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In 1912, area news took precedence over Titanic tragedy

April 15, 2012

A hundred years of hindsight have allowed for increased research and speculation regarding the sinking of the Titanic in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. Today, stories about the disaster are everywhere, featured in countless books, movies, and newspaper and magazine articles. Different angles of the tragedy are continuously examined, with topics ranging from the fictional story portrayed in the hit blockbuster movie "Titanic," to a recent article discussing the fates of the dogs that were onboard the ship, to ongoing debates related to how to best preserve the site of the wreckage.
In 1912, though, the disaster did not receive such widespread publicity, especially in St. Marys. The story was news, but it did not take precedence over the events happening locally in and around the community. Even though the ship first sent out distress signals late on the evening of April 14, and The Associated Press and The New York Times had stories ready for April 15 editions, no news of the tragedy appeared in the newspaper in St. Marys that day.
With no immediate ties to the Titanic, area residents were more concerned about events that were happening here, though that is not to say that the April 15, 1912 edition of The Daily Press was not without tales of misfortune. One of the items featured at the top of the front page announced, "Home Blown Up At Emporium," and detailed how a house, owned by the Elk Tanning Company and occupied by John Keherli and his family, had been completely destroyed by an explosion and fire at 4:30 a.m. the previous morning. While Keherli had managed to rescue his wife and three children, the house and the majority of their possessions were a total loss. The article also reported that Keherli "had no insurance, and had recently purchased a quantity of new furniture."
Along with the Keherli family's misfortune, area residents were also likely talking about the results of that past Saturday's primary election. Another article at the top of the front page announced, "A Large Vote Was Cast In St. Marys Saturday," and went on to state that "Saturday was probably the most interesting primary in the state. In St. Marys and the remainder of Elk County, interest was intense and a heavy vote was polled."
Other odds and ends from that day indicate that life in the community continued to go on as normal, and, of course, one of the main items that was likely on the mind of many area residents was that the day also marked the opening of fishing season. A brief paragraph near the bottom of the front page announced: "Trout fishing opened today and a large number of St. Marys anglers are whipping the nearby streams."
News of the sinking of the Titanic first appeared in The Daily Press 100 years ago today, when a brief article ran near the bottom of the front page of the Tuesday, April 16 edition. Appearing under the heading "1,500 Lives Lost By Sinking of Vessel," it stated, "It is reported that 1,500 lives were lost by the sinking of the steamship Titanic, one of the largest boats afloat, who was on her maiden voyage to this country. The luxurious vessel struck a huge iceberg 600 miles south of Halifax, at about 10:25 o'clock Sunday night and sank four hours later. The Titanic carried a large passenger list, among those on board being men and women well-known in America and Europe." That was the extent of the information provided.
Among the news featured more prominently that day were the results of a bowling game played the previous evening where "the Athletic bowling team defeated the Jeffs in a one-sided game at the Gymnasium alleys;" a story from the Philadelphia Times discussing how firefighters' wives were nervous on days when the fire station's dog was scheduled to be fed at their home; and a notice that the town of Cross Forks in Potter County was being abandoned due to lack of industry in that area.
In addition to The Daily Press, news of the Titanic also appeared in The Elk County Gazette, which was published weekly at that time. The Gazette carried a slightly longer and more detailed version of the tragedy in its April 18, 1912 edition. While news of the Titanic appeared on the front page of the Gazette, like in the Press, it was relegated to the bottom of the page underneath articles related to more local happenings.
The article was titled "Disaster At Sea: Greatest Vessel Ever Constructed Goes to Bottom on Maiden Voyage," and began by stating that "the S.S. Titanic, the greatest vessel ever constructed, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic collided with an iceberg off the coast of New Foundland Sunday evening, resulting in the most terrible sea disaster of modern times. Of the 2,200 passengers that were known to be on board the great vessel only 800 are known to have been saved. Those survivors are mostly women and children, who were given the preference of the men passengers in boarding the lifeboats that were launched just before the vessel sank to the bottom with its enormous burden of humanity. The vessel was supposed to have been the greatest ever constructed and had been termed 'unsinkable.'"

Pick up a copy of the Monday, April 16, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.

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