Last Titanic survivor selling mementos

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

LONDON (AP) – As a 2-month-old baby, Millvina Dean was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat from the deck of the sinking RMS Titanic.

Rescued from the bitterly cold Atlantic night by the steamship Carpathia, Dean, her brother and her mother were taken to New York with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Before returning to their homeland of England, they were given a small wicker suitcase of clothing, a gift from New Yorkers, to help them rebuild their lives.

Now, more than 95 years later, Dean – the last living survivor of the disaster – is selling the suitcase and other mementos to help pay her private nursing home fees, which are not covered by Britain’s National Health Service.

Dean’s artifacts are expected to sell for about 3,000 pounds (US$5,200) at Saturday’s auction in Devizes, western England.

Dean, 96, has lived in a nursing home in the southern English city of Southampton – Titanic’s home port – since she broke her hip two years ago.

“I am not able to live in my home anymore,” Dean was quoted as telling the Southern Daily Echo newspaper. “I am selling it all now because I have to pay these nursing home fees and am selling anything that I think might fetch some money.”

Dean’s items form part of a sale by Henry Aldridge and Son, an auction house that specializes in Titanic memorabilia.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said the key item was the suitcase, “quite unremarkable if you look at it,” that was filled with clothes and donated to Dean’s surviving family members after the disaster.

“They would have carried their little world in this suitcase,” Aldridge said Thursday.

Dean also is selling rare prints of the Titanic and letters from the Titanic Relief Fund offering her mother one pound, seven shillings and sixpence a week in compensation.

In 1912, baby Elizabeth Gladys “Millvina” Dean and her family were steerage passengers emigrating to Kansas City, Mo., aboard the giant cruise liner.

Four days out of port, on the night of April 14, 1912, it hit an iceberg and sank. Billed as “practically unsinkable” by the publicity magazines of the period, the Titanic did not have enough lifeboats for all of 2,200 passengers and crew.

Dean, her mother and 2-year-old brother were among 706 people – mostly women and children – who survived. Her father was among more than 1,500 who died.

Dean did not know she had been aboard the Titanic until she was 8 years old, when her mother, who was about to remarry, told her about her father’s death.

She had no memories of the sinking, and said she preferred it that way.

“I wouldn’t want to remember, really,” she told The Associated Press in 1997.

Dean said she had seen the 1958 film A Night to Remember with other survivors, but found it so upsetting that she declined to watch any other attempts to put the disaster on celluloid, including the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet.

Dean began to take part in Titanic-related activities in the 1980s, and was active well into her 90s. She visited Belfast to see where the ship was built, attended Titanic conventions around the world – where she was mobbed by autograph seekers – and participated in radio and television documentaries about the sinking.

The last American survivor of the disaster, Lillian Asplund, died in 2006 at the age of 99. Another British survivor, Barbara Joyce West Dainton, died last November at 96.

Aldridge said the “massive interest” in Titanic memorabilia shows no signs of abating. Last year, a collection of items belonging to Asplund sold for more than 100,000 pounds (US$175,000).

“It’s the people, the human angle,” Aldridge said. “You had over 2,200 men, women and children on that ship, from John Jacob Astor, the richest person in the world at the time, to a poor Scandinavian family emigrating to the States to start a new life. There were 2,200 stories.”

On the Net:

Henry Aldridge and Son: http://www.henry-aldridge.co.uk

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