It was April 15, 1912 when the Titanic sank.
Milwaukee native Joan Randall’s mother and grandparents survived the sinking.
She tells their story of survival to WTMJ’s Libby Collins on this week’s episode of WTMJ Conversations.
Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: Now, you said that your grandmother really wouldn’t talk about the sinking at all. How did you get the information that you have? And it is quite a story as to what your family endured, especially on the night of the sinking, but how did you get all that information?
JOAN RANDALL: That’s a magical thing that sometimes makes me confused about whose story this is. A lot of the story that I can tell, that I do tell, came from what — a group of people that my mother would call “Titanic Nuts,” N-U-T-S, Nuts, who were people who were totally infatuated with the Titanic and the story, who, over the years, would contact her and ask her some questions. But after Cameron’s movie, but before that — what’s his name?
LIBBY COLLINS: Robert Ballard.
JOAN RANDALL: I forget his name.
LIBBY COLLINS: Ballard.
JOAN RANDALL: Yes, how could I forget Robert Ballard.
After Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic, things really picked up and a lot of Titanic groups would contact my mom. And there were several of them, individuals in Milwaukee. And she had a whole beginning social life with Titanic enthusiasts, which she always lovingly would call Nuts. “Are you another Titanic Nut,” she’d say, and laugh in a very charming way, because they made a big deal about her. And she was always very modest and kind of put up her hands and go, “Yeah, yeah, okay.”
LIBBY COLLINS: All right. Let’s tell the story as you discovered it. And I know you did a lot of research and you talked to a lot of people, but what happened the night the ship sank? Where were your grandparents? Where were your aunt and uncle? Where was your mother?
JOAN RANDALL: Okay. That’s a good question. As I said, they were — their sleeping quarters were on opposite ends of the ship. My grandfather told the story in the Milwaukee Journal article right after he arrived there of him and his brother going up from their accommodations — I don’t remember which floor they were on, but down into the ship — going up to the deck above them to see ice on the deck on the bow. And so, then they went — they went and they got some information about what was going on, and they walked through the ship, the whole length of the ship to the back to get the women. So, the two of them did that, and as — this is in the night after the ship hit the iceberg and things are kind of getting hysterical, a little hysterical according to my grandfather’s words. And they collected the women, and my mom, put lifejackets on them, and then tried to make it up, up to the top, to the deck, to the boat deck.
LIBBY COLLINS: How difficult was that? Did he — did they ever share that information with you as to going from the stern of the boat in steerage, getting up to where the boats were?
JOAN RANDALL: There were crowds, and my grandfather reports that he took sideways, didn’t stay in the staircase, he went through second-class. And so, he made his way through the crowds up until he got up to the top. And in that process, he lost his brother and his sister, they were separated. And he had no idea — he had no idea for some time where his brother and sister were, whether they survived or not.
LIBBY COLLINS: Now, when you say that there were crowds, I mean, so much that he lost two adults, how did he stay close to your grandmother and your mom?
JOAN RANDALL: Well, first you would have to know my grandmother. Now, my grandmother would have been holding on to her daughter, with a grip that I was familiar with because when she hugged me, I was sure my bones were going to break. So, I’m certain that my grandmother held on to her daughter with that kind of fierceness because that’s how I experienced her.
My grandfather, I’m sure, was shepherding them forward because they did not get separated, all the way up to the deck, at which time it was women and children first. So, my grandmother — the story goes from my grandfather, by the way, that he was held back from getting into the lifeboat, but as the lifeboat was being lowered, there weren’t very many people in this lifeboat, it could hold over 40. My grandmother and my mother were screaming, and according to my grandfather’s words, he rushed over the edge of the ship and jumped into the lifeboat as it was being lowered.
LIBBY COLLINS: Wait a minute, he literally leaped from the side of the ship into the lifeboat?
JOAN RANDALL: Yeah, but I don’t know how far that was. He doesn’t say it was a 20-foot jump or anything, he just said he pushed — pushed through the line or pushed through the people who were holding people back and jumped in the lifeboat.