One day I went to visit my father’s Aunt Coke, one of my father’s many relatives who lived in Valentine. I was about 5 years old at the time and cute as can be, which I can only guess was the reason I had been invited to her home for the day.
I remember doing two things. One was having a hamburger lunch with a store-made patty. There were no McDonald’s or Burger King fast food franchises 60-some years ago. The other thing I did was rummage through Aunt Coke’s huge attic and find treasures of every kind.
She had boxes of books in her attic. Had garage sales been popular at the time I’m sure those books would have been on the sales table in a heart beat. In those days I guess that once a book was read it was put in a box and put in the attic. I know my grandparents, also in Valentine, had probably the very first National Geographic issue ever printed as well as every issue thereafter in their attic. Book hoarding was a community-wide pastime apparently.
I came away that day with an arm load, which at that age was four or five books. I couldn’t even read at the time. The books I chose that day were selected for the pictures.
In later years I found out that I had chosen a first edition of “Rebecca At Sunnybrook Farm,” a first edition of Zane Grey’s “Knights of the Range,” a seventh Edition of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” and my favorite find of the day, a memorial edition of “Story of the Wreck of the Titanic.” When I finally learned to read, I discovered that the book about the Titanic had been published in 1912.
The Titanic sank in April 1912, which means that this book was written, edited and published before the end of the same year as the famous disaster. The book, as well as the disaster, is 100 years old.
The cover of the book has a drawing of one of the overloaded life boats that carried passengers away from the sinking Titanic. The cover was the thing that attracted my 5-year-old interest 60 years ago. I had never seen a large ship; in fact, I didn’t even know there were large ships. When we went fishing in the lakes around Valentine, no one even had a boat from which to fish. Boats were a complete mystery to me, large or small.
There are a couple of pictures showing the very dignified captain of the White Star ocean liner, Captain E. J. Smith, who went down with his ship.
Throughout the book there are black-and-white photographs of various luminaries of the time who went down with the Titanic and of life boats being unloaded onto the Carpathia, the ship that rescued many of the survivors of the sinking. Other photos show rescued passengers from the Titanic on board the Carpathia. One photo even shows the iceberg that dealt the Titanic its death blow.
There is a graph showing the numbers of passengers and crew in the various categories such as first class, second class, steerage, etc. The book also has the numbers of lost as well as the numbers of survivors.
Throughout the book there are drawings depicting the hopelessness of the passengers in various settings as the ship is sinking. Other illustrations throughout the book are funereal in their depiction. In short, it is a very sad and heartfelt recollection of the disaster.
The last few pages are devoted to the unbelievable list of the names of those who went down with the Titanic.
Dr. Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute discovered the wreckage of the Titanic, but I feel like I found it in the attic of my father’s Aunt Coke when I was 5 years old.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.