By Kristen Miller
DASSEL,COKATO, MN One hundred years after the Titanic struck an iceberg in the cold waters of the Atlantic, a large audience gathered at the Dassel History Center April 14 to hear detailed accounts from that infamous disaster.
With several years worth of research, Greg Isola presented his findings from the ship’s birth to its fateful death. He also shared the local connection tying two of the ship’s passengers to Cokato.
Isola started out by saying he accounted for 66 Finns and Finnish-Americans that had been aboard the Titanic as second- and third-class passengers, many of whom were emigrants headed for America. Of the 66, 23 survived, while 43 perished, according to Isola.
Among the Finnish-Americans were William and Anna Lahtinen, both residents of Cokato at the time. The couple farmed in French Lake Township, near Knapp. William was also a minister at the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church starting in 1905.
Who were the Lahtinens?
According to Isola’s extensive research, he found that William was born Wilhelm Peura April 23, 1876, in Viitsaari, Finland. Isola does not know, however, how Wilhelm became known to as William Lahtinen.
William departed from Hanko in 1903, at the age of 27, with his destination being Lead, SD. He soon met his wife, Anna, in Terraville, SD.
The couple married Oct. 15, 1904, and moved to Cokato April 25, 1905, according to a naturalization petition of 1910.
To answer the question of when he became a minister, Isola figures that since Caleb Wuollet, a minister of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church, died March 1, 1904, William would’ve been called to be the minister soon after. Records also show that Lahtinen performed his first baptism May 11, 1905.
The conclusion it’s very likely he was a minister in South Dakota in 1904. Isola also shared that William farmed for a living and was not seminary-educated, nor was he ordained.
The Lahtinens purchased 10 acres of land from Herman and Maria Tormanen in August 1905, and 10 more acres in February 1906.
At an unknown date, the couple adopted Martha Agnes, who was born Sept. 29, 1907, in St. Paul.
Journey to Finland
The Lahtinens’ reasons for their journey to Finland were three-fold, Isola explained.
First, William was planning to preach with two fellow pastors from Michigan. Second, they planned to visit relatives, including Anna’s whom she never met having been born in America. Third, they were accompanying a family member from Finland to America.
Prior to the trip, William and Anna made the decision to uproot and relocate to Minneapolis. Isola even found newspaper records of a public auction the Lahtinens had Sept. 28, 1911, in an effort to lighten their load and sell the farm equipment they would no longer need.
Records show William conducted his final service in Cokato Oct. 1, 1911.
Isola shared that after the “final Amen,” an elderly lady from the community stood up in the packed church begging the Lahtinens not to go. She warned them of impending danger that awaited them on their journey.
This undoubtedly stunned the congregation, Isola said, “rebuking her for crazy talk.”
The party spent Oct. 4-26 in Michigan’s copper country, Isola said, with Lahtinen preaching no less than eight times in either Calumet or Hancock before making his way to Finland.
From November through January 1912 they traveled throughout Finland visiting family.
Isola’s connection to the Lahtinens came in the form of a letter written by his great-grandfather and sent to his brother. In it, he gave accounts of three ministers, including Lahtinen, who spoke healthy doctrine and were much beloved.
During the trip, Martha took ill around Feb. 18, while in Kemi, Finland. She had “brain fever,” also known as meningitis or encephalitis, and died March 10, 1912. Her funeral took place March 13 in Tornio, Finland. Isola showed a picture of her gravestone.
Fateful return home
The couple made their journey back home without their one and only daughter. Instead, with them on their journey was Lyyli Silvén, a half-second cousin of Anna.
During his presentation, Isola explained how the ship was made and that it met, and even exceeded all the legal regulations.
“They had done everything they could’ve imagined for the safety of this ship,” Isola said, explaining that the ship had 20 lifeboats on board, when only 16 were legally required.
The ship was also built so that the first four compartments could fill with water and still remain afloat.
Isola also noted that in the months leading up to the Titanic’s maiden voyage, there was a coal strike, which limited the number of ships sailing.
The days before, 4,400 tons of coal were collected from other ships and frantically loaded into the Titanic by shovel and bucket, Isola explained.
In that time, there had also been staff changes and not all of them were familiar with the ship, he noted.
The ship set sail April 10 from Southampton, and for the most part, the trip was pleasant and uneventful.
In the days leading up to the tragedy, William wrote a letter to his “spiritual brother” in Kemi. Isola shared that perhaps William would’ve been in the second-class library room, where men sat conversing and smoking cigars.
The night of April 14 was a moonless one, and the water was described as a “plate of glass” and “blacker than black.” The temperature was dropping, and around 10 p.m., the sea temperature was 31 degrees, Isola commented.
The officer gave an order to take a hard “starboard” turn and reverse the engines, which Isola said was a bad decision to make.
In hindsight, the Titanic could have survived the collission with the iceberg by maintaining its course and fully reversing the engines, or taking a hard turn at full speed ahead, Isola said. He further explained that the rudder works more effectively if the propeller is full ahead.
There still would’ve been casualties, however, the boat likely would’ve been able to stay afloat and make it to its destination, Isola explained. He noted that in November 1879, the SS Arizona went head on into an iceberg and stayed afloat.
To the north of the Titanic, another ship named the Californian, had stopped in a field of ice and the wireless operator shut off the communication system at 11:35 p.m. to go to bed, which was customary for that time, Isola said.
The coincidence was that five minutes later, the Titanic struck an iceberg and, roughly 20 minutes later, requested a call for help.
Passengers were told to grab their lifebelts and get on deck, and rockets were fired.
At 12:45 a.m., the lifeboats were loaded and launched.
Isola explained that there were people who didn’t think the ship would sink and therefore, didn’t want to get into the icy waters. This was one of the explanations as to why some of the lifeboats weren’t loaded to full capacity.
Isola also explained that orders were given to allow women and children on the boats first. This meant females of any age and children, 5 years and younger. Boys older than 5 years old had to wait.
Officer Lightoller, who was loading boats on the other side of the ship, interpreted it to mean only women and children were allowed on the lifeboats; yet another reason the lifeboats weren’t filled to capacity.
According to survivor accounts, the Lahtinen couple was on deck and Anna went into the lifeboat, turned around to see William wasn’t coming, and got out of the lifeboat to be with her husband, Isola explained.
Survivor accounts reported that in the time before the ship’s sinking, the Apostolic minister preached of death and forgiveness.
The ship sank at 2:20 a.m. April 15, 1912, with William and Anna among the 1,500 passengers who perished. Silvén was among the 700 survivors.