Over on Inkwell Inspirations, I've got a post on what the RMS Titanic taught me about my spiritual life. But there was another story I wanted to share, too...
This past summer, my family visited an exhibition of artifacts from the RMS Titanic as the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. All over the globe, visitors have attended similar exhibitions, moved by the recreated staterooms, biographical sketches, miniaturized iceberg, and perfectly-preserved remnants on display. Dishes, unbroken. Precious jewelry, its wearers lost. Money and sheet music, protected by leather from the watery deep.
When you enter the exhibit, a docent hands you a card with the name, class, and a brief biography of a real Titanic passenger printed on it of your sex (many Holocaust museums do the same thing). The card doesn't tell you, however, if your passenger survived. You have to get to the end of the exhibit to find out, but boy, do you start worrying about your assigned passenger. Mine was sixty-year-old Emma Bucknell, a first-class passenger whose husband founded Bucknell University. My heart dropped when my children were assigned third-class passengers, however. Things didn't look good for them, and I hoped they wouldn't be devastated to learn of their deaths.
It turned out both of their passengers lived. When we got home, we decided to do a little research on them. It turned out that the Titanic's sinking was just the beginning of a terrible nightmare for my daughter's passenger, Mrs. Leah Aks.
Born in Poland, eighteen-year-old Leah Rosen Aks boarded the Titanic with her ten-month old son, Frank. Leah's husband, Sam, awaited them in America, where he'd gone ahead to Norfolk, Virginia, to open a tailoring shop. Leah and "Filly" received their own third-class cabin, and no doubt they enjoyed the privacy.
Leah and Filly were fortunate to make it up to the deck after the ship struck the iceberg, although they were not dressed warmly. Leah found herself next to Madeleine Astor, who provided her white silk shawl for Filly. As lifeboat 11 was lowering into the water, a frantic passenger ripped Filly from Leah's arms and tossed him into the boat. Like any mother would, Leah rushed the boat, screaming, but she was restrained by crew members.
Her baby disappeared over the side.
Leah, in a state of panic, was eventually pushed onto lifeboat 13 beside a woman named Serena Cook. I can't imagine what Leah went through that night. The trauma of the sinking, the cries and moans of injured and grieving, the bitter cold, and the unbearable not knowing. Where was Filly? Was he safe? Cared for? Would she ever know?
After being rescued by the Carpathia, Leah was with Serena on deck, freezing, exhausted, and desperate for her child. She heard a cry and looked up. An Italian woman walked past, carrying a baby boy. Filly?
Of course. Leah would know her Filly anywhere. With joy, she tried to take Filly back, but The Italian woman (possibly Argene del Carlo) insisted the child was hers. She wouldn't relinquish hold. Ever.
She'd seen her baby gone over the edge of the Titanic. He wouldn't be stolen from her arms again. Leah didn't back down, and in a scene reminiscent of the two women before King Solomon, the captain was called in to mediate.
Some reports say that Filly had a birthmark on his chest that Leah could describe. Other stories say Filly's circumcision was sufficient, proving he came from a Jewish mother. Nothing mentions Filly's response upon seeing his mother, which should have said it all.
Leah was reunited with Filly, and they arrived safely in America. The next year, Leah gave birth to a daughter, Sarah Carpathia Aks, although the nurses clearly knew about Leah's harrowing journey, because someone wrote Sarah Titanic Aks on her birth certificate.
And what happened to Filly, the tiny survivor of the Titanic?
Forty years later, he attended a reunion for survivors. He met the woman on whose lap he'd sat in lifeboat 11, Edith Russell. She reported that Frank became a wealthy steel magnate in Virginia.
And he kept Madeleine Astor's scarf, which is now on display in a Virginia museum.
As if the sinking of the Titanic doesn't want to make you hugs your kids already, the story of Leah and Filly is just another reminder of how precious our loved ones are.