At the August 10, 2015, meeting of the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Mary Ann Whitley entertained the gathering with the story of several Finns associated with northeast Ohio who had been on the Titanic when the ship hit an iceberg and went down into the cold Atlantic waters. What was thought at first to be just a brush with the iceberg happened at 11:40 p.m. the night of Sunday, April 14, 1912. Just over two and a half hours later, at 2:20 a.m. in the early morning of April 15, 1912, the ship disappeared beneath the waves.
The Titanic was supposedly unsinkable, the newest and best ship ever built. It was her maiden voyage, beginning April 10, 1912. She left Southampton on her way across the Atlantic to New York, with 2,230 people on board, including her crew. Only 713 survived the disaster. Fifty-five people on the ship were traveling to Ohio; twenty-seven made it. Some of these passengers were Finnish. These are their stories excerpted from Ohio Tales of the Titanic by Janet A. White and Mary Ann Whitley.
Anna Turja (on left) was just 18 years old when she left Finland for Ashtabula, Ohio. She planned to live with her half-sister Maria and Maria’s husband, John Lundi. John had bought a $50, third-class ticket on the Titanic for Anna. The ship’s shuddering when it hit the iceberg woke the teen, who managed to get topside and into a lifeboat. She was one of only a few third-class passengers who survived. After making it all the way to Ashtabula, Anna married Emil Lundi, John’s brother, and had seven children. She was 89 years old when she died in 1982. Her gravestone in Edgewood Cemetery, Ashtabula, identifies her as a Titanic survivor.
Eric Gustav Collander, 27, (pictured below) was traveling second-class from his home in Helsinki to Ashtabula. Eric had been born in Mikkeli, Finland to Dr. Paul J. and Augusta Collander. He had completed his studies at Polytechnic Institute and Technical School in Zurich. In 1912, he was working in Helsinki as a technical director at a wood pulp mill when he decided to go to America to continue his education and visit his cousin, Dr. Paul J. Collander, in Ashtabula. Eric never made it, and his body was never found. Dr. Collander, a well-known physician at Ashtabula General Hospital, and his wife Helmi, an accomplished artist, received a cable confirming the sinking of the Titanic.
Elin and Pekka Hakkarainen (below left) had emigrated to America a few years before, but met and married when each traveled back to Finland in 1911. They decided to make the maiden voyage of the Titanic their honeymoon trip, returning to the United States to settle in Monessen, Pennsylvania. On April 14, the newlyweds danced the night away, then retired to their third-class cabin. Almost immediately they felt the ship turn and heard a scraping sound. Pekka went to see what had happened; Elin, who was exhausted, fell asleep. She never saw her husband again. Soon a Finnish friend came to tell Elin that the ship was sinking. Elin put a lifejacket over her nightgown, grabbed her purse, which held her wedding picture, and left the cabin. Every exit she tried was locked, but a ship’s steward, J.E. Hart saw her, and led her with other women and children by a different way to the upper deck. Elin was not able to find Pekka, and was finally put into Lifeboat 15.
When the lifeboat was a safe distance away, they stopped and looked back. Elin, in an interview with the Warren, Ohio, Tribune in 1937, said "The scene I now witnessed was forever etched in my memory. As the stern of the ship rose higher and higher, everything within the ship came crashing down. The screaming and moaning of the trapped passengers was beyond description. After the ship went under, I realized that my husband was out there somewhere. I stood up looking at the struggling people in the water. I called, ‘Pekka, Pekka, I am here, come this way, please come this way.’ My calls were in vain, for I felt sure he was trapped within the passageway in the ship.”
The ship Carpathia rescued the survivors of Lifeboat 15 at 7:30 a.m. All Elin had with her was her wedding picture and some jewelry. On April 20, 1915, in New York, Elin received $950, some clothing, a hat, shoes, and a suitcase from the American Red Cross. She received a train ticket to Monessen and $125 from the New York Women’s Relief Committee through St. Vincent’s Hospital. A total of five Finnish survivors traveled to Monessen.
Four years later, Elin moved to Weirton, West Virginia, where she met Emil Nummi, an employee in a tin mill. They married, had a son, Gerald, and moved to Warren, Ohio. Gerald was a longtime band director at Painesville Harvey High School, an archrival to Fairport’s Harding High School. Elin’s daughter-in-law, Jane, accompanied Mary Ann Whitley to the Finnish Heritage Museum, and brought Elin’s wedding picture and the jewelry she wore on the night the Titanic went down. There is a kink in the bracelet because it was run over by a car later in its life.
Also visiting the Museum on August 10, 2015, were descendants of other Titanic survivors. Joann Knuth (above left) and her daughter, Mary Jo Knuth (below left) are granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Shaneene George, Titanic survivor.
Shaneene was returning to the U.S. from Lebanon aboard the Titanic. Her story, and many others, can be found in the book, Ohio Tales of the Titanic, written by Mary Ann Whitley and Janet White.
More information about the book can be found at https://ohiotitanic.wordpress.com.
Pictured to the left is Jane Nummi, who is the daughter-in-law of Elin Hakkarainen Nummi, who settled in Warren, Ohio.
Mary Ann Whitley became interested in the history of the Titanic partly because her grandfather helped to build the ship in Belfast. Janet White is a library specialist and has been researching the Ohio Titanic connections for decades. We were honored that they consented to speak at our Museum’s monthly meeting.
After the program was over, all enjoyed excellent refreshments provided by Jane Hiltunen, Nina and Ron Boyett, and Eric Jylanki. FHM President Lasse Hiltunen then called the business meeting to order.
The authors of the Ohio Tales of the Titanic sold and signed copies of their book. On left below is Janet A. White who is is a library specialist with Northside Medical Center in Youngstown and lives in Girard, Ohio.
On the right is our presenter Mary Ann Whitley who is a longtime journalist, currently a copy editor at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and lives in the eastside suburb of University Heights, Ohio. She became interested in the Ohio Titanic story in 1998 when she met Janet and discovered Ohio’s extensive ties to the disaster. Since then, she has researched the Northeast Ohio-bound passengers and interviewed a number of descendants. She has written articles for Titanic International Society’s quarterly journal, Voyage, and served as a trustee of the society for nine years. Mary Ann also has a personal connection to the Titanic, as her grandfather helped to build the ship in Belfast, Ireland. Note: on the screen above her head are Addie Wells and her children.
This book is availble through this link: https://ohiotitanic.wordpress.com/ordering-information/ and may be sold at FHM in the future.
Text ©Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, Photos © Bill Lukshaw, and non-copyrighted images from Bing images.