107 Years After Titanic: Tragedy Extends to ND

TR Staff
Staff Writer

By Ellie Boese
April 15, 1912—The “Unsinkable Ship” sinks in the Atlantic at 2:20 a.m., taking more than 1,500 of the estimated 2,200 passengers and crew on board down with her. She plunged to the bottom of the ocean, the largest luxury ocean liner in the world becoming a pile of wreckage, ripped in two, two miles beneath the surface. The Titanic’s sinking was front-page news across the world in the days that followed as word of the disaster spread.
The story of the tragedy hit the front page of the Jamestown Weekly Alert on Thursday, April 25, 1912, including in the articles a section where two North Dakota men recount their experiences of that night. Oscar Hetman, a farmer at Bowman, ND, told that he boarded the last lifeboat to leave the ship, manning it after the sailor in charge fell overboard. According to the article, Hetman also said that “when the boiler explosion occurred, a scene followed which reminded the farmer of what occurs in a hopper on his farm.”
Another man aboard the Titanic was Charles Dahl, an Australian who was traveling to North Dakota to see his mother, lost his wallet that contained “all the money he had in the world.” Recalling the disaster, Dahl said this: “I was in bed when the crash came. Without stopping to dress, I rushed on deck and in some way, I don’t know how, found myself in the water, must have jumped.” He was picked up by one of the lifeboats and saved.
Following the rapid trial, conviction and execution of White Star Line Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay, North Dakota Senator McCumber expressed his protest to such action and called for “fair, honest and full consideration” before putting anyone connected to the ship on trial. In his frustration, Senator McCumber stated that he sees the American people more to blame than anyone else. “We conduct every enterprise in a spirit of sport and constantly demand an increase of the size and speed in boats,” he said. “When the Lusitania made her record trip it was applauded, regardless of the fact her course may have been the same as that of the Titanic and her equipment no better.”
One of North Dakota’s most prominent businessmen didn’t survive to tell his tale. Herbert Fuller Chaffee came to North Dakota after studying for two years at Ohio’s Oberlin College Conservatory of Music to help run his father’s firm—Amenia-Sharon Land Co. The company oversaw 42,000 acres of farmland, 34 grain elevators, a grain trading firm, milling company and many more small businesses, its holdings growing to $8 million, equivalent to around $150 million today.
Herbert Chaffee and his wife, Carrie, were both traveling home to North Dakota aboard the Titanic, though what exactly took them to England has never been confirmed. One theory holds that Carrie wanted to go on a trip to England because it was their ancestors’ homeland, a place where they could hunt down some family history. Another proposes that the couple went to purchase stained glass windows for the church in Amenia.
Whatever the motivation, both Herbert and Carrie were sailing first-class on the Titanic, with tickets valued at $5,000. But money couldn’t save Herbert. His wife survived the sinking, and later told The Forum of her experience.
Her husband helped her into a lifeboat as it was lowered from the ship. Carrie said she was confident Herbert would be okay, but when she recognized a sound coming from the ship, she lost that:
"It was the water rushing into the Titanic's side, and my heart seemed to stop," she later said. "The great vessel was perceptibly lowering in the water."
She tried to spot him behind the railing of the ship, but could not find him.
“Lights were blazing behind them and ships dropping in front with a whir of tackle,” she is quoted as saying. “I never saw him again."
Herbert, 47 at the time of his death, was lost at sea, his body never recovered to offer Carrie and their five children any comfort or closure. A&S Land Co. was divided into individual shares in 1922 and continued to shrink through the Great Depression.
Carrie remained a widow for the rest of her life, donating much of her money to charity. She died in 1931.
Today, one of the three most poignant physical remnant of the Chaffees’ business empire and tragic loss is the town of Chaffee, ND, one of the company towns established by A&S Land Co.
The second is a monument in a cemetery near Amenia. The stone is engraved with Herbert’s and Carrie’s names, birth and death dates and an inscription that Herbert was “lost at sea with S.S. Titanic Apr. 15, 1912.”
On the stone’s other side, there is a verse from the “Song of Songs,” a celebration of union, music and love.