A newlywed couple from England. A working-class, widowed mother of five. A banker and livestock investor. A Swedish laborer.
When the RMS Titanic sank into frigid North Atlantic waters in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, it was carrying 10 passengers bound for Spokane or nearby settlements in Eastern Washington.
Aside from their destination, they had only one thing in common: All of them, women and children, died when the ship went down.
Some of the passengers’ stories were first publicized in 2009, when a memorial was installed at Fairmount Memorial Park. It sits next to the grave of William Rice, a Hillyard railroad worker who died two years before the Titanic set sail. Yet his life, and death, provide a link among three groups of passengers on board.
From Ireland to Spokane
The ongoing Titanic artifact exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture has spurred a renewed interest in their stories from the region’s historians. Logan Camporeale, a historian at the museum, said he was struck seeing how well-off and working-class people alike traveled back and forth between Europe and Spokane.
“These people were mobile across continents in the nineteen-teens,” Camporeale said.
Rice came to North America from Ireland with his wife, Margaret, around 1899, according to an account of the family written by Doris Woodward.
Woodward studied journalism at Michigan State University and had channeled her love of research and writing into the Westerners, according to a historical society with chapters around the U.S. that seeks to document and preserve evidence of the Old West.
Many items in her chronology remain unknown, including William Rice’s exact date of birth and the family’s movements around Canada. She was able to find proof he worked as a shipping clerk on the Grand Trunk Railway in Montreal shortly after the family’s arrival.
“There are question marks I haven’t been able to find. It’s tantalizing!” Woodward said.
From there, they moved around Canada, and Margaret gave birth to four sons, at least one in Montreal and one in Toronto. At some point, they came to Spokane, likely for Rice to work on the railroad.
The couple are listed in the 1907 and 1909 Spokane city directories as living at 304 E. 5th Ave. But their youngest son, Francis, was born in October of that year at E. 1417 38th Ave., part of the new Manito Heights.
William Rice’s occupation was listed as a painter in 1907 and a driver in 1909.
A journey cut short
By 1910, the family had moved to Hillyard, according to the directory, where Rice worked as switch operator for the Great Northern Railway. His life came to a tragic end on Jan. 24 when another car hit the train car he was working under, crushing him.
Railway accidents were common at the time. A Spokesman-Review index from 1910 has five oversized pages listing railroad accidents in the region that year, many of them fatal.
The 1910 census records five Rice children, all boys: Albert, 8; George, 6; Eric, 4; Arthur, 2; and Eugene, 5 months. The boys’ place of birth is given as Washington, but Duane Broyles, former president of the Fairmount Memorial Association who worked on the monument, said that was unlikely, because other records show the family living in Canada at the time.
“There’s a lot of people who wanted their children to be U.S. citizens,” he said.
Rice was in his early 30s when he died at Sacred Heart Medical Center. By the birth date given on his tombstone, he would have been 32, but his death certificate lists his age as 34.
He was buried in a pauper’s grave at Fairmount, and that’s where the Titanic links began.
Interwoven lines meet
Fairmount had three workers at the time, Broyles said. Among them was John Chapman, a recent immigrant from England.
Broyles doesn’t know for sure that Chapman dug Rice’s grave. But with only three men on the job, it’s likely all of them worked on every grave in the cemetery.
Soon after, Margaret Rice came into some money. Woodward was never able to find the source in legal records, though she believes it was a settlement from the railroad company for her husband’s death.
The young widow bought the house on 38th Avenue where her youngest son had been born, and paid for Rice to be reburied with a carved headstone that still sits in the cemetery. Chapman likely would have done the reburial as well.
That April, Margaret Rice took her children back to her hometown of Athlone, Ireland. In 1912, she decided to return to the U.S., likely because of the property she owned.
She booked the family third-class passage on the Titanic.
Chapman, meanwhile, had returned to England to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elizabeth Lawry, on Boxing Day 1911. They planned to return to the U.S., and booked second-class tickets aboard the Titanic as a belated honeymoon.
Another man on board was also connected to William Rice, though not to Spokane: Charles Hays, the president of the Grand Trunk Railway, for which Rice had worked in Canada, was also aboard as a personal guest of J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line.
Others lost to the water
That bit of serendipity is what fascinates Broyles about history.
“All of these people are interconnected because of this man here,” he said, gesturing to Rice’s grave, “and if they walked past each other, they’d never recognize each other.”
Not every Eastern Washingtonian on board had a link to the Rices. The wealthiest passenger from the region, John Bertram Brady, was a Puget Sound-born banker who moved to Pomeroy with his parents in 1879. He took over his father’s store, but sold his stake after he was elected vice president of Pomeroy Savings Bank in 1903.
Brady traveled frequently in Europe, and over years, corresponded with Bertha Houser, a Pomeroy woman. According to a photo caption from the Washington Rural Heritage collection of the Washington State Library, Brady was headed back to Pomeroy to ask for her hand in marriage. Few men in that era were still bachelors at 32.
The collection has preserved a number of photos of Brady and Houser, as well as his letters back to Pomeroy from his travels.
His first-class ticket didn’t save him. His death was confirmed in Pomeroy after friends received reports that he was not among the survivors rescued by the RMS Carpathia.
“That Mr. Brady kept the pleasure of his friends in mind is evidenced by the shower of cards and letters he sent back from every country he visited,” his obituary said.
A Swedish laborer, Johan Svensson Lundahl, also listed his destination as Spokane, though city records about him are scarce. An 1899 Spokane marriage record lists 37-year-old John Lundall, a common Anglicization of the Swedish name, marrying one Christina Svensson. That would match Lundahl’s age at the time of his death on the ship, 51.
As the ship went down
When the Titanic hit the iceberg and began sinking, a fellow passenger reported seeing Rice sitting, holding her youngest son as the other boys clustered around her.
The mortality rate on the ship was highest for third-class passengers.
Though the scenes in “Titanic” showing immigrants locked below decks have no historical evidence supporting them, no lifeboats were stored in third class, and passengers had to navigate a greater and more winding path to the decks where they could have been saved.
“Most of the third-class people never had a chance,” Broyles said.
Lizzie Chapman made it onto a lifeboat, but then got off after they refused to let her husband on. The two died together, inspiring a similar scene in the 1958 movie “A Night to Remember.”
“They were unlikely the only couple that did that,” Camporeale said.
Chapman had a pocket watch that’s believed to have stopped when his body hit the water at 1:45 a.m. It now sits in a museum in England, Broyles said.
Rice’s body was recovered and buried in a cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many of the passengers pulled from the water ended up. Chapman, too, was found, but his bride never was.
Editor’s note: This article was amended Sunday, April 15 to correct a note in Doris Woodward’s biography. Woodward attended Michigan State University.