Monday, February 17, 2020

The Palimpsest

from Bob Stelton 

Gunnar Tenglin Adventure

A frequently asked question of the archaeologist is “How do you know where to dig?” Field-walking remains reliable and has not been completely eliminated despite increasing dependence on and importance of high tech methodology.

In 1971, I was participating in a University of Iowa Seminars in Sociology, a program developed for high school teachers. I was excited by my selection to participate in the program and the Stelton family looked forward to an extended camping trip alongside the Skunk River while the pater familias filled his days with school stuff.
In class one day, the seminar director challenged the group with a call for a volunteer. Without a second thought I accepted a challenge to find and to interview a survivor of the Titanic.

April 12, 1912 was an anniversary observance date for the Titanic catastrophe, but I mused so what! How did that relate to our affairs in Iowa? Reason suggested that our seminar directors had some information to direct our search. But where to dig? We needed a starting point, we needed a library where we could dig up ideas.

A quick review of newspapers on file produced a feature story commemorating the Titanic sinking that included the name of a local resident, Mr. Gunnar Tenglin. A meeting with an elderly, but affable gentleman was arranged.

The Stelton Expedition was on its way to meet and to become history itself. Some legends were challenged.

Our meeting with Mr. Tenglin, who was a 3rd Class steerage passenger on the maiden voyage of the doomed Titanic, mostly corroborated accounts of the event and the aftermath, but not all.
 Tenglin disputed the account of the orchestra performing on the deck as the Titanic was sinking. He was also quoted that he heard a woman screaming moments before she threw a wrapped baby from an upper deck to a lifeboat below. The baby was not saved, and it rapidly sank from view. Gunnar was traumatized by the horror of the moment.

“Women and children first” –legendary law of the sea – but not aboard the Titanic. Gunnar Tenglin recalled instances he observed of men dressed as females ejected by the crew from lifeboats.
In class and, as agreed upon, I presented the Tenglin Adventure. There was a mixed, but pleased acceptance. I had been expected to interview a grand lady, who was a young girl, too young to fully understand her cause for celebration.

As for Gunnar, I would not meet with him again, and he passed on three years later.
In flights of fancy I wonder if he and other Titanic travelers ever meet in angelic seminars.

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