GILMORE CAR MUSEUM SHARES HISTORIC TIES
TO TITANIC AND AUTOMOBILES OF THE ERA
This Sunday, April 15th, marks the 100th Anniversary of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, the famed “unsinkable” ship that ended in disaster when it struck an iceberg and sank.
The story is well-known. Of the over 2,200 passengers onboard including many of the world’s wealthiest, only 705 people survived.
While many know the story and in some ways, can’t get enough, once again flocking to theaters for James Cameron’s re-release of the 1997 blockbuster film now in 3-D, the story certainly doesn’t end when the lights come up in the theater.
The Gilmore Car Museum, America’s premier automotive history destination, has collected not only cars, but amazing stories about some of the survivors and of course, their automotive connections. Armed with these interesting facts, visitors can explore the 90-acre campus and search out some of these cars and their significant stories.
Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the disaster and some of the cars that were a part of this historic event.
1. Over 40 passengers on the doomed liner were either from Michigan or immigrating here. These included the ultra-wealthy who booked 1st Class accommodations to those traveling steerage, also known as 3rd class. More than a dozen survivors of the disaster had ties to West Michigan.
2. When the survivors’ rescue ship arrived in New York, Helen and Dickinson Bishop, a wealthy honeymooning couple from Dowagiac, MI, wired their chauffer to immediately drive their Lozier motor car—similar to example on display at the Gilmore Car Museum—to pick them up. The couple also owned a Mercer, Packard, and Electric. Rumors that the groom, Mr. Bishop, had dressed as a woman to secure his place in a lifeboat were already spreading in newspapers across the nation.
Washington Robeling II, whose family built the Brooklyn Bridge, started the Mercer Automobile Company and was also onboard Titanic along with his company’s sales manager. Neither of them survived.
3. The small community of Dowagiac had another family that survived—Hanna Touma and her two young children, traveling as steerage passengers. Like most of the surviving 3rd class passengers arriving in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia, they had lost everything and had no one to meet them. To their surprise many were met by representatives of various aid societies and driven in automobiles—a completely new experience for most—to shelters. Most likely, they rode in a Ford Model T, Buick or Cadillac.
Another little known fact is that a 1911 Packard Touring car had been crated and placed on the deck of the Carpathia as it sailed toward the Mediterranean. The car remained on deck during the heroic rescue of all 705 survivors.
4. While Dowagiac had two families survive the Titanic they never met—neither before nor after the disaster. Showing just how strong the separation of the classes was in 1912.
5. Ruth Blanchard, a long-time Benton Harbor elementary teacher, was just 12-years-old when she survived the sinking along with her mother and two siblings.
6. Michigan’s last survivor, Winifred Quick Van Tongerloo, died at the age of 98 in 2002 in East Lansing. Soon after the disaster eight-year-old “Winnie” joined her three-year-old sister Phyllis on the vaudeville stage as their mother Jane told the story of their rescue. They are said to have made appearances in Detroit, Battle Creek and Grand Rapids.
7. William Alden Smith, the Senator from Grand Rapids, MI launched the United States’ Senate Inquiry into the disaster. The results of his work eventually lead to laws and international treaties requiring enough lifeboats for all passengers.
8. Calvin Theological Seminary student Wm. B. Eerdmans first began selling books to support himself while attending college. In 1912, within a month of the disaster, he wrote and published a memorial book in Dutch on the sinking of Titanic. That launched Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company of Grand Rapids into becoming one of the nation’s oldest and most respected producers of religious books; they are still in business today, 100 years later.
9. Memorial Services were held in both Grand Haven and Muskegon for Captain E. G. Crosby. He was the owner of Crosby Transportation, a steamship line that operated between the ports of Milwaukee, Grand Haven and Muskegon. Mrs. Crosby drove a Rauch-Lang Electric as seen on display at the museum.
10. Former Kent County Sheriff Albert Carroll, a Deputy U.S. Marshal from Grand Rapids and the state’s former Game Warden were each sworn in as Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. Senate for the duration of the Inquiry. They assisted the investigation by serving subpoenas, conducting investigations and even stopped surviving crew members from returning home before their testimony could be heard.
The Gilmore Car Museum is the perfect place to see a large assortment of automobiles with ties to the Titanic. The newly opened, state of the art, $5 million, 32,000 square foot Automotive Heritage Center will officially be dedicated in May. The Center is fashioned after an early 1900s factory, much like those of the era of the Titanic and housing many of the iconic cars of the time. The Museum and its 90-acre historic campus located near Kalamazoo, MI is in the heart of West Michigan, midway between Detroit and Chicago. For more information, please visit www.GilmoreCarMuseum.org or call (269) 671-5089.
The Museum's Loizer and Mercer motor cars.