Sunday, August 2, 2009

Surviving the Titanic

More than 10 years before the White Star Steamship Line launched the SS Titanic in 1912 for its destiny with an iceberg in the North Pacific, White Star built another vessel that was the biggest steamship at the time.

Like the Titanic, the SS Celtic was built in the Harland & Wolf shipyards in Belfast. With twin screws, it was twice as long as a football field and her displacement was more than 20,900 tons – more than any other steamship. Celtic was launched in 1901 and would provide long and significant service to her owners.

Our interest in knowing more about the SS Celtic emerged some years ago when I learned that my grandfather, Peter Miller, voyaged to the new world aboard the Celtic – likely in steerage, but aboard her, nonethess.

The year was 1906, and Pete Miller was traveling with his older sister, Eva Behm, and her family from Liverpool to New York City. They’d likely already endured a long train ride from Saratov, Russia to a port on the Baltic – then probably gaining passage on a ship to England. They all had made the collective decision to leave their homes in Unterdorf, Russia, not far from the Volga River, to find new lives in America.

They arrived at Ellis Island on September 30, 1906 and would make their way to Longmont, Colorado. Eventually, the Behms would settle in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Pete Miller met Dora Eckerdt in Longmont, where they were wed in 1909, later moving to Chicago, then Watertown, South Dakota, before settling in the Nebraska panhandle, where they raised their family and spent the rest of their lives.

As for the SS Celtic: she survived well beyond the Titanic disaster. The Celtic was particularly noted for her steadiness in rough weather. In 1928 she was converted to a cabin class liner; shortly thereafter, she ran aground in the fog near the entrance to Queensland Harbor in Australia, ending her seagoing days. She was converted to scrap in 1933.