They are artifacts from a tragic tale that nearly remained an eternal secret. When Lillian Asplund, the last American survivor from the sinking of the Titanic, died in 2006, her family was unaware of the treasures she had kept from that fateful night.
Lillian Asplund, who was 99 when she died, rarely spoke of the disaster that took her father Carl, and her three brothers, including a twin, to their watery graves that freezing cold night of April 14, 1912. The then 5-year-old Lillian, her 3-year-old brother Felix and their mother, Selma Asplund, were pushed into a life boat, and Lillian's last memory of the sinking ship was seeing her father and her brothers peering over the deck as their life boat pulled away while she clung to her mother's skirts for warmth.
After her death, relatives found a shoe box filled with a historical treasure trove from the Titanic in Lillian's dresser drawer. The family approached the auction house Henry Aldridge and Sons of Devizes, England, to help them with the items, and later this month the contents will be sold at a highly anticipated auction.
Andrew Aldridge, auctioneer and Titanic expert, told ABC News that this particular collection was valuable for several reasons. "One, Lillian was the last surviving American from the Titanic old enough at the time to remember the disaster. Only one survivor now remains, a British woman named Millvina Dean of Southampton, England, but she was only two months old at the time." Aldridge added that the items, including one of four remaining Titanic tickets and Liliian's immigrant "forwarding orders," are "indeed truly valuable." The items on auction are expected to bring up to $300,000.
"This shows the family had free passage to travel from New York to Worcester, Mass., where they had previously set up home. For these to have survived is miraculous." And perhaps the most poignant piece from the collection is the beautiful pocket watch owned by Carl Asplund which stopped precisely at 19 minutes past two, one minute before the liner sank. Aldridge says the assumption is that this is the moment when Carl Asplund hit the water.
The Asplund family left Alsema, Sweden for Massachusetts in 1896. Due to a death in the family, they returned to Sweden in 1907 to help Carl Asplund's widowed mother with the family farm. By early 1912, Carl and Selma had agreed to return to the United States with their five children: Filip, born 1898; Clarence, born 1902; Lillian and her twin Carl Edgar, born in 1906; and Felix, born in 1909 all travelled from Sweden to Southampton in early April 1912. With seven third-class passenger tickets in hand, Carl and his large family boarded the Olympic-class passenger liner Titanic at Southampton, England on April 12, 1912.
Third class, or steerage, was occupied mostly by immigrants hoping to build a better life in America, like the Asplunds. Second-class cabins were equal to first-class accommodation on other ships, while the Titanic's first class was, according to historians at the time, of unrivalled luxury. A few of the prominent people on board included John Jacob Astor, believed to be the wealthiest man in the world at the time, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim and U.S. presidential aide Archibald Butt. All three went down with the ship. Of the 2,200 passengers on board, only 700 survived.
Andrew Aldridge explains that the continuing fascination with the Titanic is that every single person, rich and poor, staff or band member, had a story to tell. And the collection of memorabilia found in Lillian Asplund's shoe box is no exception.
"It tells the sad story of loss," Aldridge said.
"The remarkable thing," he continues, is "how incredibly well preserved the documents are." Unfortunately, the bodies of Lillian's three brothers were never found. But after 12 days of floating in the icy North Atlantic, Carl Asplund's body was recovered. He had apparently placed his important documents in the right breast pocket of his coat, and as a result of wearing a life jacket, his torso remained afloat and the documents stayed out of the water.
In addition to the documents, his pocket watch and wedding ring were also retrieved. Carl was buried in Worcester, Mass. Selma was buried with him 52 years later, followed by their son Felix in 1983.
The auction is scheduled to be held on April 19 .