Titanic Anniversary: Two 'locals' helped in rescue; fate kept third from launch
The RMS Titanic - the foremost ocean liner believed to be unsinkable - was felled by an iceberg 100 years ago today.
More than 1,500 people were killed in the tragedy that, over the past century, has become the most-analyzed maritime calamity, and certainly the most romanticized.
The 710 people who survived were plucked from the icy waters of the North Atlantic and taken aboard the RMS Carpathia, which had changed its course after its captain learned of the disaster.
Aboard the Carpathia were two men with local ties - a passenger who would eventually depart the coal region for good, and a crewman who would come to call it home.
A third man who would settle in Shamokin escaped the tragedy by pure luck.
Aboard the Carpathia
Jozsef Herold, a Hungarian, had arrived in America in 1899 at about age 14 and lived with an older sister in the Mount Carmel area, according to a great-niece, Illona Siesholtz.
Thirteen years later, he boarded the Carpathia and was bound for a visit to his home country.
Joseph Zupicich, then 20 years old, was also aboard the Carpathia, working as a steward. He, too, was headed to his homeland in the Istria region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Since Zupicich wouldn't move to Shamokin until three years after the Titanic's sinking, it's likely the two men didn't know each other prior to the ocean trip.
Zupicich was playing cards when the Carpathia's alarm bells were sounded at midnight.
"The captain - God bless him - called everyone on deck. 'We are in danger. I'm risking your life.' He told us right out. 'I don't know if we are going to make it or not. The Titanic is in trouble and is sinking. And we have to go help them. If God gives us the luck. If God helps us, maybe He can save us too,'" Zupicich told David DeKok, former reporter of The News-Item, for an article published in 1982 on the 70th anniversary of the accident.
The former steward was 89 years old at the time of the newspaper interview but recalled in detail the trip to the Titanic's location and the scene upon arrival.
They were 50 miles south of the crash site off of Newfoundland, he said, and had to navigate the very icebergs that claimed the Titanic.
"We could have hit that iceberg same as they did. But Captain Rostron - he was wonderful. He had guts," Zupicich told The News-Item.
As the Carpathia approached the scene, the crew had already gathered blankets, food and medical supplies. Their orders, Zupicich recalled: Pick up any and all survivors and leave the dead behind.
When the Carpathia arrived, the Titanic had disappeared below the ocean waters, upon which hundreds and hundreds of bodies floated.
Herold shared that image with his Hungarian descendants, Siesholtz said. Her relatives recalled the man saying of the scene: "There were so many dead bodies in the water. It was unbelievable."
Cargo nets and ladders were used to reach the lifeboats that teetered in the waves below, most all of them well beyond capacity.
Herold was among the Carpathia's passengers who assisted the crew in getting the survivors out of the ocean and onto the rescue ship.
Zupicich recalled some survivors climbing aboard themselves. Others were too weakened by the cold to do so and were pulled aboard.
He said of a rescue he made: "I pulled out one lady. You know what she had on? Only a little piece of cloth. Nothing. I never forget the poor girl. She grabbed me and kissed me. And she cried."
The Carpathia finished the Titanic's voyage to New York City. Zupicich said the arrival was painful as people searched for loved ones among the rescued.
The father of a Shamokin woman could have been counted among the dead. Instead, fate intervened in the form of musical theater.
When Elmer T. Edwards' mother died, he "couldn't get situated," said his daughter, Betty Edwards, of Shamokin.
So he moved to Wales, where he stayed with his aunt and took up work in the coal mines.
Fifteen months passed before he decided to return stateside.
With ticket in hand, Betty said her father arrived with friends early at the port of Southampton, England.
"They said, 'Oh, heck, it's not time for the ship to go home, how about we go into town and see the show 'Puss in Boots,' " Edwards recalled last week.
When Elmer and company returned to the port, the Titanic had already begun its maiden voyage. He couldn't have known that his life had been spared.
Betty isn't sure what her father ever did with his ticket.
"I wish I had that ticket. I could make a little bundle on that one," she said with a laugh.
One left, one stayed
Zupicich never made it back to his homeland. After washing dishes in the Astor Hotel in New York City - a job offer afforded by Madeline Astor, a Titanic survivor who lost her husband, John J., in the tragedy - he moved to Shamokin in 1915 and took up work as a coal miner at Bear Valley Colliery.
He went on to work as a janitor for 27 years at Ferndale Elementary School and owned and operated Mom and Pop grocery story for 51 years.
Zupicich died at the former Mountain View Manor on April 12, 1987, just days before the 75th anniversary of the Titanic.
Siesholtz said her great-uncle Jozsef did make the return trip to Hungary. He then returned to America, where he met his wife, Julianna.
They had two daughters, Erzsebet (Elisabeth) and Maria (Mary), both of whom were born and died young in America, she said.
After that, Jozsef and Julianna "thought it was a bad omen to be in America, so they went back and didn't return," Siesholtz said.
Maria is buried in St. John's Cemetery near the village of Dooleyville outside of Mount Carmel. Erzsebet is buried in New Jersey.
The couple would have three more children, one of whom, Irene, is still living in Szendro, Hungary, at 78 years of age.
Siesholtz is far-removed from her great-uncle. Her mother, who is Herold's niece, Helen (Tomol) Moleski - a 90-year-old who still resides in Mount Carmel - was born after his final departure from America and never met the man, she said.
But Helen and Irene - cousins - often exchanged letters over the years.
In 2005, Siesholtz and her family made the trip to Hungary to meet their distant relatives. At the time, she was unaware of her family's link to the Titanic.
"You must know the story of the Carpathia?" her English-speaking cousin, Orsolya, asked.
"Well," Siesholtz recalled replying, "what do you mean?"
Orsolya would reveal the family story, and that summer, at 18 years old, she would come stateside to visit America.
Siesholtz and Orsolya remain in touch, and Orsolya, now an attorney, continues to piece the story together whenever Siesholtz asks.
Siesholtz's mother was thrilled to learn of the family's link to the Titanic.
"She was so excited because it's such a piece of history," Siesholtz said.