Going On a Quest
Late last year I was handed an envelope postmarked Norway.
"I think this is -probably something you'd be interested in," said Karin Osterman, who works in The Pilot's accounting office.
The letter said:
"Next year is the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic disaster. I thought you might want to write an article about this around April 15, especially when, -according to the two enclosed obituaries about Mary Compton, she lived in your area at her winter home.
"During the last few years, I have collected more than 200 obituaries out of 705 Titanic survivors. I have thought it may be possible to write a book about them."
Little did Karin know when she handed me that envelope that I have been a Titanic buff since seeing "A Night to Remember," based on Walter Lord's 1955 book, on TV when I was around 10 years old.
For years, I, like many others, imagined that the ship might be discovered and - who knows? - even raised, much like the scenario described in Clive Cussler's novel "Raise the Titanic."
Of course, when ocean explorer Robert Ballard found the ship in 1985, it was clear that the Titanic, split into two pieces, would remain at the bottom of the Atlantic.
In the years since Ballard's discovery, I've watched every Discovery Channel, National Geographic or Learning Channel special that's been produced on the subject of Titanic at least once. I've read many books about the great liner, but only a small number of the 2,000 or so volumes that are out there.
And, of course, I have a copy of James Cameron's epic 1997 film, recently re-released to theaters. (I am debating whether I want to spend the cash to see the film again in 3D.)
In July 2003, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, in Raleigh, hosted a six-month exhibit, "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit," produced by Clear Channel Exhibitions in association with R.M.S. Titanic Inc.
I was lucky enough to attend a media preview of the exhibit at which we were able to see five of the artifacts from the Titanic up close. There was a leather wallet, a button from a uniform, a porthole and a couple of other items.
The exhibit was wonderful; I even went back with my family.
Naturally, my interest was piqued by this letter. The writer, apparently a Titanic buff, has been collecting obituaries for Titanic survivors for a couple of years. Immediately, I was on a quest for information about the Compton family.
I scoured the Internet with little success at first. I did finally find short accounts of their experiences told in 1912, but nothing afterward.
Since I found no record of anyone with the name Compton holding property in Moore County during that time period, it doesn't appear that Mary had her own home here. I am surmising that she was a "snow bird" who spent the winter months down South, returning home to New York and New Jersey when the weather improved.
The enclosed obituaries indicated that Mary had died Dec. 4, 1930, at the age of 83. I paid a visit to Carthage to get a copy of her death certificate. She had been in town for only 14 days before her death.
I am of the opinion that, like many other survivors, Mary and her daughter, Sara Compton, did not want to relive what must have been a nightmare, and didn't often discuss the incident unless it was with close friends.
And although it made it more difficult for me to tell their story, I understand why.
Contact Faye Dasen at fdasen @thepilot.com.
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