When Titanic survivor Eleanor Shuman was aboard the sinking ship, she was too young to remember little more than the sense of chaos aboard the vessel. She recalled the screams vividly for 85 years before she died on March 11th, 1998. She was one of the last six Titanic survivors, now all of which have passed away.
Mrs. Shuman, originally Miss Johnson, was 18 months old when the Titanic sank on April 14, 1912. She was one of 705 survivors of the Titanic and had a story that would follow her throughout the rest of her life. A native of the Chicago suburbs, her father, Oscan Johnson, was a newspaper editor, and she worked for the Elgin Watch company before becoming a telephone operator in 1962. Her husband, Delbert Shuman, was an International Harvester engineer who died in 1981; the couple had been married for 47 years.
Always keeping the Titanic in her memories, she had a corner in her little hose in Elgin that was filled with Titanic books, a painting of the Titanic, and a photograph of her older brother, Harold, at the premiere of the Titanic movie “A Night to Remember” in 1958.
Before her death, Shuman had acquired other souvenirs and photographs showing her and the director of the 1997 Titanic movie James Cameron. When Cameron and Shuman met, she was treated with great respect. She saw the movie three times, first at a screening along with television movie critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. She later saw the movie at a theater in Elgin and cried at each screening.
The movie made Mrs. Shuman a celebrity. She was forced to change her phone number to an unlisted one after getting more than 10 calls a day from people wanting to hear about her experiences on the Titanic or simply to speak with someone who survived the disaster. She could recall very little of the night; most of the details had come from her mother Alice. The only thing that Eleanor could remember was the screams and the sight of a sea of hands reaching for her from a lifeboat below.
Her boarding of the Titanic came by accident when she, her mother, and her 4-year-old brother went to Finland to visit her mother’s dying father. When they arrived in England, they discovered their other ship had been canceled because of a coal miners’ strike.
They purchased third-class tickets for the Titanic just before the ship had set sail. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, she said tons of ice went on the deck outside their cabin door. Her mother and the Swedish girls they were traveling with had kicked the ice around when an officer shooed them back into their cabins. The officer also assured them that the ship would be on the way shortly.
A little later, the steward who had waited on them escorted them to the boat deck. Her mother, carrying her daughter in her arms, was helped into a lifeboat, and brother Harold, who had been carried to the deck by one of the Swedish girls, was dropped into the boat after them. The Swedish girl had gotten into another lifeboat and survived, but the one holding her brother went down with the ship.
Their lifeboat was the last to leave the Titanic, and they were picked up by the Carpathia and taken to New York. It wasn’t until Shuman visited her son in Florida that she returned to the Atlantic. She also sailed back to the site of the disaster in 1996 for memorial services dedicated to those lost in the shipwreck.
After Shuman’s death, there were five living survivors after Shuman’s death: Barbara West and MIllvina Dean of England, Michael Navratil of France, Lillian Asplund and Winnfred Tongerloo of the U.S.