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Iowan On Sinking Titanic Said to Wife: 'I Must Stay and Be a Gentleman'

Marion resident David Wendell has done an incredible amount of research to catalogue the lives of Iowans on the Titanic, celebrating the 100th anniversary of its sinking.

The following was composed entirely by David Wendell, a Marion resident and human history book. He is behind a new exhibit at The Carl and Mary Koehler History Center in Cedar Rapids, commemmorating the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's voyage and its connection to Iowa. It's so long we decided to leave some out, but so interesting we'll be posting the rest tomorrow.

 As a Marion resident, I have assembled another exhibition, this time commemorating the Iowa connections to the 100th anniversary of the voyage of Titanic.  

Titanic was the largest man made object ever built at the time of its maiden voyage which began April 10, 1912.  She was designed to carry more than 3,000 people and upon her departure from Southampton England at noon 100 years ago tomorrow last Tuesday. 

On the night of April 14, alerts arrived to Titanic by Marconi radio, warning of ice in the North Atlantic approximately 400 miles east of Nova Scotia. Captain E. J. Smith, a forty year veteran of the White Star Line, had retired for the evening, leaving 1st Officer Murdoch in charge. 

At about 11:35, an iceberg was spotted by lookout Frederick Fleet. Murdoch ordered the engines reversed and a hard turn to port (to the left). It was no use.  Charging ahead at 22 knots, the ship required more than a half mile to come to a stop, and grazed the ice slowly along its starboard (right) side. The ship of dreams had been designed so that five of its watertight compartments could be filled with water without sinking.  Unfortunately, rivets had popped along six of the compartments, allowing tons of water to rush into the bowels of Titanic.  She, and 1,503 people, had only three hours left to live.

 Q: What got you interested in Titanic?  

  A: I've always been fascinated by Titanic ever since I first learned of it as a child and read every book I could find about it. It started as a ship, but became 2,207 people and their families for me.

  Q: Were there Iowans on board Titanic among the 2,207 people?

  A:  Yes, there were 17 people from Iowa or who listed Iowa as their final destination when they boarded the ship. The majority of them were immigrants traveling in the bowels of the ship as 3rd Class. These immigrants were known as "steerage" because in the eyes of the company executives and ship's officers, they provided weight low in the vessel which allowed the ship to steer or maneuver better.

  Q: Did any of the 17 survive?

  A:  Of the 17, only 2 survived the shipwreck. One was Mahala Douglas, wife of Cedar Rapids businessman, Walter Douglas. Walter and his brother, George, had been executives of Quaker Oats and founded Douglas Starch Works, today's Penford Products. Walter and Mahala had been in France to find furniture for theri new house in Minneapolis. They were returning home on Titanic. Mahala survived on lifeboat #2 and Walter went down with the ship telling his wife, "I must stay and be a gentleman." His body was found several days later by crew of the recovery ship Mackay Bennett. The remains were well preserved by the cold waters and Walter was laid to resting peace at the family mausoleum in Oak Hill Cemetery on Mt. Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids.

  Q: Who was the other survivor?

  A:  The only other Iowa survivor was Gunnar Tenglin, a Swedish immigrant who had settled in Burlington and had returned to Sweden to be re-united with his sweetheart who he had left behind when he came to Iowa a few years before.  They were married and he was returning to Burlington to earn enough cash so that he could send for her to join him in Iowa later that year.  By the way, one of the victims from our area was Bertha Lehmann of Central City. She was returning to family in Iowa and traveling 2nd Class. Her father, in Sweden, saw her off to the ship and told her, "I suppose I won't see you again, I have a feeling something bad is going to happen." He was right, the family never saw her after that ominous good-bye.

   Q:  You mentioned autographed items, do you have other Titanic memorabilia and will it be on display?

  A:  A portion of my extensive Titanic collection will be on display at the History Center on 1st Avenue in Cedar Rapids starting April 14, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship, and will run through July 14th this summer. In the exhbit, you will see a massive four foot long model of Titanic, examples of plates, cups, and saucers from 1st and 3rd Class Dining Rooms, and a section of coal from 12, 500 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic. The coal has been mounted so that the public may touch this precious relic of history. The exhibition also includes many autographs such as those of the last surviving male passenger from the U.K. and the last surviving female passenger. Signatures of James Cameron, Celine Dion, and other contemporary Titanic figures are also on display as well.

  Q:  Will ther be a formal Exhibit Opening Ceremony?

  A:  The exhibit Grand Opening will be 10:00a.m. on Saturday April 14 in the History Center at 615 1st Avenue S.E. in Cedar Rapids.  Admission is free.

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