You probably have never heard of Fairview Cemetery in Nova Scotia, at least by that name. You probably know, however, that there is a cemetery in Nova Scotia that did bury the dead from the Titanic (or Titantic, as the Princess Cruise Line referred to it.) That cemetery was Fairview Cemetery and we took a special trip to see it while in that city on yes, a Princess Cruise.
We knew that Princess had a tour that “stopped” at the cemetery, but since I wanted to take pictures, lots of pictures, we decided to go it on our own. We were glad we did! Canadians are a very friendly and helpful lot and we got instructions on how to get to a bus stop and what bus to catch to the cemetery. We chatted with people at the bus stop in a light drizzle and got on the bus. As Jim handed our $5 fare to the bus driver, he refused to take it since we were “guests in his city!” He did hand us a transfer to return for free and told us when to get off and where to stand to catch a returning bus!
Our first stop was the Cemetery office to ask for instructions to the area. The gentleman in the office handed us a map and a handout about the Titanic victims and how they happened to be buried there. By this time the drizzle was a light rain and required our umbrellas. Once there we hung around a tour group and listened to their guide. The first thing we learned was the headstones were placed in such a way as to form a hull of a ship. If you look at the picture above you can see the three rows converging at the top with the bottom of the hull being the row to your left and the deck being the third row at the top right of the picture. They converge where the couple is standing at the top of the picture. Impressive is the term that comes to mind.The next thing we learned was the numbering system assigned to each grave. As each body was recovered they were assigned a number. Every item that was on that body, from a ring to their shoes was put together and assigned the same number. As family began to look to inquire about their loved ones they’d be asked questions like “Did they have a ring they always wore? Could you describe it?” or something of that nature. When they had that type of information they would start searching the bags. Once they found a match, the headstones could then be labeled with the victims names. Those bodies that were never claimed or their possessions identified were marked with headstones like the one above.When the bodies were identified the name could be placed on the headstone, as it is in J. Dawson’s above. J. Dawson? as in Jack Dawson played by Leonardo diCaprio in the movie?? Sorry, no. Jack Dawson was a fictional character. This was Joseph Dawson, a 23 year old Coal Trimmer on the Titanic. He was identified by a dues book for N.S. & Fireman Union No. 35638 and his home address.
After the release of the movie we learned that teenage girls would arrive and leave flowers, movie tickets and notes for J.Dawson, believing it to be Jack Dawson. The practice eventually slowed down and as you can see, today they leave a few polished rocks, etc., with an occasional flower or two from time to time.You can feel the agony and hurt of the parents of George H. Dean, a 2nd class steward aboard the Titanic. He had on a blue suit. In the bag were keys and a 2nd class steward badge # 35. His parents paid for a more personalized and larger stone. He was so young and probably left for sea, thrilled to start his life! I can feel his parents grief. This picture is a slight bit blurred, but I couldn’t do a Titanic post without commenting on this particular family. Nils Palsson had emigrated to Chicago in 1910 and had saved enough money to send for his wife, Alma Cornelia and their four children in 1912. Although the headstone says Paulson, the name is Palsson. Perhaps Nils tried to Americanize his name. The letter with Alma came from Neil, not Nils.
The passage was booked on the Titanic for Alma Paulson, Torburg Danria, age 8, Paul Folke, age 6, Stina Viola, age 4 and Gosta Leonard, age 2. Alma had in her bag, a wedding ring, brass keeper, mouth organ (harmonica), a comb, keys, a purse with money, a letter from her husband, 5 tickets for 3rd class passage and a corkscrew. Buried across from Alma is an unidentified baby. This particular monument touches people and has drawn a lot of attention, as evidenced by the amount of things placed near to, on and around it. For years it was assumed that the body was that of Gosta Leonard, Alma’s youngest son. It was assumed, rightfully, that the bodies of the three oldest children were never recovered. In the summer of 1998 a DNA project was begun by Genesis Genomics Inc. and 3 bodies were exhumed. The Palsson family from Sweden had requested the exhumation, to verify if the remains of the “Unknown Child” were actually that of Gosta Leonard. Due to the decomposition of the body, a tiny part of a tooth was recovered and the test was performed on it. It was determined that the unknown child was actually 13 month old Eino Viljam Panula from Finland. It turns out that none of Alma’s children made it to land for a burial. They are all resting together at the bottom of the sea.This headstone caught my attention because of the inscription. I didn’t quite understand it until I read about it. Everett Edward Elliott was a Coal Trimmer and evidently there had stories in English newspapers that many crewmen had survived while women and children had died in the Titanic disaster. The inscription had been written by his family to let the world know that their son was not one of those, but rather a hero who lost his life on that fateful night in 1912.
Although we did not take a tour, we benefited from many of them. We must have seen at least 7 tours in the time we spent at Fairview Cemetery! Each one told their group basically the same canned information. It was almost a carnival atmosphere with one bus pulling up after another. Out would march a tour guide followed by a bus full of tourists. They’d stop at the front, listen to his spiel, head back to Alma Palsson’s stone, listen to that story, up to the other side of the front and listen to another part of the story. It was as though this sacred cemetery was just another stop on a sightseeing tour. Check out the one group at the bottom of the Titanic site and most of all check out the worn path up to the “unknown child’s site” and Alma Palsson’s directly across from it. This is one of the stops for the Tour Guide.
Our next stop was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic where we understood there is quite a Titanic display. Our bus driver, once again, let us know where to get off and gave us the directions to the facility. We could not get over the friendliness and willingness to help strangers that the residents of this city exhibited to their “guests.”Behind glass are many artifacts that either were recovered by the rescuers or donated by various people over the years. These baby shoes were part of the bagged articles and were, of course, behind glass. They are remarkably well preserved, in my humble opinion.This is the card that accompanied the shoes in the bag. These belonged to the “unidentified child,” now identified as Eino Viljam Panula. The card is an example of what they did for each article as the cataloged and filed each thing.This cribbage board was carved from a piece of wood one of the rescuers found floating in the sea. According to the accompanying card it was an old tradition of seamen to carve various items from wood found drifting at sea. This particular board was donated by a descendant of the carver. Also behind glass was this Oak and wicker deck chair. It was found floating at sea by one of the ships that went to recover bodies. It too, is in remarkable condition.
My day ended in the gift shop where I bought a book and several postcards. It was on to a late lunch and back to the ship for our nap.
After all, we were on vacation!
- Blair Beed, Titanic Victims in Halifax Graveyards; Dtours Visitors and Conventions Services,Halifax, Nova Scotia,Canada, 2001, pages 97, 101, 103, 107, 108, 110, 111.
- Keith C. Titley,BDS, MscD, FRCD(C), Bruce R. Pynn, MSc, DDS, FRCD(C), Robert Chernecky, John T. Mayhall, DDS, PhD, Gajanan V. Kulkarni, BDS, PhD, FRCD(C), Alan Ruffman, P Geo, The Titanic Disaster: Dentistry’s Role in the Identification of an ‘Unknown Child’, Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, Vol. 70, No. 1 ; January 2004.
- Pictures from author’s personal collection.
Read Full Post »