A Titanic tale of survival lives on

Local woman shares her grandmother’s recollections

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: A Titanic Tea with Edwardian dress, food inspired by the menu from the Titanic’s last meal, string quartet playing period music, naval officer’s narration, and boarding passes featuring names of actual Titanic passengers.

Where: Meadowlark Tea Room, 1803 Main St., Vancouver (Uptown Village).

When: 4 p.m. Saturday; boarding pass distribution and seating begins at 3:45 p.m.

Cost: $18 for adults; $12 for 12 and younger.

Reservations/information: 360-694-9075, Meadowlark Tea Room and Antiques

Kay Piper knew her grandmother had an exciting voyage to America, although Piper didn’t immediately realize its place in history.

“When I grew up, I thought it was an interesting story for my family,” the Vancouver woman said.

Anna Turja left her home in Finland a century ago for the promise of a job with relatives in America.

On April 12, 1912, Turja boarded the Titanic.

It was a grand experience for an 18-year-old woman heading to a new life. The main deck was bigger than the main street in her hometown of Oulainen, she would say later.

She was among 2,200 passengers and crew members who headed across the Atlantic on the ship’s maiden voyage.

About 1,500 of them died after

the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912.

One hundred years later, Piper can go back over family resources and share the story of her grandmother’s unlikely survival.

That century of family lore includes a 1979 visit with her grandmother when Piper wanted to hear the Titanic story firsthand.

“I asked her to tell me about it,” Piper said a few days ago in her Vancouver home.

Touch the water

She described how crowded the lifeboat was, which also meant it was riding very low in the water.

“She was sitting at the side,” Piper said, and when Anna reached over the side of the boat, “She could touch the water.

“The thing that bothered her the most was hearing people screaming,” Piper said.

Those were the survivors bobbing in the ocean, calling for help. When some of them tried to clamber onto the overloaded lifeboats, the men at the oars pushed them away. Even the ones wearing life jackets didn’t last long in the frigid water of the north Atlantic.

“Every place there was a scream, a minute later, there would be silence,” Piper said. It haunted her for the rest of her life.

The disaster claimed the lives of two-thirds of the people on board. Piper’s grandmother faced even longer odds as a third-class passenger: four out of five people in third class died.

After marrying Emil Lundi and settling down in Ashtabula, Ohio, she had a chance to tell her story to family members.

The Titanic survivor also was interviewed by newspaper reporters on anniversaries of the sinking and other events.

In all those accounts, Anna Lundi noted several turning points that made the difference between life and death. When Anna and her roommates left their cabin after the collision, a Titanic crewman tried to bar their way. After they brushed past him and continued toward the deck, the crewman closed and chained the doors behind them.

When they got up to the deck, one of her companions led the group to an even higher deck, where she thought it might be safer.

The 18-year-old woman changed her mind and went back to the lower deck, where people seemed to be gathering. A sailor grabbed her and shoved her onto one of the last remaining lifeboats.

The boat’s occupants couldn’t see the Titanic go under, but they heard the boilers explode and the gurgling of water rushing into the sinking ship.

Her lifeboat was among those picked up by the Carpathia at about 7 a.m. When the rescue ship reached New York, the survivors bypassed the usual immigration process at Ellis Island and were taken directly to area hospitals.

Her first film: ‘Titanic’

One event that drew newspaper coverage was the 1953 film “Titanic.” As a survivor, Lundi was invited to the film’s Ashtabula premier.

It was the first movie her grandmother ever saw, Piper said, and the 60-year-old woman didn’t have a grasp of Hollywood’s film-making magic. Lundi (who died in 1982) apparently thought she had just seen a documentary, Piper said.

According to family accounts, “She seemed dazed,” Piper said

When asked if it was a realistic portrayal of that night, Lundi’s reply was something like:

“If they were close enough to take those pictures, why didn’t someone help us?”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.