Titanic victim was headed to EthanOlof Elon Osén had left his native Sweden and was headed to Ethan for a new life in a new land when the huge ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg and sank.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Olof Elon Osén was just 16, and apparently alone, when he died aboard the Titanic.
Osén had left his native Sweden and was headed to Ethan for a new life in a new land when the huge ocean liner struck an iceberg and sank. He was one of more than 1,500 people who perished on the Titanic 100 years ago this weekend.
Osén was from Ön, Hedesunda, Gästrikland, Sweden, and planned to join family and work on a farm near Ethan, according to his nephew, who lives near Mitchell. Instead, the boy drowned or froze to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
Osén’s body was never recovered.
A total of eight Titanic passengers were headed to South Dakota, according to encyclopedia-titanica.com. Half made it, half didn’t. The bodies of the four who died were lost at sea.
The victims were Osén, who was bound for Ethan; George Henry Green, 40, of Surrey, England, who was en route to Lead; and father and son Johann Svensson, 74, and Johan Ekström, 45, of Reftele, Småland, Sweden, who were coming to Effington Rut, apparently an early name for what is now New Effington.
Research on the doomed ocean liner fills dozens of websites, some with miniature biographies of the victims and survivors. After talking to his nephew and reading the online reports, it’s possible to create a sketch of young Osén’s brief life and sudden, certainly terrifying death.
In Titanic records, his occupation was listed as farm laborer and his destination is listed as Mitchell, South Dakota, USA. He paid more than 7 pounds for ticket 7534, a third-class passage, and boarded the Titanic at Southampton, England, on April 12, 1912.
That was a hefty price for a ticket then and now, the equivalent of more than $800 today. Many of the tickets included rail passage to a final destination, which might explain why Osén was headed for Mitchell, although he planned to live and work near Ethan.
Osén was set to work on a farm owned by Nels Tilberg, of rural Ethan.
Sue Tilberg, of Ethan, is married to Tim Tilberg, the great-grandson of Nels Tilberg.
Tilberg’s name in Sweden was Nils Peter Andreasson, but he changed it when he arrived in America on April 25, 1889. He farmed until his death on June 22, 1933, and the farm is still in the family’s name, as his great-grandson Scott Tilberg lives and works there now.
“I had no idea,” Sue Tilberg said when told of the family ties to the Titanic. It is not mentioned in written family histories, she said, and none of the current generation had heard of it, as far as she knows.
Hard times in Sweden
Olof Elon Osén’s family was poor. His brother in Ethan sent him money for his fare and he also borrowed money from his father for the trip. Osén promised to send them money from his new job in America, according to an online account of his life, death and the aftermath.
His parents were Erik Olsson Osén and Erika Didia Andersdotter, and his siblings are listed as Erik, Berta, Olof, Einar, Addie, Judit, Östen and Elvin, according to encyclopedia-titanica.com.
Erik Gunnar Osén was the father of Arlis Osen, 77, a retired farmer who lives about seven miles southwest of Mitchell.
Arlis Osen — the family dropped the accent over the “e” decades ago — said his father came to the United States in 1910, when he was 20 years old. He lived with his relatives on the Tilberg farm in rural Ethan. For a short time, his sister Bertha lived there as well.
Gunnar Osen, who didn’t use the first name Erik in America, died in 1967. He rarely talked about his brother’s tragic death, Arlis Osen said. But he did share a few details, and Arlis and wife Mary Ann have learned more over the years. A Swedish newspaper story on the death, which they had translated to English, helped provide more information.
The Osén family struggled in Sweden, Arlis said. Twelve children were born to Erik and Erika and three children died young. Eight of the nine survivors eventually came to America.
“My dad always said he came here because he didn’t have enough to eat over there,” Arlis said.
The family worked as lumberjacks and floated fallen timber to a saw mill. It was hard, dangerous work. Elon, as the family called him, worked alongside his father and siblings.
According to the Swedish newspaper story, Elon was almost killed once when a boat he was aboard nearly capsized, an eerie foreshadowing of his eventual fate. That same story quoted one of Elon’s sisters as saying Elon was very adventurous, and the family was therefore not surprised at his decision to journey to America.
Gunnar wanted to help his siblings, and sent money to pay for Elon’s passage. But while the money would have paid for a trip aboard another, lesser ship, Elon wanted to travel on the glamorous Titanic. A talented fiddler, he played for tips while in England, awaiting a ship.
He used the extra money to upgrade his ticket and travel aboard the Titanic, according to the Swedish newspaper story and Osen family lore. His close friend Emil Ljung, who was also headed to America, thought that was a waste of money and didn’t come along, choosing to take a less-glamorous and cheaper ship.
On the doomed voyage, Osén had a traveling companion: Alfred Ossian Gustafson, which may have been spelled Gustafsson. He was listed on the same ticket as Osén and was reported as also having perished in the sinking, his body never recovered.
Gustafson, 19, was from Karlby, Finland. His destination was Waukegan, Ill. He embarked at Southampton, England, on the same date as Osén.
Both were third-class passengers aboard the ship, which has been romanticized in films, TV shows, books and memorials in the past 100 years. Its centennial this weekend has spawned numerous accounts in all forms of media.
‘Leave it alone’
The Titanic was traveling at 22.5 knots, near its top speed, when it struck an average-size iceberg at 11:40 p.m. Sunday, April 14, 1912. By early the next day, the ship was beneath the waves and headed for the ocean floor.
The ice tore a gash nearly 250 feet long in the side of the ship, which was 882 feet long. The massive ship had room in its lifeboats for 1,178 people, but nearly twice as many, 2,208, were aboard.
Many of the lifeboats left the ship only half full. There were 472 lifeboat seats not used, according to published reports.
While some died when the Titanic slipped to the bottom of the sea, most died in the water, reports state. The temperature was 31 degrees on that brisk spring night when Osén and others died. Some drowned, and others died of hypothermia as survivors watched in horror from lifeboats.
Third-class passengers were particularly vulnerable. According to published reports, there were 706 third-class passengers on board — 462 men, 165 women and 79 children — and only 178 survived the disaster: 75 men, 76 women and 27 children.
Osén wasn’t one of them. His hope for a new life in America ended in the dark of a still night in the North Atlantic 100 years ago.
His family wasn’t sure of his fate for several days, according to the Osen family history. At first, they hoped he was on a different ship, as he had originally planned. Then, they received word that he was listed as a survivor.
A few days later, they learned he was considered dead and his body lost at sea. Mary Ann Osen, the mother of three, said she can imagine the pain his family felt.
“It just gives you the shivers thinking about it,” she said.
According to the Osen family, Elon’s mother reportedly was plagued by nightmares, dreaming of her son’s body on an iceberg, surrounded by sharks.
Arlis Osen said he knows his dad was always saddened when he thought about his brother’s sudden, tragic death.
“It bothered him a lot, I think,” he said. “But he was the man of the house. He didn’t show any emotion. That was the way with that generation.”
In November 1912, seven months after his son’s death, Erik Olsson Osén suffered a stroke that left him 50 percent incapacitated, according to a letter.
A private Titanic relief fund, the Mansion House Fund, paid 875.52 Krona, the Swedish currency, to Erik and Erika, and they received 1,366.50 Krona in damage claims from the White Star Line, the owner of the Titanic, on Aug. 20, 1914.
That’s the equivalent of approximately $12,000 in today’s money, although Arlis Osen said he was told the family received only a small settlement for the loss of their son and his possessions.
The sinking and loss of life will be retold time and time again this weekend in movies, documentaries and news reports, but Arlis and Mary Ann Osen said they don’t plan to watch a lot of it.
The disaster was featured in the Oscar-winning movie “Titanic” in 1997, which has been re-released in 3D. While millions of people have seen it, Arlis and Mary Ann Osen have not and Arlis doesn’t plan to do so. Mary Ann has a copy, she said, and may watch it when her husband isn’t home.
Arlis said it’s not a romantic tale of the sea to him. It’s deeply personal.
“And it was bad,” he said. “They lost a son and a brother.”
Arlis also thinks explorers and people fascinated with the Titanic should stop visiting the site of the ocean liner, which is in two pieces deep below the surface.
“I wish they’d leave the Titanic alone,” he said. “All those people are buried there. It’s their burial place. They’ve got their souvenirs. Leave it alone.”