An era passed into history Sunday morning when Millvina Dean died in a resting home in the U.K. While she lived a long life – 97 years – she won’t be remembered as much for who she is, but rather what she represented. Millvina Dean was the last survivor from the sinking of the Titanic.
My mom is a natural storyteller. When we ran out of Golden Books to read when I was a kid, she’d tell me about the things she remembered before I was born: the big blizzard in 1967, watching the news the day President Kennedy was shot, putting my infant aunt to sleep by playing her Little Richard records. My dad didn’t volunteer too many stories, but – if asked – he would tell me about what it was like serving in the peacetime army between Korea and Vietnam. He remembered when radio didn’t mean music, but shows like The Shadow, The Fat Man and Inner Sanctum.
My Grandpa Ramsey didn’t talk much, but one time – without prompting – he told me about how bars in Chicago when he first came to the city before World War II offered free lunches. Most of them were nothing good; hard boiled eggs and pickles. However, he smiled as he remembered one that had a big bowl of cocktail shrimp every day. My Grandma Francis remembered going to the movies before they had sound. She loved the actor Francis X. Bushman and she cried when she heard Rudolf Valentino died. My Grandpa drove a “Tin Lizzie” to school; before that, he rode a horse.
While my grandparents were old, I knew there were people still older that must have seen things even farther back in history. I remember a man interviewed by Johnny Carson who remembered when President McKinley was assassinated. That was 1901. The Guiness Book of World Records had people listed who had been born in 1860. There were people who remembered the Civil War still alive in my lifetime.
I’ve always felt like a single thread intertwined in the middle of a patchwork quilt that makes up our history. As I asked my mom and dad about the past, Daniel asks me now about watching the Bears win a Super Bowl, remembering when President Nixon resigned, seeing Scooby Doo on television when it was brand new.
Millvina Dean was only a few months old when the Titanic sunk on her maiden voyage. She had no personal recollections of the trip. She couldn’t provide any details that weren’t reported in contemporary accounts and the myriad of books written in the past century. However, she provided us with a personal doorway to those distant events of 1912; that door now forever closed as the Titanic slips down into secondhand history.