By: John Rudolph
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My Grandmother, Anna Turja Lundi's Titanic Experience
I put this information together from interviews with my mother and my uncle. Grandma never learned English very well, and I don't know Finnish, so I had to depend on family members to relay what she said.
Anna Sophia Turja was one of 21 children born of two mothers and one father in Oulainen, in the Oulu province of Finland.
Her half-sister, Maria, was married and living in Ashtabula, Ohio. After a visit to Finland, she and her husband, John Lundi, enticed Anna to come to America. John invited her to come work for him at his shop in Ashtabula, and he purchased a $50 third-class ticket for her passage on the Titanic.
Anna was 18 years old and alone when she boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England. To her the ship was a beautiful ship -- a floating city -- "just like a town, lacking nothing." There were swimming pools, concert halls and libraries. With all its shops and attractions, the main deck was indeed bigger than the main street in her home town.
The third class accommodations were beautiful, she said. The atmosphere was quite lively with a lot of talking, singing, and fellowship. It has been said that third class on the Titanic was as good as first class on many other ships of the day.
There were two double bunk beds in her room, one on either side of the room. She had two roommates on board who were also Finnish women, one of whom took the young Anna Turja under her wing. She was traveling with her brother, but in steerage class in those days the men's cabins were in the front part of the ship, the women's in the rear. Anna's other roommates were a mother and her young baby.
Late Sunday night, April 14, as Anna was settling down for the night, she felt a shudder and a shake. Shortly afterwards, her roommate's brother knocked on the door and told them that "something was wrong," that they should wear warm clothing and put on their life jackets "or you'll find yourselves at the bottom of the ocean."
Their little group dressed and headed for the upper decks. At one point, a crew member tried to keep them down -- ordered them back -- but they refused to obey, and he didn't argue with them. She clearly remembers, however, that the doors were closed and chained shut behind them to prevent others from coming up.
Her group continued up to the top deck "where it will be safer," they said. She found it too cold up there, however, so she went back down to what turned out to be the boat deck. She was intrigued by all of the activity there and by the music being played by the band, though she didn't know the names of the tunes. She remembers the band coming out of a room they had been playing in and the doors being locked after everyone had gotten out.
It was on deck that she met the Panula family, also from Finland. Mrs. Panula was traveling with her five children to meet Mr. Panula who was waiting for them in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Panula had recently lost a teen-aged child by drowning back in Finland. On the deck of the Titanic that night Anna remembered her lamenting, "Must we all die by water?"
Anna also remembered seeing the lights of another ship from the deck. According to most historians, this ship would most likely have been the SS Californian, which tragically had shut down its wireless for the night, and so did not respond to the Titanic's plight.
Grandma believed the claim of the ship being unsinkable, and she (and many other immigrants on board) didn't fully understand what was going on around her because she did not know the language. She had been so enjoying the "concert," as the band's music seemed to her, that she says she "would have gone to the bottom of the ocean listening to that music if a sailor hadn't picked me up and put me into a lifeboat."
In the Lifeboat
She believed her lifeboat to be the "next to the last lifeboat." My uncle told me that she once made reference to the boat having canvas sides on it. This would make it one of two of the four collapsible boats that the Titanic carried--Collapsibles C and D being the only ones to have launched successfully. My mother doesn't remember this, however. Grandma also noted that it was not one of those that got caught up in the cables. The Red Cross report and Encyclopedia Titanica state that she was in lifeboat #15. (Of course, that same Red Cross report also says that she returned to Finland, which she never did the rest of her life.) We are just not sure.
The lifeboat was fully loaded when it was launched; so full, in fact, that as she rested her hand on the edge, her "fingers got wet up to the knuckles." They immediately rowed away from the ship, fearing that they would get sucked down with it when it went under. She was very impressed with the sailors' training. She was sure that the boat would have capsized had it not been for their expertise.
As the lights went out and the ship finally went under, she heard loud explosions.
Her most haunting memory was that of the screams and cries of dying people in the icy water. 1500 people died on the Titanic, and their cries continued for what seemed hours. Every time she got to this part of the story she would start crying. "They were in the water, and we couldn't help them," she would say sadly.
They were in the lifeboats for what she figured to be eight hours. Though the night was a "brilliant, bright night," they had to burn any scraps that they could find -- hats, coats, paper, money, or anything else that wouldn't cause a flash fire -- so that the boats could see each other and stay together in the darkness.
On board the rescue ship, the Carpathia, "the people were wonderful. They gave up their blankets and coats, anything that could help." She kept looking for her roommates, but she never saw either of them again. The entire Panula family was also later confirmed lost.
New York and Aftermath
On their arrival in New York, the survivors did not have to go through Ellis Island, as all other immigrants did in those days. Instead, they were taken straight to New York Hospital, and then sent on their way. (Years later, my uncle Martin was trying to get a security "crypto clearance" in the Army. The FBI first had to investigate why there was no record of Grandma's citizenship registration from entering the country. He finally did get the clearance when they found that she was one of the Titanic survivors who were exempted from Ellis Island registry.)
Because of the language problem, she was literally tagged in New York and put on a train to Ashtabula, Ohio. She was greeted by crowds at many of the train stops, including in Ashtabula, as she was somewhat of a celebrity by this time.
Somehow, her name turned up on a "lost passengers" list, and her family in Finland didn't know that she was alive until they received a letter from her 5 or 6 weeks later.
Soon after she got to Ashtabula, she met Emil Lundi, John's brother. They fell in love and got married. They were together until my granfather's death in 1952, raising seven children, one of whom was my mother, Ethel Lundi Rudolph. (And Anna never did go to work for her brother-in-law who had bought her the ticket.)
In May of 1953, Anna was a special guest when the movie "Titanic" starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb opened at the new theater in Ashtabula. It was the first movie she had ever seen--her first introduction to the magic of Hollywood. After the film was over, reporters asked her if she thought the film was realistic. With tears in her eyes she replied (through my uncle as translator), "If they were close enough to take those pictures, why didn't anyone help us?" Family members tried to explain to her that it was a Hollywood re-creation. She just kept saying, "No, no..."
(Years later, on July 20, 1969, when they were watching the first moon walk, she wouldn't--and never did--believe that it was really happening. "No, no. If they could re-create the Titanic, they could re-create this, too," she said.)
Over the years she was interviewed regularly by local newspapers on the April anniversary of the sinking, but she turned down appearances on "I've Got a Secret" and "The Ed Sullivan Show," partly because of her age, her physical condition, and the language problem. She also refused to join in any lawsuits over the loss. She and my grandfather felt that they didn't need to go after money: Grandma had her life, and that was compensation enough.
And every year on that anniversary she would sit her seven children down to tell them the story again. The phrase she would always close with, and repeated throughout her life was, "I can never understand why God would have spared a poor Finnish girl when all those rich people drowned."
Anna Sophia Turja Lundi died in Long Beach, California, in 1982 at the age of 89.