Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lillian Asplund Leaves Titanic Memories as Its Last Living Survivor

Lillian Asplund was born in southern Sweden. Her father was a laborer who had dreams of moving the family to California so he could build a better future for his family as part of the American dream. He copied what California had to offer his family from a brochure, apparently so he could tell his wife about it. The family planned the move to America. Ms. Asplund's father bought third class tickets for himself, his wife, his four sons and his daughter on the maiden voyage of the state of the art ship, Titanic.

Lillian Asplund never talked about her trip from Sweden to America. She never talked about the night the Titanic sank taking with it her father and three older brothers. She, her mother and her baby brother were the only ones in that family to survive that night. When Ms. Asplund died at age 99 years of age, she was the last survivor of the Titanic who had memories of it. Only one other survivor remains, but he was a baby at the time. After her death, family members found a shoe box in which she had kept her memories from the night that defined the rest of her life. The contents of that shoe box are some of the rarest historical artifacts from the Titanic and are going up for auction soon.

Titanic Artifacts

Among them were notes Mr Asplund had copied from a flyer promoting the benefits of living in California, an American dream that enticed the family to set sail for a new life.

An incredibly rare and water-stained ticket for the luxury liner was also found. Only a handful of Titanic tickets are in existance as most of them sunk with the ship.

The paper documents recovered from his body miraculously survived for 12 days after the disaster because Mr Asplund's lifejacket kept his coat's breast pocket out of the water.

His pocket watch which stopped at 19 minutes past two - the exact time the liner sank - was also found on him. And a heart-rending note written by his grief-stricken mother in which she wrote of how she hoped to see her son again in heaven formed part of the collection.

The stunning archive includes a sad photograph of Lillian, her mother Selma and three-year-old brother Felix, who both survived, at her father's grave in 1912.

Titanic artifacts

Aside from the interest of the rare items from the Titanic, the belongs of Ms. Asplund could be pieced together to give insight into the events that happened that night culminating in the demise of her family.

Carl Asplund, a 40-year-old labourer, bought seven third class tickets for the Titanic's maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.

With him were wife Selma, then aged 38, and five children Filip, 13, Clarence, nine, Carl Edgar, five, Lillian, five, and Felix, three.

When the ship hit an iceberg and started to sink on the night of April 14, the Asplunds made a decision that the family should die together along with the 1,500 who perished.

But, according to an account Selma Asplund later gave, at the last moment Felix and Lillian were thrown into lifeboat 15 by an unknown person. Mr Asplund then pushed his wife forward to go with them.

She was haunted by the memory of the faces of her husband and three sons peering over the rail moments before the ship sank. Her husband's drowned and frozen body was recovered from the Atlantic 12 days later but there was no sign of his three sons.

Found in the pockets of his brown overcoat were his gold watch, two small keys for a safety box on board which stored the family's life savings, and his gold wedding ring.

Also recovered were two pocket books, one of which contained his notes on their new life in California. It is thought he had copied out a flyer designed to entice people to California to show his wife.

Part of it read: "California wants people like you, now is your time to come here. We have green grass and wild flowers at this time of year and all the facilities you can have.

"An ideal home we can offer you we think. Perhaps you don't believe what we are saying about our climate and city. Come and see it with your own eyes."

Other papers on him included a letter dated February 28, 1912, telling Mr Asplund he had as job waiting for him.

His possessions were handed to Mrs Asplund who also kept a cold and heartless letter from White Star Line dated May 11, 1912.

It told her they were giving her late husband's effects back as they were of "small value". Mr Aldridge said: "This letter states that the items were of low value which is ironic considering just how much they are worth now."

Mrs Asplund stored the moving letter written by her mother-in-law, Kristina Samuelsson, 16 months after the tragedy, in the box.

In it she states how much her eyes hurt from where she has been in mourning.

She wrote: "My nerves are so weak and my eyes are so poor because I have been crying so much but I hope that my grieving days soon will have an end and I will join the final rest where God has promised to wipe out the tears from all the faces."

Mrs Asplund died aged 91 on April 15 1964 - 52 years to the day of the disaster. After her death Lillian Asplund put her mother's wedding ring in the box alongside that of her father's gold band.

Felix Asplund died in 1983 aged 73 and Lillian passed away in 2006. The auction takes place on Saturday, April 19.