Edward Abbott would make his debut as firstborn son on February 21, 1896. He would welcome his only sibling, Eugene Joseph (Gene) Abbott, on March 31, 1899. Both boys were born in Providence. For a time the family prospered in Providence and was active in the Salvation Army. But the marriage became shaky after a few years and the couple separated in 1911. Rhoda used her talents as a seamstress to support her young sons but in early 1911 she determined that life would be easier if she returned to her widowed mother in St. Albanshurst, England. She and her sons made the voyage to England on the Olympic.

Once in England, the boys were uncomfortable among strangers and became homesick. They did not adjust to their new home and Rhoda decded to return to Providence. She booked passage to America on the Titanic and the threesome boarded the ship as 3rd Class passengers at Southampton on Wednesday April 10, 1912, Ticket No. CA2673..

In the late hours of April 14, 1912, Rhoda was awakened by the impact with the iceberg. Becoming alarmed she sent Gene to investigate. He returned telling of passengers putting on lifebelts and Rhoda wasted no time getting dressed. She made her way to the after-deck by the time the second boat was lowered and waited with Gene to find a place in a lifeboat. She never found a place in one of the lifeboats although she claimed that a number of men were allowed to escape while she and seven other women stood by until the last.

As the Titanic took her final plunge Mrs Abbott and her two sons jumped from the deck. She surfaced, the boys did not. The two boys were lost. When Rosa had went under a second time, she seemed to have been blown out of the water by the explosion of a boiler, resulting in burns to her thighs. Somehow she scrambled to Collapsible Lifeboat A where she begged the other occupants to pull her in. In an interview given to the Providence Daily Journal, Rhoda described her experience on Collapsible A.

"Soon the raft tilted and all slid off into the water. Many of them managed to get back on it and some did not. I managed somehow to get on it, but I don't know how. Had it not been for Officer Lowe, I would have been drowned. I was nearly exhausted when he lifted me into his lifeboat. It would have been impossible for an officer to show more courtesy and many of the criticisms that have been made against this man are very unjust."

Mrs. Rosa Abbott, was only female survivor pulled out of the water.

When the Titanic sank Eugene Joseph Abbott was 14 years and 15 days old. His body was never recovered .

Rossmore Edward Abbott was 16 years old. His body was recovered (No. 190) - Male, estimated age 22 - very fair. CLOTHING - Brown overcoat; grey pants; green cardigan; blue jersey; black boots. Effects - Watch; chain and fob, with medal marked "Rossmore Abbott"; pocket book empty and two knives. He was was buried at sea on April 24, 1912,

After rescue by the Carpathia, Rhoda remained on a small cot in the smoking room due to the injuries she sustained during her escape from the sinking Titanic. Her legs and feet were badly frostbitten and upon arrival in New York she was hospitalized somewhat longer than most of the other survivors. On May 5 she was described as being critically ill due to shock and fever. But by May 18, things had improved.

From THE WAR CRY, May 18, 1912:

"We found Mrs. Abbott in excellent hands at the New York Hospital on West Sixteenth Street, New York, and she seemed deeply grateful for the considerations shown her by everybody, including our beloved Commander, the remembrance of whose visit she assured us was a very precious one and found embodiment in a beautiful bunch of roses upon the dressing table.

We were glad indeed to find the dear sister rapidly recovering from the physical suffering-which at times has amounted to torture - which she has been called upon to pass through. In fact, she can already sit up a little, and we learned with the greatest pleasure that there is every hope for a complete recovery, without any permanent disability whatever.

This is the more remarkable when we consider what Mrs. Abbott has had to endure. It must be understood that, at the sinking of the ship, she was not fortunate enough to get a place in any of the boats, but was precipitated into the sea in a lifebelt and drifted about. Not knowing how to swim or sustain her balance, she became a playtoy of the waves, floundering around, sometimes turning over in the water, until a raft was reached, to which she managed to cling with icy fingers, with the lower limbs completely submerged in the water, until day broke and the Carpathia hove in sight. The physical agony of being submerged in ice-cold water for five and a half hours, linked to the mental pain caused by the knowledge that her loved ones had already perished, almost paralyzes the imagination. Yet God was merciful, she realizes, in sparing her.

A faint and rather doubtful smile played upon the sufferer's face when she spoke of her youngest boy, who was a constant attendant at the junior meetings at our St. Albans corps in England, and who, she stated, from the moment they were in danger, kept to his knees in prayer that, whatever happened to him and his brother, the mother's life should be preserved. The prayer of the dear lad was answered.

Mrs. Abbott is recovering rather more slowly from the mental shock than from the physical. Her boys were very precious to her. Her hopes were built upon them. Yet, as we tried to speak words of hope and cheer, in the endeavor to get the poor, stricken soul to realize that her boys were now in better care than she could give them, far removed from the temptations that beset young fellows of their age, safely harbored in the Homeland, she gave a tearful assent, and tried courageously to resign herself to the Master's will.

We must continue to pray for her."

Finally returning to Providence, she relied on help from church members and friends to rebuild her life. In the summer she traveled to the western United States in an attempt to relieve her mind from the terrible experience which resulted in the loss of her two sons.

On September 1, 1906, a young blonde silversmith who had been living in Montreal crossed the border into the United States. He made his way directly to Providence, Rhode Island and was to live there sporadically. George Charles Williams was a slight, blue-eyed man with a fair complexion. In Providence he found his old friend Rhoda Abbott and her husband and he was to be a source of comfort to Rhoda when her marriage began to fall apart. When she returned to Providence following the Titanic disaster he was quick to befriend her again. Having been unable to ply his trade as he had planned in Rhode Island, he made several trips to Jacksonville, Florida to investigate job opportunities. Rhoda found the cold of Rhode Island unbearable following her experience in Collapsible A and suffered from ongoing asthma afterwards. She accompanied George Williams on several trips to Florida and found the warmer climate to her liking. It was there that the two were married on December 16, 1912. Letters written to fellow survivor Emily Goldsmith indicate that it may have largely been a marriage of convenience, Rhoda commenting, "I thought it the best I could do." The couple located in Jacksonville permanently after their marriage and George Williams found work as a bookbinder.

Rhoda was nearly 40 at the time of her marriage to George Williams and she was to have no other children. On September 2, 1919 she became a citizen of the United States through her husband's naturalization. In February of the following year George made a trip back to London to deal with the estate of his father. Rhoda, still deathly afraid of the water, opted to remain in Florida. But by 1923 her fear had subsided enough to allow her to accompany her husband on a trip back to England and on to Germany. They returned to the United States aboard the President Arthur on September 23, 1923.

In August of 1928 Rhoda Abbott Williams made her last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean when George needed to return to England to finalize the settlement of his father's estate. Rhoda enjoyed spending time with her sister and niece and seeing old friends. But then disaster struck again. In late 1928 George Williams suffered a severe stroke and was partially paralyzed making a return to Florida impossible for the foreseeable future. The couple found a small flat at 47 Cleveland Road in Barnes, Surrey that was to be their final home.

The next few years saw a quiet and mundane existence for Rhoda and Charles and few would have guessed that the plain woman in their midst was among the most tragic figures in an epic drama. George Williams had developed heart problems and the effects of his earlier stroke lingered for years. Mitral stenosis claimed his life on June 5, 1938. Rhoda made plans to return to Jacksonville and take her husband's ashes there for interment but a declaration of war thwarted her before she could depart England. She continued a solitary existence in her little home throughout the World War II years but by the end of hostilities her own health began to fail. Plagued by hypertension she suffered cardiac failure and died at home on February 18, 1946. All the tragedies of life had passed.

There was to be one more ironic twist in the story of the hapless "Lady of Titanic Sorrows." It might be said that of all those survivors of the Titanic tragedy, Rhoda's desperate fight for life in the frigid North Atlantic most closely paralleled that of Second Officer Lightoller, even to the point of being injured by the blast from a boiler. When on February 23, 1946, the mortal remains of Rhoda Abbott were cremated, her ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance at Mortlake near Richmond, Surrey, England. Just six years later, Charles Herbert Lightoller's ashes would join her on the same bit of grass.

The Spedden Family

Douglas Spedden, born November 19, 1905, was an American boy, the son of Frederic and Daisy Spedden a wealthy New York couple. Frederic was the heir to a banking fortune. Daisy was also rich. Her father made a fortune in shipping. They liked to travel and go on European tours. They took their son Douglas with them everywhere they went. They travelled by ship to Europe and then travelled to lots of places by train. Douglas was then a boy of 7 years.

The Speddens lived in Tuxedo Park New York. In the summer they had a home at Bar Harbour, Maine.

Douglas had a lovely childhood. His parents adored him and showered him with wonderful play things. Douglas had a nanny, Elizabeth Burns. He called her "Muddy Boons".

In September 1911, the Speddens departed America for Europe. Shortly before leaving on their voyage, Douglas' aunt have him a white polar Steiff bear that she had purchased at FAO Schwartz Toy Store in New York City. "Polar" went with Douglas on the trip.

The family were in Paris during March 1912 and at the end of their tour, they left on the Paris-Cherbourg Boat train. They boarded the Titanic. Four days later the Titanic on its Maiden voyage collided with an iceberg. The Spedden family were fortunate to all be rescued.

This famous photo from the Titanic
shows Douglas playing with a top
while his father watches

An hour after Titanic struck the iceberg, the entire party escaped the ship in lifeboat No. 3. Clutching his stuffed bear, Polar, Douglas slept as Titanic went down. By the time he woke, the rising sun illuminated the icebergs around them. "Look at the beautiful North Pole," the boy cried, "with no Santa Claus on it!"

Back home in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., the family tried to put the disaster behind them. "The daily incidents, which once seemed of such importance," Daisy wrote in her diary, "dwindled into mere trivialities." Yet another tragedy awaited.

We know much about Douglas from a book his mother wrote about him in 1913. The book, Polar the Titanic Bear, was a Christmas gift for Douglas. The "narrator" is the cuddly bear that Douglas loved so much. The book tells the story of Douglas and Polar's journey together on the Titanic.

Douglas may have had a tudor when he was younger. But by age 9, he was attending school. His mother, at the end of the "Polar the Titanic Bear" book (in the bear's words) writes, "Master Douglas goes to school now, and I am left alone much of the time. But I always look forward to the warm greeting he gives me on om his return."

Unfortunately Douglas life was so short. On August 6, 1915, only two years after their narrow escape from the Titanic, Douglas was playing football near the faily's Summer house in Maine. He chased after his ball which had gone onto the street. He did not look as he dashed out into the road. He was hit by a car and killed. He was the first road casualty in Maine. The family never recovered from his death.

Daisy and Frederick both died in old age, just a few years apart -- but that's not where their story ends. Several years a go a distant relative discovered the storybook Daisy had written for Douglas in 1913, recounting the Titanic voyage through the eyes of a little boy's toy. Since it was published in 1994, Polar the Titanic Bear has sold 250,000 copies, ensuring that the story of little Douglas Spedden -- like the tale of Titanic itself -- will live on.

Edith Louise Rosenbaum Russell

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 12 June 1879, the fashion writer, consultant, importer, buyer and stylist Edith Louise Rosenbaum began her career abroad as a saleswoman in 1908 for the Maison Cheruit in Paris.

Beginning in 1910, Rosenbaum presided as chief foreign correspondent to "Women's Wear Daily," dispatching weekly fashion marketing reports and seasonal collection news to New York from the publication's Paris branch. By 1912 Rosenbaum was operating a successful buying and consulting service based in Paris and designing her own popular retail line of clothes, called Elrose, for Lord & Taylor in New York.

Apart from her eventful public career, Rosenbaum had a notable private life. In 1911 she was seriously injured in an automobile accident in France while en route with friends to attend the races at Deauville. The crash proved fatal for her fiance Ludwig Loewe, a wealthy German gun manufacturer.

The following year, she was a survivor of the Titanic disaster, achieving a measure of notoriety owing to the news of her escape in a lifeboat with a musical toy pig.

occupied cabin A-11 on the Promenade Deck (just forward of the first smokestack) and was able to afford an additional first class cabin (E-63, behind the third smoke stack) solely for storage of the clothing she was bringing home from Paris.

When undressing for bed Sunday night, Edith felt a slight jar followed by a much stronger second impact. As she was on the starboard side, she could see the iceberg glide by her window.

She had her stewart retrieve one treasured possession from her stateroom ... "Maxixe." Maxixe, the pig, is white-gray colored and has a curly tail. He also has a cute grin, and his eyes are closed as though he's thinking happy thoughts. When his tail is wound up, the little pig sings the maxixe, the name for a dance. The Titanic pig is a music box.

There's a lot of confusion as women and children are loaded into lifeboats. Miss Edith refuses to get into a lifeboat until the other women and children are in the boats first. But, someone mistakes Maxixe for a baby, grabs the wrapped up pig and tries to save the baby by throwing it into a lifeboat. Miss Edith jumps in after Maxixe.

Miss Rosenbaum spent the freezing night in Lifeboat 11, keeping the spirits of the children up by entertaining them with her musical good luck charm -La Maxixe. The children in the lifeboat are cold and frightened. Miss Edith unwraps Maxixe and winds up his tail. It cheers up the children until they're rescued. Maxixe is a hero.

Edith with Maxixe shortly after her rescue from Titanic

Her adventures during the next several years included dancing with Mussolini at a dinner party and breeding dogs for Maurice Chevalier. She also made life-long friends with the young British actor Peter Lawford and his parents and spent much time with them at their home in Palm Beach. She was later a godmother to Lawford's children with the former Patricia Kennedy.

In 1953 Edith Russell was invited by Twentieth Century Fox Studios to attend the New York premiere of the film Titanic, starring Barbara Stanwyk, Clifton Webb, and Robert Wagner. She was interviewed by Life magazine during her stay in America and also met with historian Walter Lord who included her story in his best-selling book A Night to Remember, published in 1956.

Russell afterwards served as a technical advisor to producer William MacQuitty on his 1958 film adaptation of Lord's book. She was portrayed in the movie as well and attended the premiere as MacQuitty's guest of honor.

She made the rounds of the press during the latter 1950s and throughout the 60s, telling her account of the Titanic sinking in numerous interviews in newspapers and magazines and on television and radio. The majority of her TV and radio appearances were with the BBC. She generally brought along her legendary musical pig which she played for audiences. She was made an honorary member of the Titanic Historical Society in 1963.

Despite her advanced age and physical frailty, Russell remained active and outspoken in her last years. She attended fund-raisers, gave luncheons and teas for visiting friends, tried unsuccessfully to interest publishers in her memoirs, and continued to be interviewed by reporters about the Titanic.

Edith Russell died on April 4, 1975, at the Mary Abbott Hospital in London, following a ten day illness. She was 98. She left only a couple of scattered cousins as survivors.

Maxixe the pig became the subject of a children's book, "Pig on the Titanic" (written by Gary Crew).

Edith Russell shares her Titanic experiences below ...

Eva Miriam Hart

Seven year old Eva Hart immigrating to Canada with her parents as 2nd class passengers on the Titanic.

Her father, 43 year old Benjamin Hart, was a builder who had decided to start a new life with his family in Winnipeg, Canada and join a friend in a construction company there. The Hart's had been scheduled to sail on the 'Philadelphia' but their plans were changed due to the coal strike. They were transferred instead to the Titanic.

Seven year old Eva was woke up by her father in the middle of the night. He carried her outside in a blanket and told her, "Hold Mummy's hand and be a good girl." It was the last thing he ever said to her, and she never saw him again.

Eva and her mother survived (Lifeboat #14), but her father did not survive the sinking. Eva Hart never forgot what she had seen and heard that night.

After the disaster, she had nightmares for years. She solved the nightmares by going back to sea and locking herself in a cabin for four days.

She later became a magistrate in England and gave a number of interviews on the subject of the Titanic. She is famous for the line: "

If a ship is torpedoed, that's war. If it strikes a rock in a storm, that's nature. But just to die because there weren't enough lifeboats, that's ridiculous."

She vividly remembered the screams of the drowning people in the water as the ship sank. She swore that she heard the band play 'Nearer My God to Thee', despite conflicting evidence that the band may have played upbeat ragtime tunes almost until the sinking.

Even during Mrs. Hart's last years, her memory remained vivid and chilling.

"I saw that ship sink," she said in a 1993 interview. "I never closed my eyes. I didn't sleep at all. I saw it, I heard it, and nobody could possibly forget it."

"The panic seemed to me to start after the boats had gone, we could hear it, but when we were in the boat rowing away, then we could hear the panic, of people rushing about on the deck and screaming and looking for lifeboats. I could only tell you I was terrified! It's quite impossible to use another word for it, I was absolutely terrified as anyone would be. Oh it was dreadful. The bow went down first and the stern stuck up in the ocean for what seemed to me like almost like a long time, of course it wasn't, but it stood out stark against the sky and then heeled over and went down. And you could hear the people screaming and thrashing about in the water and finally the ghastly noise of the people thrashing about and screaming and drowning, that finally ceased. I remember saying to my Mother once how dreadful that noise was and I always remember her reply. She said, yes, but think back about the silence that followed it, because all of a sudden it wasn't there - the ship wasn't there, the lights weren't there and the cries weren't there."

"When the dawn came up and we were being picked up by the Carpathia, I wasn't in the same lifeboat with her. I spent the rest of the night screaming for her, and I found her of course, on the Carpathia. She was looking for me and I was looking for her. That must have been quite dreadful for people, like my Mother, who would look round to see if my Father had, by any chance made it."

She recalled that the children were pulled up onto the Carpathia in a mailbag. "Because the children couldn't climb up rope ladders, we were each one of us, put in a mail sack and that was terrifying swinging about over the ocean."

When salvage of the wreck began in 1987, Eva Hart was an outspoken critic of any salvage attempts of what she considered a gravesite.

She held several jobs, becoming a professional singer in Australia, working as a Conservative Party organizer and serving as a magistrate in England. She described her life in a 1994 autobiography, "In the Shadow of the Titanic."

On April 15th, 1995 - the 83rd anniversary of the disaster, the Titanic survivors Eva Hart and Edith Brown (Haisman), another Second-Class passenger, dedicated a memorial garden plaque in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum, London. It consists of plants in rememberance: roses, purple sage, rosemay and Irish golden yew. The stone is carved Cornish granite similar to that used in ships ballasts. The marker is an engraved bronze plaque which duplicates the typeface used for Titanic's name on her hull. The text on the marker reads:

ON 15TH APRIL, 1912
April 15, 1995

Eva Hart, the last survivor with memories of Titanic, died on February 15th, 1996 in a London hospital. Having never married, she left no immediate family.

Bertram & Millvina Dean

Master Bertram Bert Vere Dean, 1-3/4, was born in London on May 21, 1910, the son of Bertram Frank Dean and Eva Georgette Light. He was the elder brother to Millvina Dean.

In 1912 his parents decided to immigrate to Wichita, Kansas, where they hoped to open a tobacconist shop. They boarded the Titanic at Southampton as third class passengers.

It was a freezing night in 1912 when Millvina Dean last saw her father on the deck of the doomed Titanic liner.

Bertram Dean kissed his nine-week-old daughter on the cheek and wrapped her in a sack to keep her warm, ready to be lowered to safety.

"I'll follow in another lifeboat," he cried to wife Georgette, as she cradled Millvina and her two-year-old brother, also called Bertram.

Mr Dean had purchased his family's passage on the maiden voyage of the White Star line flagship. He hoped to sail them from Southampton to a new life in America, only squeezing on at the last minute after transferring tickets from another ship.

But Mr Dean's dream ended in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the night of April 14th, when he woke to the sound of an iceberg ripping a hole in the hull.

His body was never found.

Bertram, his mother and sister survived the sinking. They reached New York and were quartered in hospital for a time before returning to England aboard the Adriatic.

In his later years Bertram was educated at King Edward's school in Southampton, paid for by compensation from the various Titanic relief funds. He went on to work at Husband's Shipyard in Southampton where he met George Beauchamp who, he learned, may have been in the same lifeboat as he. The two became good friends.

Bert Dean was married to Dorothy Sinclair, who had her own Titanic-credentials: her father had purchased the music shop in Southampton previously owned by Titanic victim Henry Price Hodges. Bert was very fervent about Titanic-related activities: he granted many interviews, guested at several conventions, was a frequent visitor to the Southampton City Heritage's offices during the 1980s; he was secretary for 25 years for the Anchor Darts Club at the Royal Oak pub in Woodlands.

Bertram Vere Dean died April 14, 1992 (the disaster's anniversary), aged 81. His widow Dorothy still lives in Southampton. His mother, Georgette (later remarried), had died in England on September 16, 1975.

Now aged 96, his sister Millvina Elizabeth Gladys Millvina Dean (born February 2, 1912) is the last person alive who made it off the ocean liner. She possesses no recollection of the sinking

Ms Dean, from Woodlands in Southampton, has relived the disaster that claimed her father's life and more than 1,500 others at a new exhibition. The pensioner saw some 200 relics salvaged from the ship, including its huge bell and a three-ton chunk of its hull, at London's Science Museum.

She said: "I think it is fantastic and very, very interesting. Children still ask me all the time about the Titanic. I think it has become a piece of history, particularly because people said it was unsinkable and it was so luxurious. It is still a romantic enigma after all these years, but I still love the sea."


Enjoy this fascinating video that I found on YouTube, posted by someone who actually met Millvina Dean ...