Off Beat: 1998 film ‘Titanic’ stirred emotions of survivor’s son

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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With this past Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, people have had a chance to share some century-old family survival stories.

That’s what Vancouver’s Kay Piper did a few days ago, when she told how her grandmother made it onto one of the last lifeboats before the ship went under.

But there also was an opportunity for some family reflection in 1998, when James Cameron turned the story of the berg-busted Titanic into his blockbuster “Titanic.”

Another local resident, Herm Parsons, told The Columbian back then about family members who survived … and who didn’t.

His mother, Kate, and her twin sister, Alice, were aboard with their parents Sam and Jane Herman. The three women survived, but Sam Herman was among the 1,500 who died.

Parsons, who died in 2008, said he knew he was watching a movie, but he couldn’t help making it personal.

“As I watched the ship sink into the water, I wondered what it must have been like for my grandfather at that moment and where he was on the ship when it went down,” he said.

“I knew it was just a movie, but having a photo of my grandfather, I kept trying to find someone who looked like him.”

A closed book

It was a chapter of history that his mother kept firmly closed, he said.

“If we ever asked about it as kids, our father would just tell us not to bring it up again,” Parsons said. “For most of my life, all I knew was the fact my mother had been on the Titanic. I had no details.”

Although there were times when his mother reacted in sheer terror resulting from that disaster.

“One day our family was at a lake and my brother and I were out in a boat,” Parsons told The Columbian in 1998. “We drifted out of sight from my mother, and she became hysterical until she could see us again.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.