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Researcher to share Titanic’s local connection
April 2, 2012

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – Nearly 100 years ago, two Finnish residents from Cokato were on the fateful trip of the RMS Titanic when it sank in the icy waters of the Atlantic April 15, 1912. The Rev. William Lahtinen and his wife, Anna, were on a return trip from Finland.

Greg Isola has spent years researching the couple and the events surrounding the sinking of what was said to be an unsinkable ship. Isola will share his findings during a program titled “Titanic Cokato” Saturday, April 14 at the Dassel History Center.

Isola, an independent researcher from Minneapolis, came across the story of the Lahtinens during a quest to find his own family history many years ago.

Though he wasn’t related to the Lahtinens, Isola came to find that both his grandparents from Michigan and Sebeka, MN knew the couple.

Hearing the story, Isola found it seemingly unbelievable that two Finnish residents from the small town of Cokato had perished in the Titanic’s journey from Southhampton, England to New York.

His fascination began there. He began delving into old Minnesota newspapers to confirm or correct some of the accounts he had been told.

Of the 23 passengers who were Minnesota-bound, he found the Lahtinens’ story to be a dramatic one as to how they ended up on this particular ship.

“It was an odd convergence of history . . . a hand of fate,” he said.

According to Isola, Rev. William Lahtinen was a pastor of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church beginning in April of 1905.

The couple had traveled to Finland with their adopted daughter, Martha.

Martha’s untimely death delayed their plans to return to Cokato in March, and the next available ship was the RMS Titanic.

It’s one of those stories “that shouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Isola will go more into depth about the Lahtinens’ journey to their fateful end on the Titanic in the presentation.

Through his research, Isola found many conflicting details, making him delve further to piece together facts using Finnish church records, Finnish immigration resources, census records, and a Finnish newspaper from Upper Michigan, Päivälehti (meaning “day paper”). He also had help from local genealogists Richard and Anne Tormanen in obtaining official documentations of the Lahtinens.

Through this research, the Tormanens also found “inconsequential connections,” making for a legitimate history of the Dassel-Cokato area, Anne said.

For instance, the Lahtinens built their home on land once owned by Richard’s great-grandfather. Upon their return, the Lahtinens were preparing to move to a home in Minneapolis, later to be the residence of Anne’s great-grandparents.

With all the information he has collected, Isola said he felt the 100th anniversary would be a “unique opportunity to present the entirety of the story,” sharing both the history of the Titanic and the story of the Lahtinens.

It’s also an opportunity to clarify some mis-information generated through second-hand accounts, he explained.

He will shares photos, stories, controversies of the Titanic, and explanations on how he came to these conclusions.

One of the controversies he will touch on will be the story of the Californian, and why the ship, which was said to be in the proximity of the Titanic, didn’t come to its rescue.

“I’m really looking forward to this,” Isola said, who first approached Harvey and Heidi Barberg five years ago regarding this program, which is co-sponsored by the Cokato Historical Society and the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society.

Having seen Isola’s shorter presentation in Minneapolis, Harvey said it was “very well done,” explaining that the facts seemed to be in line.

Brief history of the Titanic

Built to be “unsinkable,” the RMS Titanic was constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland – the largest vessel afloat at that time, according to Encylopedia Titanica.

Her maiden voyage began April 10, 1912, from Southhampton, England with 2,200 passenger and crew aboard. Just four days into its journey to New York, the ship collided and struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. April 14. The ship sank around 2:20 a.m. April 15 off the coast of Newfoundland.

Of the 2,200 on board, 1,500 perished and 700 survived.

‘Titanic Cokato’ program coming soon

Greg Isola will present “Titanic Cokato” Saturday, April 14 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the Dassel History Center, 901 First Street. There will be a 30-minute intermission with refreshments provided.

The event is free and co-sponsored by the Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society and the Cokato Historical Society.

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