News reports on Sunday indicated that the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic died Saturday at age 99. Lillian Gertrud Asplund was only five when the “unsinkable” ship went down in the cold dark waters of the North Atlantic. She survived the disaster along with her mother and younger brother, then age 3. Both died long after the sinking.
Nevertheless, Miss Asplund lost her father and three brothers, one her fraternal twin. As the Associated Press reported:
The Asplund family had boarded the ship in Southampton, England, as third-class passengers on their way back to Worcester from their ancestral homeland, Sweden, where they had spent several years.
Miss Asplund’s mother described the sinking in an interview with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper shortly after she and her two surviving children arrived in the city. She said the family went to the Titanic’s upper deck after the ship struck the iceberg.
“I could see the icebergs for a great distance around … It was cold and the little ones were cuddling close to one another and trying to keep from under the feet of the many excited people … My little girl, Lillie, accompanied me, and my husband said, ‘Go ahead, we will get into one of the other boats.’ He smiled as he said it.”
The article also specifies that Miss Asplund was the last survivor who was old enough to remember the disaster — not the last survivor. Two persons who survived the tragedy as infants remain alive.
The sinking of the Titanic was one of the defining events of the twentieth century — a warning that the century’s unbridled enthusiasm and confidence in technology was actually dangerous. Icebergs, after all, are not impressed by the claims of ship builders. The death of Lillian Gertrud Asplund is a sobering reminder of the fact that the claims of history are never far from any generation. The very fact that two infants saved from the sinking of the Titanic remain alive is an amazing opportunity for reflection.