After 61 Years, Still A Nightmare
Visitor Here Recalls Titanic's End
BY PEGGY BRYANT
||(Left) A SMILE THAT MIGHT NEVER HAVE BEEN - brightens face of Mrs. Anna S. Lundi, center of attention for her granddaughters (from left) Julia, nine; Emily, seven; and Ruth, 11, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Martin Lundi of Tempe, as the gentle Finnish lady is interviewed by Tempe Daily News reporter. The smile was gone moments later as the visiting Mrs. Lundi recalled, in her native Finnish language interpreted by son Martin, tragic memories of the 1912 sinking of the "unsinkable" Titanic on which she was a passenger -- bound from Finland for her first look at America. -- Jan Young photo
Eighteen-year-old Anna S. Turja had never seen a bigger nor more beautiful ship than the one she boarded at South Hampton, England, enroute from her native Finland to a new life in America. It was like "a beautiful, floating city."
This week, 79-year-old Mrs. Anna S. Lundi, visiting her son Rev. Martin Lundi and family in Tempe on an excursion from her home in Ashtabula, Ohio, looked back on that event of her girlhood with different eyes -- eyes clouded with nightmare memories she's lived with for 61 years.
For Anna Turja, provided with passage to America by a sister already immigrated to this country from Finland, was making her maiden voyage on a ship embarked on its maiden voyage also -- the ship, it was boasted, that "not even God could sink" -- the ill-starred Titanic. And 61 years ago this week, on April 14-15, 1912, Mrs. Lundi was living through that gigantic luxury liner's nightmare ending off Cape Race, Newfoundland -- a nightmare that, by all accounts, should never have happened, but did.
The sinking of the Titanic, run afoul of an iceberg in the calmest of waters, took but a few hours in the passage of time; but, to a world stunned by the horror of the tragedy which took 1,500 lives, the memory was to go down in history, to become subjects for books and movies.
"It was a night I'll never forget," said Mrs. Lundi as the recalled those horrifying hours for Tempe Daily News week in her native Finnish language, as son Martin, pastor of Tempe's Beautiful Savior Lutheran church, interpreted. But to explain it to others isn't easy, she says. "No one can really understand unless they had been there themselves."
For her, the nightmare repeats itself often.
"The screams and the cries of the people left on deck and those in the water, they still ring in my ears," she said. Those cries still linger as the most horrifying memory of an experience for a young girl that began calmly enough, but ended in fright and terror.
The small Mrs. Lundi, who at 18 couldn't have-taken up much room in one of the Titanic's too scarce lifeboats, was sleeping in her own room in steerage when an English-speaking Finnish woman who had taken her in tow for the trip awakened her to report there was a rumor the ship was sinking. No one knew for sure, at that moment, but the woman told Mrs. Lundi "I think the ship has hit an iceberg." The young Finnish girl had felt a jolt earlier, but it hadn't concerned her and she had gone back to sleep.
Mrs. Lundi recalls going into the hall, noticing some commotion -- and returning to her room unworried, but through some instinct, to put on warmer clothing before returning to join her friend in the ship's music room. They sat there some time listening to the orchestra play, in no hurry and no concern until sailors came and ordered them out on the deck and locked the room.
Crew members were working quietly to get women and children into lifeboats. "My friend and I didn't want to go. We were very confident the ship wouldn't sink," so Mrs. Lundi and her older friend climbed to the upper decks with no precognition of the fate that awaited the Titanic.
"By then, it was so dark and so cold," recalled Mrs. Lundi, "I returned to a lower deck." Her friend, who remained on the upper deck, where it appeared that all the lifeboats were already gone, was never to be seen again.
Mrs. Lundi remembers that there was no hurry, no real confusion among the people even at that point. No one was being informed of the ship's real plight -- some knew, some didn't -- and the ship was surprisingly peaceful.
"It wasn't until the end that people realized what had happened." And in Mrs. Lundi's opinion that may have been a blessing. "Had people known, it would have caused such confusion, no one would have been saved."
Still believing something would happen to save the ship, Mrs. Lundi was walking on a lower deck when a sailor calling for women and children grabbed her and put her on a lifeboat.
"It was full, so full they couldn't squeeze another person on it."
One of the memories vivid to her was that of the strength of the sailors rowing the overloaded lifeboat, barely skimming above water, to get it out of the orbit of the suction created as the Titanic was going down. "They shouted orders at us to be absolutely still, not turn around."
Mrs. Lundi remembers too the water around her, stretching out like a mirror, calm and unruffled by the tragedy going on in its midst.
When the boat finally went under, "there was a big explosion." But by that time it was pitch black, "the sky was totally dark, we couldn't even see the other lifeboats. People were gathering paper, anything they could find to burn as a signal to other lifeboats but we never saw another boat, until we saw the lights of the Carpathia."
It was in those dark hours that the memory which "still rings in my ears" came -- "the voices, the screams and the cries for help of those left on the deck as the ship went under, those in the water, who didn't last long. And then, suddenly, total silence.
Mrs. Lundi counts it as a blessing that "we couldn't see, couldn't see those freezing to death in the water, dying on the decks - and that they couldn't see the lifeboats, too full to take on another passenger."
Picked up by the tinier Carpathia, already loaded with passengers and cargo, the some 700 survivors of the Titanic were taken to New York where they were the first ship passengers "who never had to process through Ellis Island."
The Titanic's survivors were placed in hospitals in New York for observation. There, Mrs. Lundi got her first taste of American generosity. Organizations gathered clothing, money for the victims, saw to it that the surviving passengers -- left with nothing more than the clothes on their back -- were able to go onto their destinations.
"The people were so wonderful," said Mrs. Lundi. "For me it was a welcome to America, even under the circumstances."
Even now, though, Mrs. Lundi still wonders about what happened to many of the Titanic survivors, some of whom were very ill, others psychologically affected by the loss of husbands, children, other loved ones.
Put on the New York Central Railroad and sent on her way to join her sister and brother-in-law in Ashtabula, Ohio, Mrs. Lundi didn't learn until sometime later that her name had been listed as among the Titanic's missing in Finland newspapers -- and her mother believed her dead until she received a first letter from her daughter weeks after the sinking.
Her memories of the Titanic, and her gratefulness to God for being spared "and for the way He has directed my life since I have been here," were part of "growing up" for Mrs. Lundi's seven children, who heard snatches of the tale often -- and annually, on April 14, have been reminded by their mother of the day's significance.
Mrs. Lundi, one of 21 children, married her sister's husband's brother, Emil Lundi, after coming to Ashtabula. He was a high school custodian in that community for 29 years. A widow for 21 years and a grandmother to 18 children, Mrs. Lundi has been a domestic most of her American life and proclaims herself "a very happy woman in spite of the beginnings" she had on embarking on her new life in America.
In 61 years, Mrs. Lundi has never come in contact with another of the Titanic's survivors -- but the husband of a Finnish woman who remained on the Titanic with her six children, caught in the room rammed by the iceberg, while she was on deck has visited her.
And the frightening experience was re-lived when she was invited to be guest at the Ohio premiere showing of the Barbara Stanwyck-Clifton Webb movie about the Titanic. Rev. Lundi said it was his mother's first sight of a movie -- and when reporters clambered around her after the film to query her about its authenticity, he said his mother, in tears, asked him "but if they were so close to take the pictures, why couldn't they save all those people?" It took some convincing, he said, to assure her the movie -- so real to her -- was not the real thing.
Mrs. Lundi's current visit to the Valley brought another link with that past. She visited in Phoenix with Mrs. Matilda Atsinki -- who had read Mrs. Lundi's story recently in an Ohio newspaper, written to tell that newspaper how wonderful the story was. And to report that as an 18-year-old girl then, herself, she had been on church reception committee which welcomed Anna Turja to Ashtabula on her arrival 61 years ago.
Did the Titanic experience leave Mrs. Lundi frightened of ships and water?
No, she has no fear of water, and she would have liked to return to Finland for a visit, by ship, if circumstances had permitted.
And tomorrow, on the 61st anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, she'll take another voyage on a more modern ship -- she'll fly back to Ashtabula after her several weeks' visit in the Southwest with her son here, other children in California.
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