New Castle News

April 12, 2012

Language was a barrier for immigrant on sinking Titanic

By Shelley Terry
CNHI News Service

ASHTABULA, Ohio — Imagine you’re 18, traveling alone on the Titanic and don’t speak a word of English. A few minutes before midnight on April 14, 1912, the ocean liner shudders as it slams into an iceberg.

That’s what happened to Anna Sofia (Turja) Lundi, who left her home in Finland for a new life in Ashtabula, Ohio. She boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England, and was among 2,230 people on board when it sank in the North Alantic. And one of only 714 to survive.

Lundi, who died in 1982, told family members she was going to bed in the third-class section when the ship struck the iceberg three days into its maiden voyage.

According to her grandson, John Rudolph, 59, of Los Angeles, a crewman pounded on her cabin door, hollering emergency orders she didn’t understand because they were in English. Then a Finnish-speaking passenger explained the ship was in distress and she should put on her life jacket and the warmest clothes possible.

To make this point, when Rudolph’s mother, Ethel, one of Lundi’s children, would talk to clubs and schoolchildren about the Titanic, she would start the presentation speaking Finnish. Then she would say, “That’s how my mother felt on the Titanic. All of the instructions were in English.”

At first, relatives said, Lundi and a group of Finnish immigrant passengers went to the ship’s concert hall and listened to the band for a while, but then panic set in.

“People were everywhere. Many were shouting,” she said in a 1962 Star Beacon interview. “An older woman in our cabin, who had been my unofficial guardian, since I was 18 years old, panicked when she got up on deck. She urged me to a higher deck where it is safer. But I decided to go where the people were and went back down.”

That decision saved her life. A crew member grabbed her and shoved her into the third from last lifeboat, family members said. She didn’t remember hearing the band playing, “Nearer My God to Thee,” as is oft reported in books and movies, she told her children.

“When she talked about the lifeboat, she didn’t talk about the cold, she talked about the stillness and the darkness,” Rudolph said. “She said there was no wind and it was very, very dark.”

Rudolph said they burned anything they could get their hands on, even money, so they could keep track of the other life boats and signal to each other.

But the worse part wasn’t over. Rudolph said his mother, aunts and uncles told him that his grandmother’s voice would lower to a whisper as she recounted what follows:

“The thing that haunts me most is the sound I still hear in my ears ... the cries, screams, and pleadings of the people who were struggling in the icy (28 degree) water, begging for help, then the silence.”

Martin Lundi said his mother would stop talking at this point and cry.

“She always said she didn’t know why God saved a poor Finnish girl when all those rich people died,” Rudolph said. “She was a sweet, God-fearing woman.”

In 1952, Lundi saw the first Titanic movie, starring Barbara Stanwyck. Afterwards, her family said, she asked, “If they were so close to take those pictures, why didn't someone help us?"

She could not be convinced that what she had just seen was not actually the sinking of the Titanic.

Anna Lundi was 89 when she died, 71 years after the sinking of the Titanic. She is buried in Edgewood Cemetery in Ashtabula Township.

“Over the years, my grandmother was interviewed by local newspapers ... she turned down television appearances, partly because of her age and the language problem,” said John Rudolph. “She also refused to join in any lawsuits over the loss. She and my grandfather felt they didn’t need to go after money. Grandma had her life, and that was compensation enough.”