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CNHI Special Projects

April 8, 2012

Sisters break silence about family connection to Titanic

Sisters Valerie Anewalt and Orian Greene are distinctive descendants of the Titanic. Two family members survived and two died aboard the ocean liner that sank off the coast of Newfoundland 100 years ago.

Clara Hays, their great-grandmother, survived the disaster but her husband, Charles Hays, a railroad executive, did not.

Orian Davidson, their great aunt, also survived but her husband, Thornton Davidson, an investment banker, went down with the ship when it sank into the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.

During a recent visit to the Titanic Museum in Branson, Mo., Anewalt and Greene said only their closest friends knew about their tie to the Titanic as it was something the family did not talk about -- not even with their great aunt who lived to be 96.

That changed when the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interviewed descendants of the Canadian passengers at the Titanic Museum for a documentary on the 100th anniversary of the disaster. Their great-grandparents lived in Montreal at the time of the disaster, though both were Americans.

The sisters said they know from family conversation, and from what they have read, that there was public resentment of first-class passengers who survived on lifeboats.

Greene, 74, of Arlington, Mass., said many survivors lived with "an onus that they should not have survived. But it raises the question in all of us: What would have I done? How would I have handled it?"

Greene said their great-grandfather was "convinced that it would take several hours (for the Titanic to sink) and maybe not sink at all." It took less than three hours.

"How much courage did he have to not get in a lifeboat?" Greene asked. "He thought the ship would survive. That¹s what he told his wife and daughters when they got in the boat in the tradition of women and children first."

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