Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly
51, 2 (Summer 1978), 51-55
© 1978 Concordia Historical Institute
THE FLOATING CITY
Martin E. Lundi
Anna Sophia Lundi, nee Turja, was the youngest of 21 children born to the Turja family in Oulainen, Finland. At the tender age of eight she left school to become a domestic in the home of a Lutheran pastor. Ten years later, on her way to join a sister in America, she was a passenger on the ill fated Atlantic liner TITANIC. On some of the passenger lists her name is misspelled "Turgo," and she was listed as dead or missing on most lists after the disaster. Even her mother in Finland believed her lost until she received a letter from her daughter in the "new country" weeks after the sinking. In America Anna Turja married Emil T. Lundi, a high school custodian for 29 years and a faithful Lutheran who held almost every office available in Zion Lutheran Church, Ashtabula, Ohio. The couple was blessed with seven children: Milton, Ellen, Ruth (d. 1960), Ethel, Marvin (d. 1974), Paul, Martin. The accompanying story is written by the youngest son, Martin E. Lundi, formerly pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Tempe, AZ, and now associate director in the Office of Parish Services of the Northwest District, LCMS.
The days preceding every April 14th around my home were typical spring days in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio. Every morning began before dawn for Mom and Dad as they spent these precious moments together over a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Brother Paul and I, the last two of seven children at home, sat silently eating our breakfast and getting ready to leave for school. Paul, in high school, was off early to help Dad do his morning janitorial duties at the high school. Me? I was still in grade school, and my mind was usually on roller skating in the streets, golf, or any of the other spring sports that emerged when the snow left the ground. But every morning, there was mother, reminding us of the time, checking our clothing to see if we were properly dressed for school, and otherwise involved in getting us off for the day. She was usually in a happy, talkative, mood. She would often playfully chide Paul that she had to wake him with a broom because he was so hard to wake up, and when he did, he would wake up swinging violently. We would laugh about that.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, her traditional washing and ironing days, she would carry on conversations with us from the basement. If she wasn't talking to one of us, it was to her faithful companion, "Tuddy," our beloved English bulldog, "who did everything but talk," she insisted. Every morning brought a little bit of the same, except one. On the morning of April 14 of any given year that I can remember, there was a distinct and unusual silence at breakfast. It seemed that I grew up anticipating it, and welcomed the opportunity to hear once again the harrowing account of how "God delivered a poor, young Finnish girl" from a watery grave.
The mood of the day was set for me when I saw anguish in eyes that were filled with tears. Mother would be sitting at the kitchen table and would ask, "Do you remember what day it is today?" "Yes, mother," I assured her, "I remember." Then she would look down at folded hands and say softly, "But no one can truly understand unless they had been there themselves." Continuing, completely spellbound by the memories, she would recall events of that fateful day when more than 1500 people perished, and how she was one of about 700 who survived.
Those were days I shall never forget. They are also accounts seared into my memory from the time of my youth. Actual accounts which I took for granted, because I guess everyone in the Harbor knew that Anna Lundi was a survivor of the TITANIC, which struck an iceberg and sank on April 14, 1912.
During the early days of April 1912, Anna S. Turja, 18, left her native Finland to begin a long journey to Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, where she was to live with her sister Mary. On April 10, at Southhampton, England, she boarded the TITANIC for her unforgettable trip. Mother always described the TITANIC as a "floating city." Even her third-class accommodations were magnificent to her. She shared a room with three others. There were two bunk beds, one on either side of the room. One of her roommates was a Finnish woman who was bilingual and took mother under her wing. The other two were a young mother and her baby.
Mother recalls that they had just gotten ready for bed and were not quite asleep when the ship hit the iceberg. She said the ship "shook and shuddered." But she added that she was not afraid, because she didn't know what had happened.
It was not until a while later that the brother of her Finnish roommate knocked on the door of their cabin to instruct them to dress warmly, put on a life preserver, and get on an upper deck because the ship had struck an iceberg! At that time, there still appeared to be no panic or confusion on the ship because most of the passengers were not yet aware of what had actually happened. Reluctantly, mother dressed warmly, put on her life jacket, and followed her roommates as they left everything behind and went to the concert hall, where they stopped to listen to the orchestra perform.
Still under no sense of panic or danger, the women just sat and listened to the music. Then she said some members of the crew came in, stopped the concert, ordered everyone out on the deck, then locked up the concert hall doors.
Being at the distinct disadvantage of not being able to understand English, she could only follow the lead and advice of her bilingual roommate. Her roommate urged her to go up to a higher deck where "she would be safer." However, mother felt chilled, so she decided to go to the lower deck, where more people were gathering. This decision turned out to be crucial in the events that followed. Most of the people on the upper deck above her drowned. She never saw her roommates again.
As she waited patiently for her turn to get into one of the lifeboats, she recalls that she saw the lights of another ship not too far away. Historians have since told us that indeed this was the liner CALIFORNIAN, which had shutdown its wireless and did not hear the SOS and frantic calls for help from the White Star Liner TITANIC.
As mother stood there on the deck, a crew member grabbed her and literally threw her into one of the last lifeboats to leave the now sinking TITANIC.
I remember once asking her if she could recall the band playing "Nearer, My God to Thee," as is so often reported. "If they did," she replied , "I didn't hear it. I only remember the crying and the groaning and the screaming. Maybe some sang, I don't know. I really can't remember."
Now in the lifeboat hurriedly being rowed away from the sinking ship, she was in a situation which is most unforgettable to her. "The thing that haunts me most is the sound I still hear in my ears . . . the cries, screams, and pleadings of the people who were struggling in icy water, begging for help, then the silence." Mother stops talking at this point, slowly shakes her head, and cries silently for those they were unable to help.
She was happy now that she decided to dress warmly, because the night was bitterly cold. Her lifeboat was so overloaded that when she grasped the edge of the boat, the icy water was lapping at her fingers. She thought of the expert oar handling of the crew members and a calm, still night as the two key ingredients which kept them from capsizing into the icy waters.
She recalls seeing the lights of the TITANIC until almost the very end. Then she heard the explosion of the boilers, the gurgling sounds of the ship as it filled with water, and felt the diminishing waves caused by the sinking of the great ship lap against her lifeboat. As the crying of the dying and the living faded, they were exhausted there in the pitch black, yet clear, icy cold night.
As the night wore on, the lifeboats drifted further away from each other. The crew members were collecting anything that would burn, money, paper, extra clothing, whatever, with the hope of gathering the straying boats together.
Finally, after what seemed an awfully long and painful night, the dawn appeared. With the dawn, rescue. The Cunard liner CARPATHIA came to collect the strays. The CARPATHIA, already near capacity herself, took on the 700 survivors and brought them to New York. Bypassing Ellis Island, where all immigrants otherwise went to be processed, the survivors were taken directly to a Catholic hospital, where mother stayed a few days prior to boarding a New York Central train to Ashtabula.
About 1949, the harrowing experience was relived by mother. About that time, the movie "TITANIC," starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, was shown at one of our premier movie houses in Ashtabula. Mother was the guest of honor. It was her opportunity to view the first movie she had ever seen in her entire life. I went along to interpret for her, for you see, she still doesn't read, write, or speak English very well. When the movie was over, mother was silent, and seemed dazed and physically weakened from the experience. One reporter said to me, "Ask your mother if it was realistic." I did. Mother looked up with tears in her eyes, still silently crying for those whose voices have haunted her all her life, and in all innocent ignorance of the magic of Hollywood re-creations, said, "If they were so close to take those pictures, why didn't someone help us?"
"A woman of magnificent faith" she was once described by a newspaper reporter. Indeed, her entire life and lifestyle is directed through her absolute trust in Jesus Christ as Lord of her life. Today, at 84, she is still an amazing woman who has not only withstood all the trauma, disappointments, heartaches, and hurts that life can offer but has come through them all smiling victoriously and sharing with anyone who will listen how God has directed every step and event of her life for her good. Mother puts it this way, "I am thankful to God for guiding my life and protecting my life, before, throughout, and since the TITANIC was lost."