Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The names behind the numbers in the Titanic disaster & more April 13, 2012

ALL TOO OFTEN following a major disaster, numbers overwhelm, overtake and distance us from the personal loss. It is easy to overlook the individuals—those who lived and those who died—in the sheer immensity of the situation.

Consider the Titanic, which 100 years ago this Sunday, April 15, 1912, sank into the icy depths of the North Atlantic, claiming the lives of nearly 1,500 people. Around 700 survived.

Who are the individuals behind those numbers?

Writers Debbie and Michael Shoulders introduce us to 31 of those Titanic passengers and crew members in their children’s picture book, T is for Titanic: A Titanic Alphabet, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen and published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2011:

Allen, Frederick
Astor, John Jacob
Astor, Madeleine
Bride, Harold
Brown, Margaret Tobin
Browne, Father Francis
Carney, William
Daniels, Robert W.
Dean, Milvina
Fleet, Frederick
Harper, Henry
Hart, Eva
Hartley, Wallace
Hays, Margaret
Hichens, Robert
Ismay, Joseph Bruce
King, Alfred
Lightoller, Charles Herbert
Murdoch, William
Navratil, Michel
Pacey, Reginald
Phillips, Jack
Rothschild, Elizabeth Barrett
Rothschild, Martin
Smith, Captain Edward John
Spedden, Douglas
Straus, Ida
Straus, Isidor
Zimmerman, Leo

It is that personal aspect, the brief telling of individual stories, which humanizes this book targeted for the 6 – 10-year-old age group (although most certainly of interest to any age). That several children are included in the list of 31 is a credit to the authors.

Among the children is 7-year-old Eva Hart, who became fascinated with one of the 10 dogs aboard the Titanic. More than 40 years after the disaster, she found a French bulldog like the one she’d favored on the ship.

The story of Loto and Louis is less joyful. Their father, Michel Navratil, estranged from his wife, boarded the ship with his two young sons. Navratil, who used aliases for himself and his boys, died. His sons survived. Eventually, they were reunited with their mother.

At just nine weeks old, Milvina Dean was the youngest passenger. She died at age 97 as the last Titanic survivor.

Scroll through the list above and you will read the names of the Titanic’s captain, elevator operators, a violinist, a pregnant woman, a publisher, a farmer from Germany and more.

These were real people with hopes and dreams. And it was the dream of one man, Joseph Bruce Ismay, director of White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic, to sail this large luxury liner. He was aboard the Titanic on the fateful voyage. He climbed into one of the last lifeboats and survived.

The authors pack plenty of factual information about the ship, the disaster, the rescue and the aftermath into their book. But the strength of this book lies in the personal stories.

It is the names that touch the soul, stir the heart and cause one to pause and ponder the grief and pain resulting from this unforgettable tragedy.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free review copy of this book. However, that did not influence my decision to write this review or the content of the review.
Book cover image courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press. Click here to read more about T is for Titanic: A Titanic Alphabet.


TWO RESIDENTS of my community, Simon and Karen Zeller of Faribault, are currently aboard the MS Balmoral Titanic Memorial Cruise which left on April 8 from Southhampton, England, with 1,309 passengers. The Balmoral, owned by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, is following the route of the Titanic and will arrive at the site of the disaster on Sunday. Its final destination is New York. Fred Olsen’s parent company, Harland and Wolff, Ltd., built the Titanic. Click here to read an article about the Zellers published in the Faribault Daily News.


JEFF OSBORNE, who works in Faribault and lives in nearby Montgomery, built a radio-controlled model of the Titanic in the late 1990s. The model is made of cardboard but has been waterproofed on the bottom so the replica ship can be placed in water. Read about the Titanic model in the Faribault Daily News by clicking here.