The Titanic's LI connections

Connie Currie (left), Angela Becker and John Wells Connie Currie (left), Angela Becker and John Wells sit in front of the plaque in honor of Titanic victim Edith Corse Evans at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Sayville. (April 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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They were crossing the Atlantic in grand style: An heiress with a summer home in West Sayville. A scion of the founder of Smithtown. A Greenport businessman traveling with his wife and their young nephew.

Several decks below, in steerage, a young Irish woman who would make Glen Cove her home was merely hoping for a fresh start in America.

They were six passengers with present or future Long Island connections -- all aboard the Titanic on its tragic maiden voyage.

Three of them died 100 years ago Sunday, along with about 1,500 others, when the supposedly unsinkable ocean liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank.

The others survived but spoke rarely over the years -- and then only with reluctance -- about their roles in the most storied ship disaster of all time.A special Mass and memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Sayville, where Edith Corse Evans was a summer parishioner.

As the Titanic filled with water, Evans heroically gave up her lifeboat seat -- saving a mother of six.

"The service is not just for Edith Corse Evans, it's for all the people who died that day," said Connie Currie, historian at the Sayville church.

The tragedy has spawned a slew of riveting stories about passengers and crew members, but Evans' courageous act stands out.

She was 36 and single -- a stockbroker's daughter and Colonial Dame of America who was an heir to a hide-tanning and real estate fortune.

According to some published accounts, she gave up the last seat on the last lifeboat.

The words uttered by Evans at that fateful moment have varied over the years, but the most authoritative account, in Walter Lord's 1955 book, "A Night to Remember," has her telling the woman she saved, "You go first. You have children waiting at home."

That woman, identified in news reports as Caroline Brown of Acton, Mass., would later tearfully express her gratitude in interviews.

Evans' informal guardian on the voyage, Col. Archibald Gracie, a wealthy West Point graduate, survived the sinking. Later, he would share the warning a London fortune teller had given Evans.

"Beware of water."

'Never saw him again'

As the ship began taking on water, shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, Gracie and his friend, James Clinch Smith, of Smithtown, made a vow.

They would stick together "through thick and thin," Gracie would write in his account, "The Truth About the Titanic."

Smith, 56, a sixth-generation descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith, helped lift women and children over the railing of the listing ship and into lifeboats, Gracie recalled.

He and Smith stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the final minutes before the ship sank about 2:20 a.m.

"The water was upon us and just as it struck I rose with a jump at the same time and was carried high, when I grasped the brass railing around the bridge deck and held on with might and main," Gracie wrote.

"Then I looked hastily to the right and left, but Smith was gone . . . I never saw him again."

Gracie was rescued, but suffering badly from exposure, he died eight months later. His book was published posthumously.

Last to board

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Ellen Shine was 20 when she left her native County Cork to join her brother in Hell's Kitchen, an Irish neighborhood on Manhattan's West Side.

Traveling by herself in third class, she was thought to be last to board the Titanic when it took on passengers from Ireland after sailing from Southampton, according to Don Lynch, author of "Titanic: An Illustrated History," published in 1992.

Shine survived by climbing into a lifeboat.

A longtime resident of Manhattan, she moved to Glen Cove in 1976 to live with her family after the death of her husband, John Callaghan. She died in 1993 at the age of 101.

"She rarely talked about the Titanic," said a granddaughter, Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council. "We weren't supposed to talk about it because it was upsetting to her."

A century ago, Irish immigrants making an ocean voyage often carried a religious medal of a saint and their family back home would pray for safe passage, Quinn said. The medal would then be sent back to relieved relatives.

Her grandmother lost her medal of St. Brigid in the North Atlantic.

Said Quinn: "She was so sad that she never got to send it back."

'Cries of hundreds'

Marshall Drew, only 8 at the time, remembered watching the horror from his lifeboat, seated next to his aunt.

"I could see row after row of porthole lights sinking into the sea," he recalled in a 1980 Newsday interview -- three years after the aunt died.

"And then there seemed to be a huge explosion with steam, sparks and smoke . . . You could hear the cries of hundreds of people across the water, and then all was quiet."

Marshall was the son of John William Drew, owner of a granite business in Greenport. He was aboard the Titanic with Lulu Drew, 34, and James Drew, 52, also of Greenport, who had been raising him after the death of his mother, Elizabeth.

He and his aunt were among the roughly 700 passengers who survived. The uncle remained aboard and perished.

Marshall Drew would become an accomplished photographer and artist who taught fine arts at Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens, for 36 years before moving to Westerly, R.I. He was 82 when he died in 1986.

Sarah Madison of Belchertown, Mass., related to Drew by marriage, said he was overlooked during the head count of survivors and initially listed among the dead.

A small item found among Drew's possessions after his death illustrates the public's enduring fascination with the tragedy. The "RMS Titanic" hatband, purchased on board and given to Drew by his uncle, was auctioned in 2004 for $87,000.

He is buried in Westerly under a tombstone with an etching of the ship. The inscription reads: "Teacher -- Artist -- Friend -- Survivor RMS Titanic Disaster 15 April 1912."

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