Dakota Datebook

Lost at Sea

Monday, April 14, 2014

 

It was a calm, clear evening in the middle of the north Atlantic on this date in 1912.  The drop in temperature signaled an approaching region of ice, but danger was far from anyone’s mind.  But suddenly lookouts noticed the black spot of an iceberg.  With orders to turn, the ship slowly veered left.  But it was too late.  The glancing blow along the starboard bow proved fatal.

 

Twenty-two hundred passengers and crew were aboard the RMS Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. Only 700 souls survived to tell the tragic story.  As word of the sinking travelled around the world, families on both sides of the Atlantic anxiously awaited news of the fate of their loved ones.  North Dakota was no exception.  There were some happy endings for Dakota families.  Oskar Hedman, Olaus Abelseth and Carrie Chaffee survived the ordeal.  Others, like Johan Nysveen, weren’t so lucky.

 

Born in Norway, Johan Nysveen immigrated to North Dakota settling near Hillsboro as a young man.  For 27 years he and his wife farmed the Dakota prairie and raised four children.  But after the death of his wife, he moved back to Norway.  Returning to the old country, Johan remarried and celebrated the birth of twins in 1911.  Having established a new life in Norway, he decided it was time to wind up his business in North Dakota and transfer ownership of the farm to his son.  At the age of 61, Johan set out for North Dakota one last time.  He purchased a 3rd Class ticket for the Titanic, embarking at Southampton on April 10th.  Having made travel arrangements along the way, his wife was unaware he was onboard the fateful ship.

 

Quartered near the bow, Johan became friends with a fellow traveler, Karl Albert Midtsjø, a 21-year-old Norwegian immigrating to America.  The two had much in common, but the friendship had little time to develop.  Four days later, disaster struck.

 

Feeling the impact of the iceberg, Karl and Johan made their way to the deck.  Assessing the situation, Johan sensed he would not survive.  But he suspected a younger man like Karl stood a better chance.  So Johan stripped off his coat and watch and handed them to Karl.

 

Johan did in fact go down with the ship; his body was never recovered.  Since his wife was unaware Johan was onboard the Titanic, it took several weeks before she discovered her husband’s fate.  But fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

 

Miraculously, Karl survived the ship’s sinking when First Officer Murdoch offered him a seat in Lifeboat 15.  And Karl didn’t forget his friend.  Shortly after the Titanic disaster, he travelled to North Dakota to return Johan’s coat and watch to his relatives.  He stayed with them for several weeks telling them about Johan’s final days on the Titanic; an act no doubt appreciated by the grieving family.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall

 

Sources:

“Mr Johan Hansen Nysveen “, Encyclopedia Titanica http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-biography/johan-hansen-nysveen.html.

 

“Mr Karl Albert Midtsjø “, Encyclopedia Titanica http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-biography/karl-albert-midtsjo.html.

 

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

« Go Back


50 Years
A Million Thanks

Public NewsRoom

Log-on and dig deep into the news of the day. It’s all online in our Public NewsRoom.

» Visit the Public NewsRoom

Breaking News

Support Radio

Your contributions make quality radio programming possible.

» Pledge your support today.

Sign up for our Email Newsletter
For Email Marketing you can trust