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Lillian Asplund, 99; Last U.S. Survivor of Titanic’s Sinking

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last American survivor of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, has died. She was 99.

She was just 5 when she lost her father and three brothers -- including her fraternal twin -- when the luxury liner hailed as “practically unsinkable” went down.

Asplund died Saturday at her home in Shrewsbury, Mass., said Ronald E. Johnson of Nordgren Memorial Chapel in Worcester, Mass.

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Her mother, Selma, and another brother, Felix, who was 3, survived the Titanic’s sinking off Newfoundland in the early morning of April 15, 1912.

Asplund was the last Titanic survivor with actual memories of the event, but she shunned publicity and rarely spoke about the tragedy in the North Atlantic.

For much of her life, Asplund said, she was haunted by the faces of her doomed family members who peered over the rail at her after she was passed into a descending lifeboat, according to the website www.encyclopedia-titanica.org.

Among the more than 700 who survived, the two who are still alive were too young to remember the disaster. Barbara Dainton and Eliza Millvena Dean, both of England, were less than a year old when the jewel of the White Star Line struck an iceberg.

More than 1,500 people died on the maiden voyage of the ocean liner whose sinking has long gripped the public’s imagination. That is partly because many prominent and wealthy passengers were on board, including Benjamin Guggenheim, who sipped brandy and smoked cigars with his valet while the ship went down.

Mainly, it is because its owners had arrogantly trumpeted the ship, billed as a technological marvel, as “unsinkable.” In the end, the vaunted network of watertight compartments had not been built high enough.

The Asplund family had boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England, as third-class passengers. They were on their way back to Worcester from their ancestral homeland, Sweden, where they had spent several years.

After the ship struck the iceberg, the family went to the ship’s upper deck, Asplund’s mother recalled in an interview with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette shortly after returning to Massachusetts.

“I could see the icebergs for a great distance around,” she said. “It was cold and the little ones were cuddling close to one another and trying to keep from under the feet of the many excited people.... My little girl, Lillie, accompanied me, and my husband said, ‘Go ahead, we will get into one of the other boats.’ He smiled as he said it.”

Rescued by the steamship Carpathia, the surviving Asplunds were taken to a New York City hospital before returning to Worcester to live with Selma Asplund’s sister.

Because the family lost all of its possessions and life savings of $700 on the Titanic, the city of Worcester held a fundraiser and benefit that brought in about $2,000 for them.

In 1951, the family moved to Shrewsbury.

Asplund never married. She worked at various secretarial jobs. She retired early to care for her mother, who was said to have never recovered from the tragedy.

Selma Asplund was about 90 when she died on the 52nd anniversary of the sinking in 1964. Felix Asplund died in 1983 at 73.


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