|Robert Stack and his wife Susan with the "Millvina
Dean Story" and lithograph during a recent trip to Branson.
History happens a moment at a time and is perhaps remembered most accurately that way. In terms of what happened to the Titanic at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the memory of a mother, shared eight years later with the nine week old baby she carried into the lifeboat that fateful night just before the mighty behemoth slipped to her watery grave, might not add much to determining the cause of the tragic event.
But, in terms of lessons to be learned about a man’s devotion to his family, the honor of the times, the price that innocent people pay for the arrogance and carelessness of others and preserving a vignette on a moment in history, that memory could be priceless. Robert Stack, Titanic author and historian and his wife Susan have devoted a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to memorializing and preserving that memory.
The Stack’s, from Modesto, CA, were in Branson at the Titanic-Worlds Largest Museum Attraction recently explaining and promoting that effort and signing books. Robert Stack said that he first became interested in the Titanic in sixth grade when his teacher read the novel “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord to the class. He went on to explain that although he had a fascination with the Titanic disaster for decades it wasn’t until after the Titanic wreckage was discovered and he met several of the survivors and visited the wreckage site that he related the immigrants on the Titanic to his families past.
Stack said that both of his parents’ families had immigrated to the United States by ship before the turn of the century. He explained that they had the same hopes and dreams that the immigrants on the Titanic had and faced the same dangers and challenges in trying to achieve them. Stack’s project, a book and an accompanying lithograph, recounts and remembers how the hopes and dreams of just one of the families on the Titanic, the Dean family, ended when the unsinkable ship sank into the dark icy depths of the Atlantic and what happened to the suriviors of the family as they adjusted to the effects of the tragedy and went on with their lives.
One of the survivors Stack met was Millvina Dean whose family was immigrating to the United States with plans to go into business in Wichita, Kansas. Stack points out that at the time of the disaster Millvina, who is now the oldest living survivor of the Titanic, was only nine weeks old.
Stack and his wife made multiple trips to England during which they met with and interviewed Millvina. Stack said that in addition to the interviews, Millvina was very active with the project and furnished the historical family photographs that are part of the lithograph, personally signed over 1100 of the limited edition lithographs, and participated in the editing of the accompanying book, “The Millvina Dean Story.”
In the book Stack writes, that the Titanic, “Is a classroom that should never be duplicated, as this would be the greatest dishonor we could pay the brave souls who gave their lives that night.” When asked what he meant, Stack said, “I don’t want anyone to ever place people in harm’s way like this ever again if it’s not necessary.” He stressed that if the type of carelessness and arrogance associated with the Titanic disaster is ignored in the future then it will repeat itself. Sadly, in the forward of the book, Stack points out an example of another tragic event that resulted from ignoring the Titanic’s lessons on what can happen through carelessness, arrogance, and ignoring the obvious, the horror of the shuttle “Challenger” exploding in mid air.
The book freezes one of the many concurrent moments taking place during one of the greatest maritime disasters of all time, as a father alertly realizes the danger his family is in. That father Bertram Dean, Senior, calmly goes back into the depths of the ship to the third class section, leads his wife Ettie, carrying her infant daughter in her arms, and his son Bertram Jr., up to the boat deck and insures that they are safely loaded into a lifeboat. Then, in the honor and tradition of the time, of saving women and children first, he stepped aside and remained with ship as the lifeboat with his family was lowered from his view. Thanks largely to his alertness and action his family became three of only 705 survivors while over fifteen hundred, including himself, perished.
Reprinted with permission of the Tri-Lakes Tribune, a free newspaper published and distributed three times weekly, Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Please call 417-336-NEWS (6397) for classified and display advertising opportunities.