In April 1912, my maternal grandmother, Laura Odina Olsen, was emigrating from Trondheim, Norway to America. For this, she had purchased a third class ticket on RMS Titanic.
Third class, or steerage, was where immigrants usually booked passage on the Trans-Atlantic ships. For many of those on the ill-fated Titanic, it was a death sentence. It was common practice at the time to gate-off the steerage sections from the higher class section of ships. So when Titanic began to sink, many in steerage found the ways locked, and the people were forced to find unlocked passages through the ship. It is not apparently true that the crew deliberately locked people in, as books and films would have us believe. Many steerage passengers died as they simply refused to leave their belongings behind.
My grandmother was, however, particularly fortunate. She had booked passage out of Norway to England where she was to board Titanic for the trip to New York. Then something happened: She missed the boat!
As a boy my mother related this story to me a number of times, Laura having died three weeks before I was born. I guess it is one of the formative stories of my life, along with my father’s WWII service in the Norwegian Merchant Marine, his father’s whaling days, and my maternal grandfather’s (Laura’s husband Carl Olsen, aka Karl Olsson, from Copenhagen) days in the US Coast Guard and as a crew member on J.P. Morgan’s yacht. Yet, it was never explained how or why she missed Titanic.
It turns out the story is a bit more complicated than Laura being left on the quayside in Southampton, as I had always imagined. The tale is clarified from the Ellis Island records: It turns out she never made it to England. The boat she missed was the one out of Norway. Naturally, she then missed the connection for Titanic. Apparently traveling from Trondheim to Christiana (now Oslo) she arrived too late. She booked passage on the steamship Helige Olav instead, a direct sailing to New York, and arrived in America the day after Titanic sank.
One wonders what happened to the Titanic ticket- it must have been cashed in to pay for the new ticket on Helige Olav. Otherwise what an heirloom that would be!