April 15, 1912: Vancouver tea marks Titanic date

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Local Titanic Ties

Rita Holton, born and raised in Berkshire, England, has lived in Vancouver most of her adult life.

Her great-uncle, Alfred Self, was hired as a fireman on the Titanic and went down with the ship. Rita’s mother recalled that her own mother, then 12 years old, remembered the family’s receiving a telegram with the news that Self perished in the disaster.

Rita’s father, Thomas Tubb, had traveled to Southampton to sign on for work with the Titanic. Much to his disappointment, the White Star Line already had hired its crew, so he returned home. He later served in the Royal Navy during World War I and then in the Merchant Navy (Marines).

William DuPen of Salmon Creek recalls that his father’s nephew, William H. Turnquist, was listed as a survivor on the Titanic.

A seaman whose merchant ship had just docked in Southampton, Turnquist and three other sailors booked third-class passage on the Titanic. Turnquist jumped off the sinking ship into the icy water, swam to an inflatable life raft that was not fully inflated and wasn’t seaworthy. Later he was rescued by Lifeboat 15.

Of the four sailor friends, Turnquist was the only one who survived.

When the White Star Line unveiled the RMS Titanic, it claimed the largest ocean liner in the world was unsinkable.

But on a moonless night 100 years ago, just days into its maiden voyage, the great ship hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank before a rescue ship could arrive. About 1,500 people perished.

To commemorate the April 15, 1912, tragedy and to honor the lives both lost and saved, more than 60 people — many wearing elaborate Edwardian costumes featuring lace, feathers, beadwork, furs and hats — packed the Meadowlark Tea Room in Vancouver’s Uptown Village on Saturday.

Sharon and Philip Harbeck, who opened the tea room and antiques shop last fall, wanted the event to be memorable.

“I wanted to have an event that would be an occasion, but also would show respect for the loss of life,” said Sharon, who is English and whose grandfather was 12 when the Titanic sank. “I’ve done Titanic research, and we’re making it as authentic as possible.

That meant white tablecloths, china, fresh flowers and an eight-course meal duplicating the last meal served on the ship.

Waitresses dressed in period-appropriate black dresses with white aprons and caps brought out the meal. Sharon Harbeck and her helpers had prepared duck confit with herbs and green salad, pâté de foie gras, salmon mousse in endive boats, filet mignon, Norfolk pie, scones with lemon curd and clotted cream, crème brulée and more.

One of the youngest guests, Eve Swanger of Vancouver, 10, was dressed for a party and watched the other guests with rapt attention.

“She loves the Titanic,” said her mother, Sarah Swanger.

Each guest received a boarding pass bearing the name of an actual Titanic passenger. They also sat for a professional photograph and before the tea was over, received a print, digitally altered so that guests appeared to be sitting in the Titanic’s grand ballroom.

A string quartet from Vancouver School of Arts and Academics played Mozart, Vivaldi and other classics.

Many women wore elaborate costumes. Truman Elementary teachers Melissa Whittington and Carol Bates bought hats from the Dollar Tree and embellished them with feathers and lace. Their dresses and jewelry were from Goodwill.

“We’re drama club teachers, so we got creative and couldn’t wait to come,” said Bates.

Sharon Sullivan of Portland leads an informal group called The Victorian Ladies. She found an authentic ecru lace dress from the Titanic era and completely remade it for the tea. She also sewed a purple-and-white Edwardian suit for her daughter, Misty Lewis, who received first prize in the costume contest.

Tima Carlson, an Oregon City, Ore., resident of Lebanese descent, learned this week from a television program that 100 Lebanese passengers in steerage -- all emigrating to America from the same small town -- perished on the ship.

“I’m fascinated by the backgrounds of these people. It’s tragic that so many from this one town were lost,” she said.

Local actor and film producer Alexander McKenzie narrated the program in a Scottish brogue as Capt. Edward Smith. The tea closed with Smith reading the names of the passengers represented on the boarding passes and acknowledging who survived and who didn’t make it.

The community embraced the event so enthusiastically that Harbeck hopes to produce teas with Jane Austen and “Downton Abbey” themes in the future.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530 or susan.parrish@columbian.com.