Presentation tells Titanic survivor's tale

GENOA – “The sea is no place for a woman,” Leslie Goddard said, as she opened her dramatic, one-woman program on Violet Jessop, a first-class stewardess who survived the sinking of both the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic.

For 45 minutes, Goddard, a re-enactor from Darien, mesmerized the standing-room only crowd in the Community Room of Resource Bank in Genoa with first-hand accounts of both events taken from Jessop’s 1998 memoir. The program was part of the Genoa Public Library’s summer reading program.

“It seemed like an appropriate program,” Craig Pierce, the library’s outreach director, said, adding that a lot of kids do research on the Titanic.

Probably the most famous shipwreck in history, the RMS Titanic was on its maiden voyage when it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sank on April 15, 1912. Of 2,224 passengers and crew, 1,502 were killed.

Jessop managed to survive, Goddard said, because she “happened to be standing by a lifeboat” and was told to get in to see if it was safe for the rich passengers she was serving.

Less well-known is the sinking of the Britannic a few years later. Converted into a hospital ship during World War I, it was on a mission to transport wounded soldiers when it hit an underwater mine outside of Greece and sank in the Aegean Sea on Nov. 21, 1916. Since the boat had not reached its destination, only 30 of the 1,100 on board drowned.

“It was a sheer fluke (she was on the ship),” Goddard said. “She had joined the British Red Cross and happened to be assigned to this ship. People ask all the time why she went back (to ships), but she had little education. ‘I don’t really have any training for anything else,’ she wrote in her memoirs.”

Although written in the 1930s, Goddard said the memoir wasn’t published until decades later, when Jessop’s nieces discovered them after her death in 1970 at the age of 84. They were published around the same time James Cameron’s popular movie version of the Titanic was released.

That was also the first time Goddard - who has masters’ degrees in both history and theater - learned about Jessop, one of 10 famous women she has been portraying for the last decade.

The next program of the Genoa Library’s summer reading program will be a presentation by historian David Clark, “Route 66 on One Tank of Gas,” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, also at the Resource Bank in Genoa. The show is for ages 8 and older.

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