A Post-Titanic mystery novel unravels Titanic’s untold secret.
During the aftermath of the loss of the great liner, attempts were made to recover, identify and lay to rest those individuals scattered in the cold North Atlantic in the hope of bringing dignity to those lost souls.
This Post-Titanic story is about an individual whose identity was forfeited because of the theft of an extremely valuable object, which he held in his possession.
Historical and mystery novelist Alexander J.Dante had always felt drawn to the tragic story of the Titanic. Now retired, Alexei decides to visit Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia where some of the victims of the disaster are laid to rest. While he is there, Alexei feels a strange pull towards gravesite 223, where, supposedly, an unidentified crew-member lay.
A mystery surrounds the number 223 and Alexei is determined to solve it. His obsession takes him across the globe as he begins to unravel a long-kept secret that will consume his life.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)|
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Titanic's Resurrected Secretâ?"HEW
By J. Robert DiFulgo
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 J. Robert DiFulgo
All rights reserved.
ALEXEI'S FINAL JOURNEY
September 20, 2012 London, England/Washington, DC
Alexei sat by the plane window and caught the day's sun. As he gazed across the vast horizon, he contemplated the events of his time in Europe and the lengthy two-year search. His mind wandered from place to place. He watched a couple of movies but became anxious and restless. He switched to the map channel on the audiovisual system. The flight simulator located the position of the plane over the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia—the city where it all began. The flight time that remained before landing at Washington's Dulles Airport was two hours and twenty-three minutes.
The interminable number 223, which had taken over his life, combined with the plane's position over Halifax, seemed to be ominous. It prompted him to reach inside his jacket and pull out the black-and-white photograph he had kept in his wallet since his visit to Harvard University in July 2011. He pondered and suddenly felt a former connection to the photograph of HEW. He stared at it resolutely. The deep-set eyes drew in Alexei as he studied the balanced facial features, the unblemished skin, the slender lips absent of a smile, the hair pulled back and smoothed down on either side of a central parting. Alexei thought that this was an impeccable model of an Edwardian gentleman.
Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by the female passenger who was sitting next to him. "Excuse me," she said.
Alexei turned his head in surprise and saw that his previously unnoticed traveling companion was a rather large, well-dressed lady with a friendly, cheerful smile and a Southern accent.
"Excuse me. Sorry if I appear to be rude, but I couldn't help noticing the black-and-white photograph that you have been scrutinizing all this time. It looks very much like a photo I have of my great-grandfather with that dress shirt with the rounded Eton collar, the diagonally striped tie, and the jacket with large lapels.
Photos from the last century always intrigue me. Is he a relative of yours?"
"No, not exactly a relative of mine." Alexei hesitated and then continued, "But we are somewhat closely connected. And yes, you are correct; he is from the last century. He was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family, the Wideners."
"Sorry, but I don't understand. If he is not a relative, then how are you connected?"
Alexei paused for a few moments. "Well," he said. He took a deep breath and sighed. "Well, that's a long, long story."CHAPTER 2
CONCEPTION OF THE OBSESSION
July 15, 2011 Fairview Lawn Cemetery Halifax, Nova Scotia
Alexander Julius Dante, known as Alexei to his friends and family, was sixty-five years of age and lived with his wife, Annice, in Washington, DC. Alexei looked much younger than his years. He was well-built and rather distinguished looking, with his salt-and-pepper hair and piercing, dark brown eyes. His lips curled enigmatically whenever he took on a rare smile. For nearly twenty-five of his years, he had been an associate professor at a local university.
As a retired historian, Alexei had spent several years researching tragic, historical events and, as an author, turned them into mystery novels on subjects such as Herculaneum and Pompeii and the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.
From a very early age he had been captivated by the Titanic and the events surrounding her, from her conception in London and her materialization in Belfast to her demise off the coast of Newfoundland and the final resting-place of the victims in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax. His mother first sparked his interest in the Titanic by telling him stories about Molly Brown, the Astor family, and other well-known Americans who were on board.
He had never forgotten the movie A Night to Remember that he had seen when he was thirteen years of age. It had been made in 1958 and was based on the book by Walter Lord. Alexei still regarded it as one of the most historically accurate Titanic disaster movies.
Alexei was suffering from what one might call writer's block from his novel in progress and was in need of a break from Washington. So when the opportunity had arisen for them to take a cruise to New England and Halifax, it had seemed to be the ideal scenario to spend time together away from any distractions. At the same time, the story of what happened after the sinking would be a concluding connection to the Titanic.
Alexei felt excited at the thought of embarking on his own personal tour into history. At the same time, from what he had read and heard about tragedy, he had a sense of foreboding that he would be entering a mysterious and gloomy part of Titanic's past. However, he was unaware that the seed of an obsession would be planted when he took a tour of Fairview Lawn Cemetery: a Titanic mystery that had remained unsolved for a hundred years.
The tour bus pulled up the tree-lined driveway to the entrance to the cemetery. Everyone disembarked silently. Children, teenagers, and adults made their ways respectfully to the known and unknown graves of the people whose bodies had been collected from the North Atlantic following the sinking of the Titanic. Although the day was gray and overcast, Alexei felt that peace and tranquility prevailed as he entered the manicured grounds. It was beautiful but somber.
He had read in all the guidebooks that there would be a large sign to indicate the victims' graves, but this had been removed and there was just a simple sign:
CITY OF HALIFAX
The tour guide indicated the sites. It was clear that this was a unique cemetery, insofar as the rows of victims were laid out in a pattern resembling the perimeter of the bow of the Titanic, with a vertical memorial stone at the helm. Even an opening in the formation on the right-hand side was designed to convey the point where the ship struck the iceberg. The tour guide gave a factual yet dramatic presentation, personalizing each slab of cold stone he selected.
For example, the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, a cable ship based in Halifax, usually repaired the underwater telegraph cables connecting North America and Europe. Suddenly they found themselves on a tragic mission: to search for and recover bodies of the victims. The ship had been contracted by the White Star Line on the evening of April 16, 1912, at a rate of $550 per day. When they came across the body of a two-year-old boy, they were so moved that they personally arranged for a stone for the child. The inscription read, "Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster to the Titanic April 15th, 1912."
This was the beginning of an emotional experience for Alexei and Annice and the realization that this was no movie set, but reality. Tour groups had left all kinds of toys, teddy bears, and other stuffed animals around the child's grave. Although the child had been identified in 2011 through the wonders of DNA, his grave marker remained "unknown" to represent all the little children who perished with the Titanic. Alexei thought that surely this was one grave that would bring home the depth of the disaster to many people.
A total of 150 victims were laid to rest in the "City of Sorrow."
One hundred and twenty-one victims were buried in the Protestant Fairview Lawn Cemetery, and the remaining twenty-nine victims buried in Halifax were interred in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery or Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery.
As Alexei and Annice walked through the cemetery, they noticed many graves with newly made, white inscriptions. The graves had been subjected to detailed research over the years. As a result, a second unveiling had been held for some graves in 1991, finally giving those victims a name. A new chapter in the Halifax story could be written. However, it would take a lifetime to document all the victims. More information had to be discovered. Unfortunately for many, there would not be new information to discover.
The row upon row of victims in graves marked "unknown," not in chronological order, exacerbated the haunting adversity before their eyes. It was only then that the full extent of the tragedy hit them and gave validity to the horrific event. It was such a moving experience that Alexei knew that from then on, it would be difficult to describe in words what he truly felt.
The tour guide informed the group that there were two lists compiled shortly after the disaster and still in existence. One contained information about the 306 victims retrieved by the cable ship the Mackay-Bennett during its two-week search for bodies drifting around Titanic's last known position. The other list had information on the identified victims on-site in Halifax or who had been shipped further.
Alexei and Annice continued with the tour group along the rows of victims, like a procession of mourners. They stopped at the first grave site, numbered 313. This was Luigi Gatti. He had been thirty-seven years old and ran two Ritz restaurants in London, the Gatti Adelphi and Gatti's Strand. His first shipboard employment had been on the Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic. He had signed on to the Titanic as chef on April 6, 1912. No fewer than thirty-five Italians had been employed by Luigi Gatti on the Titanic as attendants, barbers, waiters, and cooks.
Suddenly Alexei stopped and stared at the small, gray, granite markers that contained just a name and date of death. What surprised him was the grave of Ernest Edward Samuel Freeman, who was listed as Titanic's chief deck steward. He had actually been the personal secretary to White Star's chairman, Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, and it was he who erected the stone "to commemorate a long and faithful service."
Most of the grave markers were small. A rectangular piece of stone served as a base for each of them, with a trapezoid-shaped piece set on the base. They passed a Celtic cross, the tallest memorial among those in the Titanic section, which had been erected at the grave of Arthur Gordon McCrae.
Alexei and Annice moved on to another grave, numbered 227 with the name J. Dawson. It had flowers and messages from visitors who mistakenly thought that this J. Dawson was the person who had been played by Leonardo DiCaprio in James Cameron's movie, Titanic! In fact it belonged to twenty-three-year-old James Joseph Dawson, a trimmer on the Titanic's crew who wheeled the coal for the boilers, ensuring that the fuel supplies were equally distributed so the ship would be balanced. He had joined the crew a few weeks earlier, hoping for a better life after his family was torn apart by his love for a woman they shunned. He was a Catholic, she was a Protestant, and at the turn of the century it was enough to make their love forbidden.
Alexei and Annice were now walking the same path that the American socialite Margaret Brown, known by the sobriquet "the unsinkable Molly Brown," had taken when she laid wreaths on each headstone in 1914. Alexei did not lay any wreaths. He merely put his hand on each grave as if to say, "You are not forgotten." Just as the sea had claimed its victims irrespective of class or position, so now they were buried side by side.
All the bodies recovered were numbered, and these numbers appeared on the victims' headstones. If there was no name on the headstone, then the victim had never been identified. Alexei looked at the pamphlet he had been given by the tour guide, which listed the graves. He could not understand why the graves were not in numerical order. As he read, he found out that the numbers had been given to each victim in the order in which they were brought aboard the Mackay-Bennett. But after leaving the Mayflower Curling Rink, the bodies became separated. Some bodies were taken to different cemeteries, some bodies were claimed, and some went directly to the undertaker's in Halifax. Others had already been buried at sea.
It was at that moment he came across a grave with the inscription:
APRIL 15, 1912
The number 223. The number that was of such a great significance to him. Whenever he saw it, he was drawn to it, whether on a license plate, a flight number, or a time. Why was he drawn? Who was 223?CHAPTER 3
September 3, 2008 Naples, Italy/Washington, DC
Alexei recalled that his fixation with the number 223 began in September 2008 when he and Annice took a vacation to Naples, Italy. They had been experiencing serious difficulties in their marriage. There had been many infidelities, indiscretions, and selfish acts on both sides over the years. They thought they might be able to salvage something from the relationship in their twilight years by spending some quality time together. Things were going well as they hiked along the dusty, graveled road to the summit of Mount Vesuvius. Contrary to popular belief, it was neither the highest nor the most dangerous volcano in the world, but the eruption that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79 made it famous. As Goethe wrote of Vesuvius, "Many a calamity has happened in the world but never one that has caused so much entertainment to posterity as this one."
It was a bright, clear day, and the walk along the crumbling paths by the rickety fences afforded spectacular views of the gray-and-black lava stone in the crater and of the Bay of Naples and the city.
The following day they toured the Blue Grotto in Capri, where the refraction of sunlight gave a blue iridescence to the water. They decided to take the funicular from Marina Grande to the village of Capri for a leisurely lunch at one of the flower-decked terraces overlooking the rugged cliffs along the coast.
After lunch, rather than taking the bus via numerous hairpin bends, they decided to take the chairlift to Anacapri, the island's other main village. They had been informed that this was a good spot for views over the whole island.
It was then that disaster struck. Shortly after they began the ascent, there was a loud grating noise and the chairlift unexpectedly shuddered, swung precariously over the trees, and finally came to an abrupt halt. Alexei looked up and saw that one of the main cable lines had frayed. Annice screamed and grabbed Alexei's arm. They both clung to the central pole between them. The cable finally snapped, and they fell fifty feet to the terrain below like they were in a plunging elevator. Their surroundings became blurred and distorted as they went into shock.
Alexei picked himself up and helped Annice to her feet. Both felt nauseous and dizzy but only received cuts, scratches, and multiple bruises. It was fortuitous that the ground on which they had landed was soft turf. For a few moments they wandered around like the living dead. Their senses seemed to have shut down, and they became totally disoriented. Then came a deafening silence.
After a while, Alexei was aware of people crowding around them, but he heard their voices at a distance, like one hears when first coming out of an anesthetic.
Paramedics were soon on the scene and took them to the local hospital. Following a thorough checkup and X-rays by the doctor, they were both discharged and advised to go back to their hotel and rest. It was at that moment that they both realized they could have been taken away from one another in an instant.
Annice continued to have headaches and dizziness during the following days, so they decided to catch an early flight home to Washington. After landing at Dulles Airport, they made their way to the baggage area. Annice complained of a severe headache, so Alexei suggested that she sit on the seat just behind him while he went to the carousel for their baggage. When he had put their cases onto a cart, he turned around. Annice had disappeared. He looked through the maze of people. At first he thought she might have gone to the restroom. Suddenly he heard people shouting.
"Call 911," someone yelled.
"Does anyone know this woman?" shouted another.
"She's out cold. Give her some space. Is there anyone who can help?"
Alexei casually walked over to the crowd to see what was going on and found to his horror that it was Annice. She had collapsed and was unconscious.
Excerpted from Titanic's Resurrected Secretâ?"HEW by J. Robert DiFulgo. Copyright © 2014 J. Robert DiFulgo. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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