Archive for the 'Titanic' Category

Rare Titanic author Julie Williams ponders sailing Clive Palmer’s Titanic II

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 by Brian Seidman

A tempting vacation or tempting fate? That’s the debate about Australian billionaire Clive Palmer’s plans to build a new Titanic, replicating the original, to sail in 2016.

USA Today spoke about the new Titanic with Julie Williams, author of A Rare Titanic Family, which chronicles the experiences of her uncle and his family on the doomed ship. Williams’s uncle Albert Caldwell, his wife Sylvia, and their ten-month-old son Alden were in the minority of families to survive the sinking of the Titanic with all family members intact.

Williams believed Caldwell would have approved of the Titanic II.

“He would have loved to have seen it,” Williams told USA Today for their article “Billionaire unveils new ‘Titanic II’ cruise ship design.” “He would have found a new ship intriguing. He always wanted to see the Titanic again.”

Read more about the Caldwells’ experience on the Titanic in A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells’ Story of Survival, as well as in the ebook Women of the Titanic Disaster, a first-hand account of the sinking of the Titanic by Sylvia Caldwell.

On Titanic anniversary, Julie Williams examines disaster’s family legacy

Sunday, April 15th, 2012 by Brian Seidman

On the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, professor Julie Williams (A Rare Titanic Family) examines how the effects of the disaster have traveled through years to affect generations of her family.

When my husband and I married, he was astonished to see that I owned a photo of my great-uncle, Albert Caldwell, on the deck of the Titanic. In the photo, Albert stands in a shadow, holding his baby son, Alden. Albert’s wife, Sylvia, stands beside them, propping her arm on the ship’s railing and glancing at the baby to make sure he’s happy. Albert had owned the rare photo, and it came to me when he died in 1977.

“If I had known you were a Titanic nut,” my husband joked, “I’d never have married you.”

I still love the Titanic, but after an intense couple of years of researching and writing my great-uncle’s story in A Rare Titanic Family, I can now see what my husband was worried about. I can see now that our entire family has been pulled through time by the Titanic, just as my great-uncle was. The ship has us and won’t let go.

Not that I want it to.

One hundred years ago this weekend, the Caldwells stumbled into history as they reluctantly agreed to get off the Titanic and onto Lifeboat 13. And they have reached across time to bring so many of us with them.

It’s been an interesting hundred years.

Although the ship sank in 1912, it never loosened its grip on the Caldwells. Albert and Sylvia tried to rebuild their lives but found the Titanic was forever part of their identity. Albert went on the Chautauqua circuit in 1912 and got rave reviews for his lecture on the Titanic. Sylvia wrote a booklet, Women of the Titanic Disaster, which she sold by subscription. Both were interviewed and gave lectures on the ship across many decades.

The Titanic glowered over Alden as he grew up. He wanted a job with the US government when he graduated college in the Depression. But his birth records had gone down with the Titanic, and he couldn’t prove he was an American. Thus, he couldn’t get the job.

He got another. Years later he was about to retire and still couldn’t prove he was an American – and therefore couldn’t qualify for Social Security. Albert had to make out a lengthy affidavit, and Alden at last was granted his citizenship.

Albert thrived in the brilliant spotlight of the Titanic. He loved talking about the Titanic to clubs, churches, and anyone who invited him to. He gloated about being part of the advertising scheme for the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964 (he got to ride around in a car with star Debbie Reynolds).

By the time Albert died at age 91, he had given the same speech about the Titanic and the same interview for almost 65 years.

But the Titanic was not done with the Caldwells yet. Not long ago someone sold a watch at auction in London, claiming the Caldwells had used it to bribe their way off the Titanic. Although all available evidence has skewed against that allegation, it’s remarkable that the ship still hangs over them.

Nor was the Titanic done with Albert’s descendants. My mother and her cousins loved the story and passed around a now-treasured copy of Albert’s speech. One cousin thought to tape Albert telling about the Titanic. My parents invited Albert to speak about the Titanic to a huge gathering of our friends. The adults made sure we children understood Albert’s interesting place in history.

I was deeply fascinated with the Titanic story told by Albert. I told and retold the story to my friends, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Eventually I majored in history and became a media historian. I made my journalism students conduct interviews about the Titanic. I named my own son Alden.

Albert’s story was so much a part of me that I eagerly jumped on the chance to write A Rare Titanic Family, which I thought was going to be a straightforward biography of the Caldwells on the Titanic. Piece of cake, I thought.

By the time I was finished, however, I realized I had hardly known their story at all. To my shock, I discovered that the Caldwells were in a cat-and-mouse chase around the globe – with themselves as the mice – as they fled from their employer. The Titanic was the dramatic last leg in their frantic rush to go home. These were things that Albert had kept mum for all those 65 years.

It was both a delight and a shock to uncover the story he had never told us.

So after 100 years of the Titanic, I have a completely new perspective on the story that I thought I knew so well, the story that has been recounted faithfully by my family for three generations now. It’s a story even my reluctant husband now loves.

I love how history is never static. It always changes. Albert Caldwell’s Titanic story has certainly made that lesson clear.

A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells’ Story of Survival, Julie Williams’s account of her great-uncle and his family’s survival of the Titanic disaster, is available in print and ebook direct from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Podcast of Titanic survivor Albert Caldwell, free from iTunes

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by Brian Seidman

As the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic draws closer, NewSouth Books offers a unique opportunity to hear an account of the disaster from an actual survivor of the ship.

In addition to our book A Rare Titanic Family by scholar Julie Williams, which relates the account of her great-uncle Albert Caldwell and his family surviving the disaster, NewSouth is now releasing a special audio podcast in which Caldwell himself talks about his memories of that night in April 1912.

Download survivor Albert Caldwell’s recollections of the Titanic disaster now, free from iTunes.

Caldwell made the recording with his nephew, Bill Romeiser, in the early 1970s. In the podcast, Caldwell discusses how a series of coincidences put he, his wife, and their ten-month-old son on the Titanic, including that originally Caldwell was told there were no seats on the ship but later he was able to secure tickets. He relates how the night before the disaster, the ship happened to have a pastor speaking and praying with travelers. “How little did that happy throng … who were worshipping God at that time,” Caldwell says, “realize that within a few hours, the great majority of them would meet Him.”

When the ship hits the iceberg, Caldwell is initially assured that there’s no danger, but later his family is ushered on deck with the other passengers. Seeking more information about the ship’s condition, Caldwell and his family happen to encounter a half-full lifeboat, saving their lives.

“We pulled away to a distance of perhaps half a mile,” Caldwell recalls, after his lifeboat was in the water, “and watched the Titanic sink. At first glance it seemed unharmed; as I looked toward the front of the vessel I could see that the lower line of portholes ran down into the water. … The last I saw of the Titanic was the stern of the boat outlined against the starry sky, and then with a gentle swish she disappeared from sight.”

Additional information about Caldwell, including how his life changed after surviving the Titanic, can be found in Julie Williams’s aforementioned book, A Rare Titanic Family. Library Journal praises Rare Titanic Family as “a warm biography … related with obvious affection,” and a Christian Science Monitor reader called the book “gripping.” Ben Steelman of the North Carolina Star-News profiled Julie Williams and Rare Titanic Family on his “Bookmarks” blog.

Publishers Weekly included the book in their roundup of Titanic titles, “Still a Night to Remember,” quoting NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa who said Rare Titanic Family “stands out because the author ‘gives voice to the drama such that the human dimensions of the tragedy emerge.'” The New York Times mentioned the book in a similar list on their ArtsBeat blog.

Albert Caldwell’s audio recording can be downloaded from iTunes. A Rare Titanic Family is available in print and ebook formats from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite bookstore.