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The Unsinkable Millvina Dean

On April 10, 2012  hundreds of people gathered in the English port town of Southampton.  They were there to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

Titanic docked at Southampton

Everyone knows the tragic story of the unsinkable ship…that sank.  Less than a week after it set sail from Southampton, shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912, the ship hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the sea about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, taking 1,517 souls with it.

Survivors of the wreck were thoroughly —and understandably— traumatized by what had happened to them.  My grandfather, who was a little boy when the ship sank, said that people were afraid of the survivors, that they had a haunted look in their eyes and were believed to bring bad luck.

That seems like a horrible thing to think about people who had escaped such a disaster, doesn’t it?  It shows you how times have changed and how much more compassionate the human race has become.

One of the survivors aboard the ship was commonly known as Millvina Dean.  Little was known about her until a new interest in the Titanic arose in 1985, when the wreckage was found.  I became aware of Millvina shortly before her death in 2009 at the ripe old age of 97.  A large picture of her hung on the wall behind the  cash register in the gift shop at the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri.  I was curious about who she was, so I asked the cashier and then came home to do some research.

This is Millvina’s story….

She Was Born Elizabeth Gladys Dean

Photograph taken circa 1912/1913 of Millvina D...

Photograph taken circa 1912/1913 of Millvina Dean and her brother, Bertram. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bertram Frank Dean and his wife Georgetta Eva Light welcomed their second child, and only daughter into the world on February 2, 1912.  She was christened Elizabeth Gladys Dean, but was known all her life by her nickname Millvina.  (It is unclear where that nickname came from.)

Little Millvina’s father Bertram was a pub owner who wanted to start a new life for his family in America.  His cousin was a tobacconist in Wichita, Kansas, and had invited Bertram and his family to come there and help him run the business.  So off they went on a new adventure.

The Deans had not originally intended to board the Titanic, but a coal strike and fate (if you believe in such a thing), put them aboard that ship in Southampton on April 10, 1912.

The Night the Titanic Went Down

Like so many other migrants at the time, the Deans did not have a lot of money, so they couldn’t afford to travel in style — their berth was in the overcrowded steerage of the massive ship.

Unlike so many stories about the unfortunate souls in steerage, Bertram Dean was able to get his family out.  Millvina’s mother recalled that Bertram went to investigate after hearing (and feeling) a loud crash late in the evening on April 14, 1912.

When he came back, he announced that the ship had crashed and that everyone needed to get dressed and get on deck.  Millvina, her mother, and her older brother Bertram (Bert) Vere Dean were placed on one of the first lifeboats that left the ship.  Bertram, Sr. promised that he would meet up with them later, but he never did.  He perished with 1,516 other people  on that frigid night in April.

Millvina’s mother Georgetta at first wanted to continue to Kansas, but after a week in United States, she took her children and moved back to England, to the family farm near Southampton.  The children were educated and generally taken care of through pensions given to the survivors.

Millvina Found Fame But Not Fortune

Millvana Dean had lived a quiet life.  She never married nor had any children.  She worked hard as an assistant/secretary at several businesses around Southampton and briefly worked for the government during World War II.

She never told her coworkers that she was on the Titanic.  She didn’t see the need to because she was only two months old when the ship went down; she didn’t remember any of it.  And she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

When the ship’s wreckage was  discovered in 1985, she was tracked down and interviewed by several people.  So at 73 years old,  Elizabeth Gladys “Millvana” Dean suddenly became famous.  She neither sought fame nor particularly wanted it, but she accepted it and attended a number of events in Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Here is a video of her speaking and signing autographs in 1998 in Canada:

Her Final Days

Millvana’s health became quite fragile in her last days on earth, and it became necessary for her to live in a nursing home.  Unfortunately, she did not make much from all her appearances for events tied to the Titanic, and could not afford the $5,000 a month in resident fees.

She sold off many of her family’s possessions, including a mail bag her mother had carried around (and was at one time thought to have been the bag they used to lower her off the ship in), compensation letters from the Titanic Relief Fund,  and a suitcase full of clothes given to the family.

Thankfully the person who bought the items at auction gave them right back to her.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet heard of her plight, and they along with director James Cameron and Celine Dion donated more than $20,000 to The Millvana Fund to pay for her expenses.

Her health began failing even more after that.  She suffered from pneumonia, and eventually succumbed to the illness in her sleep on May 31, 2009.  She was 97 years old.

Please let me know what you think about the Unsinkable Millvina Dean and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic by leaving a comment below.  And please feel free to share this post with anyone you think would be interested!


Go On Vacation Beverly Hillbillies Style: Come Visit Branson, Missouri

Spring and summer are the perfect time for vacation.  The weather is nice and you can swing some super cheap deals for you and your family.  The toughest decision you have to make is deciding where to go.  Well, I might be of some help in that department.  Each Wednesday throughout this spring and summer, I am going to highlight cities and towns all over the USA that are family friendly and wallet friendly, too.

First up is Branson, Missouri, a little town in the Ozarks that is about 250 miles southwest of St. Louis.  Branson was founded by and named after general store owner Reuben Branson in 1882.  Since that time it has grown from a one horse hillbilly town to a thriving community that attracts thousands of tourists every year during all four seasons.


While in Branson you obviously need somewhere to stay, and there are many options to choose from.  There’s practically a hotel or motel around every corner.  My choice out of all of them is the Ozark Mountain Inn, located on “the strip” along the historic 76 Country Boulevard, just minutes from all the action.

The Ozark Mountain Inn is comfortable with a friendly staff.  The standard rooms come with central air/heating, a mini fridge for storage, and other standard amenities.  The suites have all the standard amenities plus an in-room whirlpool and sofa.  All rooms offer a free continental breakfast down in the dining room each morning.  I suggest that you get down there early (around 8 a.m.) if you plan on eating there.  If you show up any later than 8 a.m., you’ll be lucky if you can get a crust of bread.

Another option for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is Peppercorn’s Restaurant and Bakery, also on 76 Country Boulevard, just a few blocks from the inn.  They offer a buffet full of home-cooked goodness with every meal and a nice, down home atmosphere.  You won’t leave hungry…or broke!

Once you are well rested and well fed, you want to get out there and see all the tourist attractions.  And Branson is chock full of them.  It’s hard to narrow down the list of all the things to see and do there, but I managed to whittle down the list to my three favorite things.

Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar CityOperating between mid-March and Christmastime every year, Silver Dollar City is the first thing most people think about when it comes to Branson, Missouri.  It’s a sprawling 55 acre theme park that opened on May 1, 1960 and offers a peek into late 19th century frontier/hillbilly lifestyle—the Beverly Hillbilly lifestyle.  Silver Dollar City is where the Clampetts come from, you know.  And the people down in that part of Missouri do talk like them, but the real locals might be a wee bit more civilized.

There are more than 20 rides at Silver Dollar City, including about a half-dozen roller coasters.  One of the most popular rides is the Fire in the Hole, an indoor roller coaster that tells the story of the night  bald knobbers set fire to and destroyed the old mining town of Marmaros.  This story is half fact, half legend.  The town was, in fact, destroyed by a massive fire, but the events that led up to the destruction are unclear.

If  roller coasters and other rides aren’t your thing, there is plenty more to do there.  You can stop by the saloon and see an old-time stage show with music and can-can dancers.  Or you can stroll to one of the many crafts attractions.  Watch candy makers, blacksmiths, carpenters, glassblowers and more make beautiful and tasty things, and then drop by the connected shops to do some souvenir shopping.

The Titanic Museum

Titanic Museum - Branson, MO

Titanic Museum - Branson, MO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is tomorrow.  If you couldn’t (or didn’t want to) get passage on the sold out anniversary voyage, there is another way for you to have the Titanic experience — you can go to the Titanic museum in Branson, Missouri (there is also one in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee).

The museum is a replica inside and out of the ill-fated ship.  When you enter, they give you a little card with a real-life passenger’s name, and you’re known by that name for the tour.  You are guided through many rooms that show you exactly what the ship looked like, and the tour includes many artifacts retrieved from the shipwreck, including one of the rare menus.

There is another section close to the end of the tour that has many costumes and props from James Cameron’s motion picture epic Titanic.

At the end of the tour you find out if the passenger you played lived or died on that frigid night in April, and then you go off to the gift shop to do some shopping.

Shepherd of the Hills

The Shepherd of the Hills (film)

Author and minister Howard Bell Wright wrote the Shepherd of the Hills in 1907, and was put to film four times, beginning with a silent in 1919.  The best known version was released in 1941 starring John Wayne.

The book masterfully depicts the typical lives, loves, and struggles of Ozark Mountain people in the latter part of the 19th century, but the film, especially the John Wayne version, doesn’t do many of the characters justice.

Branson has an outdoor venue called Old Mill Theater that puts on a live presentation of the drama most nights in March-October each year (they have shows every night in May and June).  But the play isn’t the only thing The Shepherd of the Hills has to offer….

Homestead Tour

Before you go to see the play at night, you should take a tour of the old homestead during the day, which includes the Morgan Community Church, which is similar to the church Howard Bell Wright preached at, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Old Mill Theater, and learn how to make good old mountain moonshine at the Jennings Still.

Horseback Riding

If you’re in Branson between Memorial and Labor Day, you can take a nice, relaxing horseback ride along the trails in the Ozark Mountains.  (Well, it’s relaxing if you’re not the guy who I went on a ride with a couple of years ago; the horse bucked and he fell off and rolled down a mountain…I just had to throw that in there….lol)  Anyway, before you saddle up and ride, you give the staff your height, weight, and experience with riding and they set you up with an right horse.

The 30 minute ride is educational and fun for children over the age of 7 and adults.  You must also be less than 250 pounds for this guided ride.

Now I think I had better wrap up this long-winded post and turn it over to the readers.  What city or state would you pick for your perfect springtime getaway?  Please let me know in the comments below!  And feel free to share this post with friends and family.  The more the merrier!