A Distinguished Table
We have all heard the story of the ill fated Titanic – the unsinkable ship which sank - but perhaps you didn’t know that Shubenacadie has a rather odd, yet prestigious connection to the Titanic. It involves John Jacob Astor, possibly the richest man aboard the Titanic and John Logan, a small business owner from Shubenacadie.
John Jacob Astor IV was an American millionaire and a member of the prominent Astor family (great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, the fur trader). He is credited with building the Astoria Hotel, New York and also owned the Hotel St. Regis and the Knickerbocker, as well as two homes. He is noted for being an inventor, writer, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Spanish-American war. In 1891 Astor married socialite Ava Lowle Willing and together they had two children, William Vincent and Ava Alice Muriel, but they divorced in 1910.
In 1911, at age 47, Astor married 18 year old Madeline Talmadge Force (who was a year younger than his son Vincent) which created great scandal within the United States. The couple took an extended honeymoon in Egypt and Europe in the hope the scandalous gossip would abate. During the honeymoon Madeline became pregnant and preferring the child be born in the United States, they booked a first-class passage on the Titanic, boarding in Cherbourg, France.
On the evening of April 14th the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink. Many passengers, including the Astors, did not believe the ship was in danger, but as the realization of what was happening began to dawn, the first lifeboat was lowered. Astor helped his pregnant wife on board and asked if he could join them. He was denied permission until all the woman and children had boarded. It is reported that he stood back, asked for the lifeboat number, lit a cigarette and tossed his gloves to Madeline. Madeline survived. He perished.
The cable ship MacKay-Bennett was sent from Halifax to recover as many of the dead bodies as possible. John Jacob Astor's body was recovered on Monday April 22nd. When the MacKay-Bennett returned to Halifax, there was confusion about the identity of some of the bodies, one being John Jacob Astor. Captain Roberts (of the Astor yacht) was allowed to board the Mackay-Bennett in order to identify Astor and send news to the awaiting Vincent Astor.
The recovered bodies were taken to the Mayflower Curling Club rink which had become a temporary morgue. John Snow & Sons of Halifax were assigned the task of embalming the bodies and did so with the assistance of other Maritime embalmers. Snow was great friends with John Logan, owner of the Carriage House and Iron works in Shubenacadie and also the local embalmer. Snow asked Logan for his assistance and Logan generously accepted. Almost all embalmers had their own embalming tables as most deaths during this era were dealt with in private homes. John Logan's table was collapsible for ease in traveling, had mahogany legs and an intricately caned surface.
Snow requested the 'best” embalming table be used for the body of John Jacob Astor. The table chosen belonged to John Logan of Shubenacadie.
John Jacob Astor was issued the first death certificate from the Titanic and was the first body claimed and removed from the curling rink. His body was then forwarded to New York City on May 1st, 1912. He is buried at Trinity Cemetery, New York.
John Logan died a few years later, whereupon his business was taken over by his son, Harve Logan. Harve proved unsuccessful as a business owner so it was sold to Ernest Ettinger, who had learned the trade from John Logan. Ernest 'inherited' everything that came with the business including the table. As years went by, the embalming table was resigned to the attic and Ernest's son, Albert Ettinger acquired the business. When Albert retired he kindly passed the story and the table onto the East Hants Historical Society Museum, in Lower Selma, where it now rests.
- Kate Robson