Thursday, September 12, 2013

Michiganders aboard the Titanic, Part I: The Bishops

While researching my previous post about the Knorr ("Michigan-made ship makes 'Titanic' history"), I began wondering how many Michiganders had been aboard the Titanic when it sank in the North Atlantic in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. I "Wikipediaed" that question ("Google" is a verb now, so I can make "Wikipedia" one too, right?), and learned that several dozen of the 2,224 people on board the ship either came from, or were heading to, Michigan. One couple was in first class, a few families and individual travelers had second-class cabins, and the rest settled for third-class passage. I can't write about all of these individuals on my blog, but every so often, I'll publish the story of a Michigan-based person (or people) who was aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage. The first post in this series is about the Bishops, a newlywed couple who were the only Michigan residents to obtain a first-class cabin aboard the ill-fated ship.
This is what a first-class cabin on the Titanic looked like.

Dickinson (Dick) and Helen Bishop had been married only about five months when they boarded the Titanic following a whirlwind honeymoon through Africa and Europe. The couple wasn't hurting for money. Nineteen-year-old Helen was the daughter of Jerrold Walton, owner of the Sturgis-based Royal Easy Chair Company. Twenty-five-year-old Dick had inherited a sizable estate following the death of his first wife, who came from a wealthy family in Dowagiac.

Helen and Dick Bishop

The Bishops' trip overseas was undoubtedly exciting, but an encounter the couple had during their stay in Egypt might have warned of things to come. According to Helen, a fortune-teller told the young newlywed that she would experience three disasters: a shipwreck and an earthquake, both of which she would survive, and a car accident, from which she would die. The prediction was eerie, but not enough to keep Helen off the Titanic, which she and her husband boarded in Cherbourg, France on April 10.

The couple's first few days on the boat were uneventful, and likely filled with the kind of activities--musical performances, elaborate dinners---available to first-class passengers. On the evening of April 14, Helen and Dick were in their stateroom when the Titanic struck an iceberg. Helen later said that she didn't feel anything when the impact occurred, but several minutes later, someone came to the Bishops' stateroom instructing them to make their way to the deck. Helen did, but officers sent her back, telling her that all was well. Shortly afterward, Helen and Dick were getting ready for bed when a friend knocked at their door and told them the ship was listing. The Bishops weren't sure how serious the situation was, and made a few trips between the deck and their room before they realized that the Titanic was in trouble. Leaving behind most of their possessions (including Freu Freu, a dog they had acquired in Italy), the Bishops found seats aboard the first lifeboat to leave the ship. They and their shipmates drifted in the icy water for several hours until the steamship Carpathia rescued them shortly after 4 a.m. on April 15. (The Titanic had completely sunk at about 2:20 a.m.)

One of the Titanic's lifeboats approaching the Carpathia

After their rescue, Dick and Helen testified at a Senate inquiry into the disaster, then returned to Dowagiac, hoping they could settle down and put the incident behind them. The Bishops likely thought they had used up all their bad luck for a lifetime, but sadly, this was not the case. In December 1912, Helen give birth to a baby boy, Randall, who died two days later. Afterward, the Bishops took a trip to California, where they encountered an earthquake---the second part of the fortune-teller's prophecy. The third part of the prophecy came true, at least in part, in November 1913, when Dick and Helen were involved in a car accident that, though not fatal, left Helen with severe head trauma that ultimately led to the end of the Bishops' marriage in 1916.

Helen's bad luck continued; she slipped and fell at a friend's house three months after her divorce from Dick, and died of her injuries at the age of 23. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Three Rivers. The Dowagiac Daily News reported on her death the same day it ran an article announcing  Dick Bishop's new marriage, to a woman from Chicago. Dick went on to serve in World War I, and eventually moved to Illinois. He died of a stroke at age 73 in February 1961.

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