Therearesome people who have bad luck as their constant companion, and Jennie Hansen is one of those people. She was one of those people that could not possibly catch a break.
Mrs. Claus Peter Hansen (Jennie Louise Howard) was born 20 December 1866 in Racine.
To emphasize the unfortunate luck that Jennie had, we must say that Titanic was not the only accident she was in, she had lived through several catastrophic events.
Jennie was a pastry cook in the Blake Opera House and Hotel which burned to the ground on 27 December 1884. She made the last trip in the elevator before flames gutted the shaft. Prior to the fire by several months, she was found lying unconscious in the kitchen overcome by gas fumes from the stove.
On 25 July 1900 in Racine, she married Claus Peter Hansen, a barber from Denmark who settled in the United States in the 1890s and worked in Racine, Wisconsin.
In 1912, Peter and Jennie were going to Denmark to visit his parents and three brothers, whom he had not seen for twenty-one years.
Before leaving Racine, Jennie told her brother, Thomas Howard, that she dreaded making the trip, saying that she had a feeling she would never return alive; she even told Thomas the type of funeral arrangements she wanted in the event that her body was recovered (he took this in a humorous vein).
The Hansens left for Europe on board the Cunarder Campania on February 14, 1912.
When the time came for Peter and Jennie to return to America Peter´s twenty-six-year-old brother, Henrik Juul Hansen decided to leave Denmark and accompany them to the new world.
Peter bought their tickets at the White Star agent (C. Hansen) in Maribo, Lolland. (south of Sealand) and the three boarded the Titanic at Southampton as third class passengers.
So, having in mind the luck she had, you know that something would go wrong.
Here is her story in her words:
“The first intimation I had that something was wrong was when the engines stopped. We did not notice scarcely any jar when the ship struck the iceberg, but after being on board for several days one gets so used to the pounding of the gigantic engines that when they are stopped it is immediately noticeable.
We were in bed, but I rushed to the stateroom door and said to Peter, ‘something has happened, come on and get up right away,’ but Peter told me that it was something of no importance. I opened the door and asked some one, but they only told me to get back into bed. I went back, but I heard the steerage passengers coming upstairs and I looked out again. I saw the cabin stewards with life belts on and people rushing around. I asked again what the trouble was and an officer yelled to me to get a life belt on and get out on deck. Then I told Peter and with Henry we jumped into our clothes and got belts on.
By this time, I knew that something awful had happened, and I heard shots fired, but whether they were to scare the panic-stricken steerage people or for distress signals I could not tell. We got out on deck and as the stairs leading to the boat deck were crowded with passengers, we had to climb up on an iron ladder on the outside of the ship.”
After the ship hit the iceberg, Jennie’s husband was insistent that she board the life boats and live to tell their story.
” I stood there with Peter and Henry and when an officer told me to get into a life boat, I was willing but when they wouldn’t let Peter go with me I just hung on to him and begged and begged them to let me stay too. An officer grabbed hold of me as I kissed Peter, and threw me into a life boat and I got an awful bump on the head that stunned me for a long while. There were forty women in the little craft and it was crowded. As we were lowered to the water, someone threw a baby over the deck, but instead of it going into the lifeboat, it hit the water and was drowned. Peter threw me my pony coat and I caught it all right.
Peter finally convince Jennie to get in the lifeboat with the words: “Jennie, you had better go so that there will be one of us to tell the story back home”. Peter and Henrik both perished in the sinking.
Jennie claimed that in the crowded lifeboat a sailor was sitting on her lap rowing the whole time.
“As we pulled away from the sinking Titanic I could see Peter and Henry standing on the upper deck just where they were when we parted. It was the most pathetic sight I ever hope to witness, as the boat broke in two, with the people on board shouting and crying while the band played ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’
The night was the most beautiful of the whole trip. The sea was calm and the only bad feature was the cold, due to the fact that we were so near icebergs. We could see the ship sinking and sinking, as it was a fine night. The lights, everyone on the ship, were burning until the explosion occurred, and I watched until I saw the last porthole go under.”
Witnessing the death of thousands of people alongside with her husband and brother, Jenny remembers how awful it was to refuse the drowning men to get in the crowded lifeboat:
“It was pitiful how we had to refuse to take drowning women and men into the boat, but we couldn’t because it was so crowded. We would see them in the water, trying to swim and crying and begging, but they had to drown.I think I have gone through enough on this rip to make me death proof. I remember well how I buckled on Peter’s and Henry’s life belts, and how, besides holding the oarsman on my lap, IO also held a little baby, whose mother and father were lost, most of the time we were in the life boat.”
As a result of the Titanic disaster, Jennie suffered such a shock to her nervous system that she was unable to shed a tear after. She also suffered from severe nightmares and went to stay with her elder brother Thomas Howard and his wife Maggie. Apparently Jennie’s nightmares were so severe that Thomas and Maggie had to go and hold her down on the bed.
After she got better, Jennie returned to Racine where she married Elmer Emerson (who was 19 years her junior). She was 45 years old at the time of the disaster. Her husband did not survive the sinking. She died from Bronchitis at the age of 85, five days short of her 86th birthday.
Her story was maybe not featured in a huge Hollywood blockbuster, but it touched us and we find her story fascinating.
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