Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cedar Rapids’ Connection to the Titanic Disaster


Much has been written about the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster. Here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa the event touched the community by the death of local industry captain, Walter Douglas. Mr. Douglas’ parents and brother, George’s family lived in Cedar Rapids. Walter's father co-founded Quaker Oats. Douglas and George were founders of a starch company here.

In the spring of 1912, Walter and wife Mahala (and their maid) were in Europe purchasing furnishings for their new home in Minneapolis. They booked passage back to America on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. At some point during the sinking of the Titanic, Mahala and the maid boarded a lifeboat and later rescued by the Carpathia’s crew.

Walter’s fate was unknown for several days until his body was found in the ocean buoyed by a life preserver. A description of his body included his fine clothing with the embroidered initials of W.D.D on the shirt. His body was brought to his home in Minneapolis, then later traveled to Cedar Rapids in special Pullman rail cars. The train arrived at Union Station near 4 PM Sunday, May 5th – nearly three weeks after the sinking. Walter’s casket and procession was observed by thousands of people from downtown to Oak Hill Cemetery. A service was conducted a half hour later at the Douglas family vault (where Walter’s parents are interred too.) The local paper reports that the service was conducted inside the vault for the immediate family. Many flowers adorned the inside and outside of the Douglas vault.

Today, the Douglas vault at Oak Hill Cemetery shows signs of deterioration of the stone and metal works but overall looks to be surviving time. A few floral arrangements have recently been added to the vault’s entrance from unknown sources – I checked. Currently the story of this event is told at the nearby Brucemore mansion, once owned by Walter’s brother George. In the blockbuster movie, Titanic, the character of the elderly Rose Dawson is living in Cedar Rapids before she is summoned to return to the ship. Whether mentioned in the movie or recounted from real history the connection between Cedar Rapids and the Titanic's sinking at sea is forever forged. Know that.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting story, and I appreciate the photos, too. Stories of Titanic survivors are always intriguing.

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