100 Years from Titanic;
Eleanor was the only survivor from Titanic that James Cameron apparently ever met and he thought she reminded of Rose from the movie – She became a celebrity because of this – Eleanor was the only daughter of Alina.
Alina was one of the Finnish immigrants on Titanic, and she was amongst the just 20 of them who survived (whole families of the Finnish immigrants perished there, amongst them was the family of the most famous baby victim of Titanic – although now it’s thought this unknown baby was of English family’s).
I will write about her amazing survival story. She was one of the lucky ones to get onto the 2. last lifeboat of Titanic.
First of all I gotta say that since being a kid, I’ve been hugely, passionately interested in everything about Titanic. (There is one reason for that and I will write about it at the end of this article.)
I haven’t met any of the survivors or the relatives of the survivors BUT a fact is that a couple of the survivors from Titanic lived in the very same area I live in.
So years ago when I was in junior high and prepared my 1 hr presentation on the Titanic disaster, I had a chance to meet with one of them (I should only had to give him a call to arrange it), but being too young gave up on that. Can you believe the reason; it was that I knew this person was Swedish speaking and I was Finnish speaking young girl who thought she could not speak a couple of words in Swedish.. I can say that I’ve regretted that once-in-a-life-time-chance BIG time, as of course it’s years now since this person has passed away.. But I can’t do anything about it anymore. After Millvina Dean’s death on 31st May 2009, there’s none left of the Titanic’s survivors. She was the last of them.
BUT.. Let’s get into Alina’s story!
Alina Backberg from Helsinki was a young woman, 27 years old, with two small children as she stepped onboard Titanic. Before stepping onboard the ship, there was a souvenir photo taken of her with text “White Star Line. The Titanic Souvenir Photo.” in its lower left corner. A beautiful and serious faced young woman looks at somewhere distant in that photo. Alina with her children became one of the “unknown Finnish” on the ship as their names weren’t in the passenger lists to be found.
Alina was visiting her family in Finland from USA for a few months before heading back to the States. She and the 4 and 2 year old kids, Harold and Eleanor, and two Swedish young women travelled together to Southampton to get onboard some steamship only to discover that, because of the coal mine strike, their ship wasn’t about to leave at all.
So they were transferred to the new and glamorous Titanic instead. She got the souvenir photos taken of her and the kids before stepping onboard the ship.
Alina, kids and Swedish Elin and Helmina got a 3. class cabin from the back part of the ship. Apparently they had good times onboard as Alina befriended with Elin, they had fun time together throughout the journey and the women got lot of attention from one of the stewards working in the 3. class. This man became their savior on the night Titanic sunk.
On the night between 14th and 15th of April, approximately 11.40 PM Titanic crashed to the iceberg from its right side, about 30 seconds after Frederick Fleet had shouted the famous words from the viewing tower “Iceberg straight ahead!” They tried to turn the ship desperately but there was nothing to be done to prevent the crash.
(In fact, this is where they did a fatal mistake – should they have let the ship crash to the iceberg directly, it probably would have prevented the disaster and such a big loss of life as it would have given more time to save passengers to the other ships).
Alina, Elin, Helmina and the kids woke up to the crash and it was so severe that Alina’s older child Harold dropped from his bed. Alina and Helmina went quickly to the nearest outer deck to see what’s going on.
They noticed lots of big ice floes there and started playing with them and kicking them to each others like they would have been footballs.
Some members of the crew came there and told the women to get back to their cabins as the ship would soon continue its journey. So they did obediently.
However, the young steward who had a crush on Alina later rushed to their cabin and told everyone to put on warm clothes and the lifejackets and then guided them outside safely. At this time there were already lots of people being trapped behind locked doors and gateways in 3. class, and lots of other people there who just didn’t know how the get out of there, and the ship was careening and sinking fast and water coming in with full force. But Alina’s, kids’ and her Swedish friends’ savior guided them out from this trap safely as he had the needed keys to the locked gateways.
Harold said at the premier of “A Night To Remember” in 1958 that “They didn’t let us go to the upper decks as the crew of the ship just tried to save the 1. class passengers. 1. class passengers were more important than us.”
They were in such a rush that they couldn’t take much of anything with them and Alina didn’t even manage to put on shoes to Eleanor.
On the site where the final lifeboats were, there was already a huge panic. People, also men, were trying to jump in with full force while the crew members tried to stop them and ended up putting down boats that could’ve taken much more people in.
Alina with the kids were directed to the 2. last boat, boat number 15. Alina was already there and the boat was ready to be put down when Eleanor was given to her in some kind of bundle. Eleanor said she remembered how she was given to her mom and how all those hands were reaching her from the boat to ensure she got there safely. She also remembered hearing loud screaming and shouting and crying from everywhere around her, everyone was screaming and crying. She cried and was scared.
Elin had Harold and she stood on the side and was so shocked she wasn’t able to function at all. Alina shouted at Elin to give Harold to her but it seemed that she wasn’t able to do anything being so shocked. The boat was already being lowered at the time. Alina panicked and started screaming of her son. Then one of the crew members standing there snapped the little boy from the frozen Elin and tossed him to Alina onto the boat.
This was the final time Alina ever saw Elin. Helmina on the other hand was saved, to the boat number 13.
Alina’s boat was completely full as the panic was already out of hands and everyone knew, and the crew, that there was nothing to be done anymore and that the ship was going to sink very soon. Only one boat was left after it. Alina’s boat was lowered in so big rush that it almost crashed the previous boat, boat number 13, under it. Boat number 13 and all its passengers were saved at the final second when the ropes were managed to cut and boat slipped fast away from under Alina’s boat.
The temperature was nearly at 0 Celsius and there was water in the boat and everyone was frozen. They tried to get further away from the sinking place being scared the sinking boat would take their boat too into its swirl. I don’t know if they saw the actual sinking, how the lights went off and how the ship cut from the middle and the rear went up before sinking, but they must have heard the massive rumble like voice when it went down and the screaming of all the 100’s of people in the water. They were on the boat about 5 hours before Carpathia arrived and rescued them.
Carpathia arrived to NYC on 18th of April with 705 survivors from Titanic. Alina’s husband Oscar who lived in Saint Charles was desperately waiting for the news about his family. Alina and the kids weren’t listed as survivors on the first listing. But finally on 18th of April, the day she and the kids arrived to NYC, he heard the news that made him literally fall down; they all had been saved.
So Alina continued her life in the States with her family. Eleanor grew up, got married and had a son. They all lived to see how big legend Titanic grew up to be throughout the world. Alina, Eleanor and Harold were honor guests at the premier of “A Night To Remember” in 1958 in Chicago. Eleanor became pretty famous as she was a survivor from Titanic and people used to call her just to be able to talk to someone who had been there and survived it.
Like her mom, Eleanor too developed a huge fear toward sea. The first time she saw sea water after the Titanic disaster, was in 1994 when she visited Florida at her son’s home.
In 1996 Eleanor and her family was invited to a special cruise to the sinking place of Titanic. On the sinking place, there was a memorial service held. Eleanor had an old red pennant from White Star Line and it was put to the mast of the ship. The cruise was ghostly, her son described back then.
Those souvenir photos taken before stepping onboard Titanic, Alina’s and Eleanor’s, were sold at Christie’s auction in 2007 June.
Eleanor passed away in 1998 March. Alina passed away in 1968 December, the same year as her son Harold.
James Cameron gave Eleanor a royal welcome and treatment at the premier of Titanic in 1997
In the beginning of his master piece movie “Titanic”, old Rose returns to the sinking site in a cruise with her family members. Alina’s daughter’s Eleanor Shuman’s cruise was pretty much the same with the one Rose had in the movie.
This made James Cameron to think how much Eleanor resembled of Rose.
So he invited Eleanor – “Rose” – to the premier of “Titanic” in Chicago, 1997. They posed together on the red carpet. Cameron gave a royal welcome to Eleanor and treated her like a queen throughout the premier and the party afterwards. Eleanor was apparently the only survivor from Titanic Cameron ever met.
Eleanor loved the movie and watched it several times. Each time she cried. After the Titanic movie premiered and the Titanic “ecstasy” began, Eleanor became a celebrity. She even had to change her phone number as she got so many phone calls daily from people who wanted to talk about Titanic with her, or just hear the voice of a person who had been there.
So this ends up my article on Alina and Eleanor…
Oh, I remember that I said there’s one reason why I’m so passionately interested in Titanic and have been since being a kid.
It is mostly because of the sinking of a cruise ship Estonia in 1994 September here in Scandinavia – in the tiny Baltic Sea between Finland, Sweden and Estonia.
About 900 people perished into that frigid sea on that stormy night and only a little over 100 survived as the cruise ship sunk so fast, in only about 30 minutes it turned upside down and sunk.
The rescue operations failed at some extent totally, as it was all so fast and totally unexpected. Because of this, most of the people that managed somehow to get to the lifeboats were frozen to death.
And, the main reason was simply that no one thought this kind of disaster would ever happen to a modern cruise ship – at least not in here, in Scandinavia, where everything is all so modern and well-taken-care-off.
However unlike on Titanic, most of the survivors were young males at their best age and also young women, and many of the perished were just women and especially kids and older people. There was the “Law Of Jungle” on Estonia that night, and all the polite rules like on Titanic “women and children first,” were forgotten totally. You couldn’t survive from Estonia if you wasn’t fit for it mentally and physically, as you had only 30 minutes time to survive when the large ship ultimately went upside down and sunk.
It was a huge news here back then – every tv channel and newspaper was filled with it for days and weeks. Probably one of the biggest reasons for this huge on-going newsworthy, was the fact that here in Scandinavia it’s been a tradition for like forever, to go to relax and party to these cruise ships – mostly these ships have these type of travellers. The other type of travellers are the business travellers – but also the business travellers love to relax and party while onboard the cruise ships.
It was “luck” in a sense that the accident happened during the week, instead of a weekend, as should it have happened during the weekend, the death toll would probably have been double when the ship would have been full – now it was only half full.
I will remember that beautiful fall day, 28th of September 1994 like forever – It was a perfectly beautiful fall day. Sun was shining from a clear blue beautiful sky, the air was fresh and cold. It was really windy, almost stormy windy. I was at school, then went to the hair dresser’s where I heard the first strange news from the radio that something massive had happened nearby coastline of Finland but I remember that me and the hair dresser just didn’t quite figure out what yet. Went back to school… And then home.. My mom was at home, but also hadn’t heard anything as she hadn’t watched or heard the news. But then me and my mom just happened to open the tv and heard the terrible news. It was really terrible I remember, as it was so beautiful windy fall day then.
I was on Estonia as well some time before it sunk – it was a really nice cruise ship and very fun cruise, I remember how much fun we had there. I was there with my father, younger brother and a school friend of mine.
So on 28th of September 1994, the relaxation, sleep, and partying for somebody, was stopped literally in about couple of minutes in the midnight because of the big storm and the human errors the crew and the captain made.
There were actually TWO captains onboard that night. One of them was in charge of the ship and the other one was a traveller. Both of them disappeared.
Although the other one of them, the travelling captain, was claimed to be seen in a German news video clip shortly after the sinking. Even his close family members, like his wife for one, were sure the man in that video was him. BUT the man in the video clip was never found or located regardless of the investigation, nor did he ever contact the authorities or his family. I saw that particular news clip too back then several times, like did probably many of us here in Scandinavia, and, yeah that man sure did remind a lot of that particular 2. captain. He was wrapped into blankets in that video and going into an ambulance amongst a couple of other survivors, BUT, the authorities, police and such, and nor the family of his, never located that particular man, and, he never contacted them. HMMM..
So this mysterious man was just one of the reasons why the conspiracy theories got so strong throughout the years, amongst some other strange events that may or may not have happened in Estonia that night. But now, this video clip and the man in it, and the other strange events on that night, have been somehow forgotten totally. So…. Don’t know what to think about it all really.
Anyway, because of those fatal mistakes the crew made in the evening and night between 27th-28th of september – they drove the ship full speed ahead although there was a big storm then – on the night of 28th of september 1994, about 1.50 AM, the ship sunk, after turning apperantly upside down. It all happened in about 30 minutes after the ship was striken by the sudden loss of its front gates – which happened little after 1 AM, about 1.15 AM.
The crew contacted the other ships nearby to ask for help and to send the SOS, after hearing and feeling the massive “rumble like” noice from losing the front gates of the ship, after 1.15 AM, and, after realizing water was coming in with full force to the car deck. They were all polite and calm and didn’t sound like panicking at all. I’ve heard that audio clip several times; they were truly really like “Good evening, this is Estonia, we’re facing some troubles, can you come and help us a little… ” typely calm yet at that point. Just little later, a few minutes later, that particular audio got more panicky as they obviously realized what was going to happen inevitably and that they didn’t have any more time left.
Some of the survivors decribed how they saw the ship and its lights from the lifeboats, and how the lights went finally off and how they saw the ship turn upside down and go under the water. Like the Titanic survivors in a sense.
Some of the survivors told how they had been standing on top of the bottom of the ship while it was floating upside down shortly before it went down. The last photos of Estonia were actually taken at that precise moment by these couple of people standing on top of the ship’s bottom, and you can see the upside down ship from those photos that were published by the media and these persons too standing on top of the bottom with their lifejackets. They happened to have cameras with them for some reason, AND they used the cameras’ flash lights to shed light on to where they were and how they could reach the nearest lifeboats. And they did manage to survive.
There were all these theories about a conspiracy behind the sinking of Estonia – and I don’t really wonder why as that strange video clip is just one of those strange things attached with this sinking. But – at the end, I think, and so do majority of the people in Scandinavia nowadays, that it was a sad human error only. They, for some reason, drove the ship full speed ahead in that stormy sea with even 10 meter waves, ’till it broke up and sunk fast. This was testified by other large passenger cruise ships nearby which saw how fast Estonia went compared to them.
So in that sense it was similar to Titanic. They too made a terrible human error back then that cost the lives of over 1500 people.
I was a kid back then but that disaster completely changed my mindset and view on things permanently. I somehow became so much more spiritual and mental, and also kinda mystical, since that accident, and started seeing things from that new point of view.
Let’s say I started slowly realizing what life’s all about, I realized how much power and mysteries there are around us and how to view things and think about things in another way, from another point of view; from a more spiritual and mystical point of view. I realized there are all these unknown, powerful layers in our lives that we can use both to our advantage and disadvantage. I started thinking about things deeply in general. And I remember how my friends didn’t quite get this – we were just kids so they thought this was just “another ship sinking” or something, although we hadn’t had similar catastrophies here in Scandinavia like Estonia, since some world war, and maybe even not then ( at least I don’t know any this large ship that would’ve sunk back then).
I started actively searching for meaning in life and just searching for whatever.. It was kinda a mental and spiritual wake up – luckily I got it at a really young age so that started forming my life from there on.
I didn’t know personally anyone that would’ve been on Estonia, but my class mate’s, and friend’s, friend died there, a same aged kid as we were, and they never found her so that was obviously shocking.
Anyways, I guess I’m telling you with this that these kinds of disasters can teach us so much. And the survivor stories are amazing stories of will power and will to LIVE and get thru it no matter what. Also the mental wake up that can happen as the result of these kinds of events can be very powerful and meaningful. It will literally open whole new doors and gateways to new opportunities and whole new universes within universe to you that would never come to exist unless you had experienced that wake up. And unless you had opened your mind completely to all the opportunities and mysteries around us everywhere and learned to see yourself, others and the life from more mental, spiritual point of view. That new point of view sure does work! So I would suggest anyone to try it and open your mind to the mysteries and unlimited power of life around you!