Saturday, October 8, 2005 dawned cold and rainy. Gone were the sunshine and 75-80° temperatures of the previous few days, having been replaced by ominous rain clouds that showed no signs of clearing. Three-plus long years of planning were finally to be realized and Mother Nature was being uncooperative. It was not what I had hoped for that day.
In 1999, several TIS members from the northeastern Ohio/northwestern Pennsylvania area held a “mini-conference” in Unionville, Ohio, giving those of us from this region the chance to share our connections to Titanic. Descendants of those aboard the ship both saved and lost, those whose ancestors had honed machinery for her engines and even some whose links were somewhat more tentative told our stories to the approximately 65 people in attendance. The conference was a huge success (see Voyage 31) and, although we didn’t realize it at the time, from it was born the Great Lakes Titanic Society.
Our core group of 10-20 people met periodically for Titanic-related functions over the next few years – casual dinners, get-togethers to welcome friends from across the pond, trips to see the musical Titanic or artifact exhibits and even a cruise on a tall ship. Late in 2001, we learned that, in spring 2002, “Titanic: The Exhibition” would be coming to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio and we knew we had to do something special.
Since our 1999 conference had been so successful, we began exploring another along those same lines. A committee of eight was chosen to begin the planning and, in January 2002, Mary Ann Whitley, Denise Hunyadi and John Hays met for lunch to begin laying the preliminary groundwork. February 2002, saw the eight of us – John, Denise and Mary Ann, along with Janet White, Dave Shuttle, Christina Malleo, Kim Bradac and me – meet for a further planning meeting at the Unionville Tavern in Ohio, coincidentally, the site of our 1999 conference. We chose June 29-30, 2002, for our conference and began to investigate the myriad of things that are necessary for a successful gathering – subject matter for the conference, speakers, location, menus, exhibition tickets, fund-raising ideas and, most important, what should be done with those funds. “Titanic: From Sinking to Salvage” began to take shape. If, however, we expected to be taken seriously by those invited to attend a two-day conference, it seemed a more cohesive group was necessary; hence, the birth of the Great Lakes Titanic Society, an informal group of Titanic enthusiasts in the Great Lakes area.
With the exhibit held in Cleveland, a separate gallery was conceived by its planners honoring those aboard Titanic who were traveling to Ohio. Janet and Mary Ann shared their years of research with the Science Center and spent long and exhausting hours helping the staff put together that display. Their assistance made that local portion of the exhibit a memorable experience for all that attended. It was only fitting that any money raised through our conference honor those same travelers. Through the generosity of our guests and speakers, more than $700 was raised toward that end. Denise and John continued sales of some beautiful Titanic magnets they had created for the conference and, over the next few years, with those proceeds and a small amount of interest added, our funds ultimately grew to more than $800.
In 2002, the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) was seeking applicants for historical markers in connection with Ohio’s 2003 Bicentennial and we worked toward getting our memorial included in the project. Janet spearheaded the preparation with the help of John, Denise and Mary Ann. After completing numerous forms and applications for both a marker and a grant to match the funds raised by the conference, several copies of a proposal approximately ½” thick were submitted to the OHS in September, 2002. We learned two months later that, although our marker had been approved, the matching grant money had been denied. Having created our marker to meet the requirements of the OHS at an anticipated cost of approximately twice the funds in the conference account, this was a huge setback. Back at square one, we decided to pursue the project on our own.
So many questions confronted us. What type of marker or plaque should we consider? Should it be pole-mounted, similar to those of the OHS, or, perhaps, a boulder would make a better setting. And how big should it be? Of what material should it be made? What wording would we use? Who would actually create the plaque? Where would we get the materials? Where would we place the memorial? Conference and memorial committee co-chair Denise Hunyadi directed the process of answering these and many more questions.
We approached the Great Lakes Science Center with our idea and they generously agreed to give our memorial a home on a beautifully landscaped area next to their building, overlooking the North Coast Harbor of Lake Erie. Andy McDowell, Vice President of Exhibits and Building Operations at the Science Center, worked tirelessly with us, even helping to defray some of the cost of the project.
Early in 2004, after speaking with several bronze casters in and around the Cleveland area and, after a committee vote, we chose All-Craft Wellman Products, Inc. in Willoughby, Ohio to cast our memorial plaque. Still unsure how we wished to mount the memorial, All-Craft suggested that, should we decide on a boulder mount, we should contact Solon Granite Memorial Works, Inc. in Solon, Ohio. We decided, however, that post mounting would be less expensive and, although on a much smaller scale, would be more similar to the OHS markers. Under that assumption and, after hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls, the committee finally decided on the style, size and wording. The best laid plans, as they say…
In spring 2004, Andy McDowell contacted us with the request that, if we still wished to use their site, they would prefer that the memorial be boulder-mounted, rather than post-mounted. So, we switched gears and contacted Solon Granite, but found that they didn’t have a usable boulder. They suggested Van Ness Stone, Inc. in Newbury, Ohio. Finally, at Van Ness Stone in June 2004, John and Denise found a boulder suitable to use with the anticipated plaque.
In August, as we were about to order the plaque from All-Craft Wellman, we received some disheartening news from Van Ness Stone – our boulder had accidentally been sold to another party! Owner, Fred Van Ness, was apologetic, offering to find us a new stone at no cost and deliver it to the Science Center. We quickly agreed. Then, we waited. Fall and winter came and went. Spring 2005, arrived and, still, Van Ness didnít have the required boulder. They sent John and Denise to Lakeside Sand & Gravel in Mantua, Ohio, where they spent an entire day trekking through fields of stones and boulders. Finally, they found a boulder that was perfectly sized and shaped to hold the plaque we had envisioned. We notified All-Craft Wellman and the casting began. Van Ness delivered our boulder to Solon Granite, where the plaque would then be mounted. Six weeks later, in July 2005, All-Craft completed the plaque. John and Denise picked it up and delivered it to Solon Granite, where the mounting was completed in August.
Throughout the planning stages, setbacks were inevitable and, at times, it seemed as if the memorial would never become a reality. Finally, though, everything fell into place and October 8, 2005 at 3:00 p.m. was chosen for the dedication ceremony. On October 4, Van Ness, as promised, delivered the completed memorial to the Great Lakes Science Center.
We were undaunted by the weather that dreary Saturday, even though it precluded the anticipated water salute by the Cleveland Fire Department. The memorial, covered by a tarp, was visible through the large windows at the rear of the Science Center’s lower level, where a podium and chairs were set up. In deference to the rain and gusting winds outside, chrysanthemums, brought by each committee member to surround the boulder, were instead placed on the welcome table. Coffee, soft drinks, cookies and a special cake were set out for a short reception following the dedication.
Andy McDowell opened the ceremony with a short speech, after which conference co-chair Mary Ann Whitley took the microphone. After giving a short history of the memorial project and thanking all those involved in its creation, she recognized from the audience Marjorie Thomas, daughter of Titanic survivor, Thelma Thomas. The Thomas family was bound for Pennsylvania, but Marjorie later settled in Cleveland. Mary Ann then welcomed Cheryl Parker, great-niece of Titanic survivor Mary Davison, to the podium.
Cheryl presented a very moving testimonial, telling how her great-aunt Mary, then 34, and her husband, Thomas Henry “Harry” Davison, 33, were immigrating to the United States a second time. After having lived in Bedford, Ohio, they had returned to their native England in 1907. Mary, however, missed her family back in Ohio and, so, persuaded her husband to return to the United States. She convinced Harry to exchange the tickets he had purchased on another ship for their trip to America so they could sail on Titanic. At her urging, Harry booked third-class passage on the liner’s maiden voyage.
She read to us a note Mary sent to her parents telling of their plans: “Just another line to say we are sailing on the 10th on the Titanic from Southampton, so by the time you get this letter we shall be well on our way.” She recalled her great-aunt remembering the impact of hitting the iceberg knocking the couple out of bed. Harry told his wife to get dressed and they went up on deck, where Mary was urged to get into a lifeboat. “Oh, Harry, I canít go without you,” she said. “You go ahead, Mary, Iíll be right behind you,” he told her. Once in the boat, Mary turned to look for Harry. She saw him take off his lifebelt and give it to a woman who did not have one. She never saw Harry again.
At the conclusion of Cheryl’s talk, we moved outside for the unveiling of the memorial. To our delight, although remaining cold and windy, the rain had, at least temporarily, granted us a reprieve. Together, Cheryl and Marjorie removed the tarp and revealed the memorial to our group of about 25. Mounted on a granite boulder, approximately 3’ X 4’ X 5’, the bronze plaque reads: