Local families on board Titanic

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Some of the wealthiest families on Titanic's maiden voyage were from the Philadelphia area.

It's been 100 years since the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic but the world's love affair with her story has never been stronger. Now a local exhibit is open dedicated to the historic event and the local families that were on board and who helped make Philadelphia what it is today.

"It was known as the Millionaire's express," said J. Joseph Edgette, Ph.D.

The Titanic's maiden voyage was the ticket to have for those with considerable wealth.

"The people who ended up in first class, in particular, represented America's aristocracy," Edgette said.

Dr. Edgette is a professor emeritus at Widener University. He is the curator for a special exhibit honoring the Titanic anniversary which runs through May 12th.

He has been studying the ship and its local passengers for decades.

"The most prominent is the Widener family and they made their money in transportation," he explained.

To be more specific the Wideners created the concept of a citywide rail system and helped expand the Philadelphia Electric Company to run it.

They also used their immense wealth to provide affordable culture to the public.

"The Wideners put so much into founding and to help found the establishments of Philadelphia library, the art museum, the Academy of Music, the union league of Philadelphia," he said.

George Widener, his wife Eleanor and their son Harry were overseas interviewing chefs for their home.

In James Cameron's movie Titanic, that lavish party in honor of the ship's captain Edward Smith, was thrown by the Wideners, who were friends of his.

George and Harry both died in the sinking and are memorialized in the family's mausoleum at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bryn Mawr.

"John Thayer was the vice president of the Pennsylvania railroad," he said.

He was set to become president, but died in the wreck.

William Carter of Bryn Mawr, and heir to a coal and real estate fortune, was traveling with his wife and two children. They all survived.

In the movie blockbuster, the Renault automobile where Rose and Jack had their romantic "tryst" is a replica of the car that Carter bought in Paris and was shipping back to America.

Also on board Titanic were Lily Potter and her daughter Olive. Four years after the disaster, Lily founded the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Frederick Sutton, who died, transformed Wildwood, New Jersey into a popular family vacation getaway.

Story after story, film after film, the Titanic continues to dominate pop culture and many experts agree that that will continue for the next 100 years.

Local Titanic exhibits:

Widener University

Independence Seaport Museum

The College of New Jersey

The Rosenbach Museum & Library

The Franklin Institute

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Get more Local/State »

philadelphia, franklin institute, local/state, alicia vitarelli
blog comments powered by Disqus