‘Unknown Child’ From Titanic Finally Identified
It has taken 90 years, the latest in DNA technology and a television documentary to do it, but the “Unknown Child” from the Titanic has finally been identified.
The crew of the Canadian recovery ship Mackay-Bennett found the body of the young, fair-haired boy a few days after the steamer sank, killing more than 1,500 people.
There was no identification, and the crewmen decided to take the body to Halifax and pay for a proper funeral, burying the coffin at the top of a hill in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, along with 120 other Titanic victims.
The headstone reads “Unknown Child,” and over the years it has attracted the attention of cemetery visitors.
Now the experts have determined it was the body of Eino Viljami Panula, who was 13 months old when the Titanic sank April 15, 1912. He was one of five brothers from Finland who died in the disaster, along with their mother.
“The unknown child is now a known child, identified and returned to his family,” said Ryan Parr of Canada’s Lakehead University, who coordinated the work of more than 50 scientists, genealogists and Titanic researchers.
Eino’s mother, Maria Emilia Ojala, and her five sons were traveling to the United States to join her husband, John Panula, who was working in Pennsylvania when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.
Last month, producers of the television series “Secrets of the Dead” contacted Finnish bank clerk Magda Schleifer, 68, and asked if she would donate a blood sample for DNA testing to see if the unknown child was related to her.
It was the first time she had heard about an unknown child, and she said she wanted to help if she could, especially since the lost child was around the age of her granddaughter.
On Tuesday, Schleifer visited the grave with other relatives. She said she knew that her grandmother’s sister and her five sons had drowned when the Titanic sank, but the family’s loss became more real when blood tests confirmed the unknown child was Eino.
“It has been more and more a family story, and now it’s more like something really happened,” she said.
Of the 150 victims of the Titanic buried in three graveyards in Halifax, 45 remain unidentified. But the unknown child had always stood out.
When scientists exhumed the remains from the grave last year, they found only a wrist bone weighing less than a quarter of an ounce and three teeth.
Parr said a copper medallion inscribed “Our Babe” and placed in the coffin by the sailors may have helped preserve the bone fragment from oxidation.
“The romantic explanation is that the sailors felt so much for that little boy that they put the medallion to make sure he was preserved long enough for us to find him and identify him,” he said.
The family decided that the boy’s remains would stay in Halifax. “The child has been taken care of here,” Schleifer said.