‘Titanic’ author to visit Gadsden

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 By Danny Crownover/Special to The Messenger

As popular history goes, few stories are as dramatic and endlessly fascinating as the sinking of the Titanic. This year marks the 100th anniversary with Samford University journalism professor, Dr. Julie Williams giving a video presentation and book signing at Elliott Community Center Friday night, Feburary 10th, at 6 p.m.

The City of Gadsden and the Etowah Historical Society will offer this one-time presentation to the public free of charge. Refreshments will also be served.

Her book, “A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells’ Story of Survival,” reflects upon this disaster through the saga of one couple who survived the sinking. Dr. Williams is the great-niece of Albert Caldwell who survived. She is also the author of “Wings of Opportunity: The Wright Brothers in Montgomery, Alabama.”

Williams draws on first-person accounts from her great-Uncle Albert and extensive research to tell the fascinating story of the young family who were saved by a combination of luck, pluck, and Albert’s outgoing nature.

Of the families that boarded the unsinkable Titanic in 1912, only a fourth stayed together during the sinking and arrived safely in New York. The lucky rescue of Albert, Sylvia, and their 10-month-old son Alden aboard Lifeboat 13 is the subject of A Rare Titanic Family. Their detailed story of the short life of the Titanic and their lucky rescue has never been fully told in Titanic literature.

Albert and Sylvia, idealistic young Presbyterian missionaries from the American Midwest, had set out to Bangkok, Siam, on the very day of their wedding in 1909, eager to serve God and see the world. But things went awry. Their experiences aboard the ship were only one part of a bigger nightmare. The Caldwells had been Presbyterian missionaries in Bangkok, Siam (current day Thailand), but fled in what they described as a desperate journey around the world to save Sylvia’s health.

Fellow missionaries, however, believed the couple had reneged on their contract at financial loss to the church. Not even the sinking Titanic ended the hunt for the Caldwells. A Rare Titanic Family follows all the true-life plot twists of a family who survived their trip on the Titanic but whose lives were forever changed by what they witnessed. Luckily in the end their name was cleared and they had a full life part of which was dedicated to telling their story.

William’s presentation includes a photo taken of the Caldwells on deck. It is an unusual surviving souvenir sent to them after the disaster. After the presentation, Williams will have her 208-page book available for signing.

“I knew them well,” Williams said. “Albert lived to be 91 and died when I was a senior in high school.  He was 26 years old when he survived the Titanic on April 15, 1912. I heard the Titanic story so often from him that I knew the story as well as my own name…or so I thought. As I researched the story further for the book, I realized I had hardly known the story at all.  It was fascinating to find that my great-uncle and family were actually in a cat-and-mouse chase around the globe, when they wound up on the Titanic.”

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