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W.Va. woman recounts story of aunt's surviving Titanic's sinking

Jean Cotten never knew Jessie Bruce Trout, but heard plenty of stories about her

April 12, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Jean Bruce Cotten of Falling Waters, W.Va., holds the landing card from her aunt Jessie Bruce Trout, who was a passenger on the R.M.S. Titanic. Jessie Bruce Trout was evacuated onto lifeboat No. 9 as the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. — Jean Cotten was born 12 years after her aunt, Jessie Bruce Trout, died. So, she never learned firsthand the ordeal her aunt endured as one of the 713 survivors of the R.M.S. Titanic.

But that didn’t stop her from hearing plenty of stories.

“The family talked about it all my life,” Cotten said. “We were told everything that you read about. We heard all the gory stuff about how frightened she was, how dark, how cold it was and of seeing the lights as the ship went down.”

Cotten said Jessie’s lifeboat, No. 9, was about a half-mile away when the Titanic sank in the Atlantic on a moonless night 100 years ago Saturday.

“The women were calm in the lifeboat, but the men were hysterical,” Cotten said.

All Jessie had in the lifeboat was a coat over her nightgown, her purse, bracelet and comb, Cotten said.

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The boat carried 40 women, six crew members, two young men and a few children. Jessie cared for one of the children during the night, Cotten said.

She has the landing card that Jessie was handed by the crew of the Carpathia. The card would be needed when she arrived in New York.

The Carpathia was the first ship to respond to the SOS sent out by the stricken Titanic. The ship’s crew rescued the survivors in the lifeboats.

Jessie’s journey to the Titanic began on Sept. 22, 1911, six months after she married William Henry Trout in Columbus, Ohio. A railroad worker, he died that day in an accident on the tracks, according to a family history compiled by Robin Bortner-Brown, Jessie Trout’s great-granddaughter.

Jessie, 26 at the time, sailed to Scotland on Jan. 12, 1912, on the White Star Line’s Oceanic. She needed to spend some time with her grandparents after her husband died.

On her way home to Columbus, Jessie stopped in London to visit with her sister, Margaret, her husband and five children before heading back to the Oceanic.

Margaret was the only one of Jessie’s 11 siblings who didn’t come to America. The family came first to Canada and most of them eventually settled in White Bear Lake, Minn. Her father was a noted cattle breeder. Jean Cotten grew up in Minnesota.

Jessie’s return passage on the Oceanic was canceled because of a coal strike. The White Star Line transferred the Oceanic’s passengers to the Titanic for its maiden voyage to New York.

“The Oceanic’s first-class passengers were given second-class passage on the Titanic,” Cotten said.

That alone might have saved Jessie’s life since most of the Titanic’s second-class women passengers made it into lifeboats, she said.

“Jessie’s relatives in Columbus had no idea that she was even on the Titanic until she arrived home,” Cotten said. “They thought she was on the Oceanic.”

Authorities in New York gave Jessie clothes and $25 to get back home to Columbus.

The Columbus Citizen, the city’s local paper, covered her arrival home with a front page story on April 22, 1912, headlined: “Columbus Woman Survivor Tells Her Experiences in Awful Marine Tragedy.”

Jessie married again, this time to Harvey Walter Bortner, and moved to a farm in Tuscola County, Mich.

They had a son, Bruce E. Bortner, born April 14, 1915, two daughters, Elizabeth, born April 20, 1920, and Frances, born Nov, 6, 1922.

Jessie died on Dec. 30, 1930, in an automobile accident. She was 44 years old.

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