NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

CNHI Special Projects

April 8, 2012

Matriarch's survival story inspires Pa. family

(Continued)

HERMITAGE, Pa. —

Shanini was traveling back with three adult male cousins and a 14-year-old niece of one of the men. They joined a group of about 165 Lebanese immigrants rooming near each other and apparently enjoyed themselves immensely, Sharon said. Then the evening of April 14, 1912, approached. According to historical records, the Titanic hit the infamous iceberg around 11:40 p.m. It sank less than three hours later.

"Shanini did not even know what was going on," Sharon said. "She did not speak English very well at that point."

Sharon explained that her great-grandmother didn’t even know what happened until "late in the game. By the time they got to third class, there was sheer chaos." Despite that, it was the first-class male passengers who went down into steerage and pushed and pulled Shanini and other steerage passengers to the upper decks.

According to a 1937 Herald article, Shanini described her rescuers as "very finely dressed in their beautiful suits."

"The first class passengers had this sense of honor and chivalry," Sharon said. "Even though they were very class conscious, they not only stood aside, but they actively participated in saving the life of my great-grandmother."

Though Sharon doesn’t have concrete evidence since the ship's chaos that night undermined any kind of tracking system of survivors, especially those from steerage, circumstantial evidence points to Shanini’s sharing collapsible Lifeboat C with J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, which operated the Titanic.

"She gives us some clues," said Sharon, referring to Shanini’s documented recollection of that night. According to historical research,Llifeboat C was being loaded with passengers when full-scale chaos broke out on the deck and an officer had to fire a gun to keep men from rushing the lifeboat. Shanini recalled that event and also recalled that a man jumped from the deck onto the lifeboat after it had been loaded and the officers were walking away.

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