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The Olson family's Titanic exhibit.
The Olson family's Titanic exhibit.

Langford's Titanic Victim

Apr 15, 2015

Today is the day when, 103 years ago, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The massive ocean liner was designed to be unsinkable, but her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City in April 1912 turned out to be her only voyage.

Few reminders of the tragedy exist in South Dakota, but there is one on a Day County farm. Sometime between 1885 and 1912, Ole Olson scratched his name into the wall of his family’s granary southeast of Langford. No one knew it was there until 2003, when Olson’s nephew Harlan and his wife Karen rediscovered it while converting the granary into a craft house.

Ole was among more than 1,500 people who died when Titanic sunk. Ole’s parents homesteaded in Day County in 1883. He grew up there and later moved to Canada to start his own farm. He spent the holidays visiting family in Norway, and was returning to Canada aboard the Titanic to begin spring planting.

Ole’s mother refused to talk about the accident. She firmly believed her son had survived and would simply show up one day at their farm. But passengers like Ole stood little chance of making it out alive. Women and children were given priority as the lifeboats were being filled, resulting in a 70 percent survival rate. However, only 20 percent of the 1,670 men aboard ship survived. Numbers were lowest among those traveling second (8 percent) and third class (16 percent). Oddly, 33 percent of men traveling first class were rescued. Many, including J. Bruce Ismay, the White Star Line’s chairman, endured social ostracism for fleeing the foundering ship with little or no regard for the 2,200 passengers and crew. Ismay is the subject of one of those new books.

Any family would cherish uncovering such a piece of family history, but it’s even more important to the Olsons, given Ole’s connection to such a famous disaster. The Olsons have created a small exhibit in Ole’s honor. They have framed the portion of the wall around Ole’s signature and added photos and information about the Titanic.


11:55 am - Mon, April 16 2012
Bernie said:
Read an interesting account of a Nebraska farmer's experience on the Titanic. He was a poor farmer from Norway, and jumped into the ocean just as the ship made its final descent. He and another fellow found some sort of wreckage to climb aboard, but soon several dozen more joined them and it was too much weight so -- in letters written from his hospital bed days later - he matter-of-factly told his family how he and some of the other men had to forcefully throw some of the people off their makeshift raft until it could float again. Even then, about half of those on the raft died during the night from exposure to the cold. He attributed his survival to his experience with cold weather growing up in Norway.
05:10 am - Thu, April 16 2015
Jen Johnson said:
Another South Dakota Titanic story is that of Oskar Arvid Hedman, who was a third class adult male survivor. He later settled in Onida, SD and lived there until he died in 1961.. He is buried in Onida as well.
09:17 am - Mon, June 1 2015
John Andrews said:
Jen, is there more information about Oskar? Did he leave an account of what he experienced on the Titanic?
08:21 pm - Tue, June 9 2015
Jerry Fisher said:
I suspect Oskar Arvid Hedman might've been the person my elderly family friends once spoke about.

I was a teen living in Pierre in the 1980s and Alex & Irma Smith, who farmed between Pierre and Blunt, talked about an acquaintance who was a Titanic survivor. All I can recall for certain is that he suffered for much of his life from what sounds like PTSD; every time there was a game with a crowd in attendance, the roar of the crowd apparently took him right back to the night when the Titanic sank and all those hundreds of people with nowhere to go screamed out in fear and cold as they froze slowly to death in the water.

If my memory isn't playing a trick on me, I think I was told that he went on to be a doctor, but again, I'm not entirely sure. Alex & Irma told me that he never really spoke about it, but it was common knowledge.

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