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Titanic survivor's tale comes alive in Genoa

Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Leslie Goddard re-enacts the life of Violet Jessop, a stewardess who survived both the sinking of the Titanic and the sinking of her identical sister ship, the Britannic, on Thursday at the Resource Bank in Genoa.

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 Britannica.

For 45 minutes, Goddard – a re-enactor from Darien – mesmerized the standing-room-only crowd in the Community Center at the Resource Bank in Genoa with firsthand accounts of both events, which were taken from Jessop’s 1998 memoirs. 

The event was sponsored by the Genoa Public Library’s summer reading program.

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

Lesser 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. Thirty of the 1,100 on board drowned.

“It was a sheer fluke [that Jessop 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 the memoirs were written in the 1930s, Goddard said they weren’t published until Jessop’s nieces discovered them after her death in 1970, at age 84. They were published around the same time James Cameron’s popular movie version of the Titanic’s sinking was released.

That also was the first time Goddard – who has master’s degrees in 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. Thursday, also at the Resource Bank in Genoa. The show is for ages 8 and older.

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