The legend of Ann Elizabeth Isham

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 15, 2012 10:06 PM

She was born in Chicago on Saturday, the 25th of January, in 1862. Her mother was the former Frances Burch, her father Edward Swift Isham. She had two brothers, Pierrepont and Edward Swift, and a sister named Frances. Mr. Isham had a fairly successful law firm with Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the president, called Isham, Lincoln & Beale. She lived in Chicago for a good part of her life, joining such groups as the Friday Club and the Scribbler’s Club but in 1903, she moved to Paris where she lived for a time with her sister who had married a man named Harry Shelton. She was to stay in Europe for nine years, surrounding herself with society friends and her beloved dogs. She never married.

In early 1912, brother Edward, then living in New York, sent a telegraph requesting that she travel back to the States in order to spend the summer with him in Manhattan. And so on April 10, 1912 she boarded a ship when it stopped in Cherbourg, France. Many believed she boarded with her Great Dane, her constant and loving companion.

Ann Elizabeth Isham

The ship was the Titanic.

A first class passenger, her ticket number was 17595 and she was assigned to cabin C-49. From what can be pieced together, she largely kept to herself. When the unsinkable ocean liner hit an iceberg at approximately 11:40 pm on the clear night of April 14, and then sank some two and a half hours later, Ann Elizabeth Isham, “Lizzie” to her friends and family, was not among the survivors.  She was one of only four first class women who died in the disaster.

Though one of her father’s law firm partners was on board, he didn’t survive to be able to tell what had happened to her. A Colonel staying in the stateroom next to her couldn’t remember having seen her.

The legend says that Lizzie refused to leave the sinking ship without her beloved dog. A Great Dane, he was considered too big for a lifeboat, and Lizzie stayed on the Titanic rather than leave him behind. Her body was found by one of the recovery ships, her arms wrapped around her dog, both frozen in the Atlantic waters.

Dogs onboard the Titanic. Note the Great Dane in the rear on the right.

There are those who dispute the legend, who say Lizzie’s body was never found. There is no evidence that she boarded the ship in France with a dog, though it is entirely possible. Only first class passengers were allowed to have dogs, and at least 12 made the ill-fated voyage with their owners into the North Atlantic where a watery grave awaited them. Most of the dogs were kept in the ship’s kennels. According to an informational website produced by Ireland’s tourism bureau, the dogs were released from their kennels after the ship hit the berg. Of the twelve onboard, only three purportedly survived: two Pomeranians and one Pekingese. All three were small enough to not take up valuable room on a lifeboat. Of the dogs who didn’t make it, two belonged to William Carter, an American coal magnate who assured his frantic children that their dogs would be fine. One was a King Charles spaniel, another an Airedale. John Jacob Astor and his wife lost two Airedales as well. There was also a fox terrier named, appropriately, Dog, and the Great Dane whose last name was supposedly Isham.

Interestingly, and indicative of the time, the names of the dogs who perished in the waters were listed among the dead; many of those in steerage, or third class, were not.

A Newboundland like Rigel.

There is another legend of a dog named Rigel, a black Newfoundland who was separated from his master during the ship’s sinking. Rigel jumped into the water and swam through the night until the rescue ship, the Carpathia, approached. Rigel swam back and forth in front of the ship, barking to alert its captain Rostron of a lifeboat that was in the Carpathia’s path. Captain Rostron heard the barking dog, brought his ship to a halt, saved the lifeboat and pulled Rigel to safety. Newfoundlands have webbed feet, rudder-like tails and a water-resistant coat, all of which makes a wonderful story even more wonderful, and probably untrue. There is no record of a Newfoundland on board the Titanic and a dog of that size would not have been missed. Plus, not even a great Newfoundland dog with its incredible storage of fur could survive the North Atlantic waters.

On this 100th anniversary of the loss of the Titanic and its 1,514 souls, I also wanted to remember the dogs of Titanic and to celebrate a woman who may or may not have perished because she refused to leave her dog behind.

A service was held for Ann Elizabeth Isham on Sunday, May 12, 1912 at the Congregational Church in Manchester, Vermont. There was no mention of her dog. 

Tags:

live out loud

Comments (4) -

4/16/2012 7:23:59 AM #

Thanks for mentioning her dog a hundred years later. And for that matter, thanks for bringing to our attention all the dogs of the Titanic.

Fred United States

4/16/2012 7:23:59 AM #

Thanks for mentioning her dog a hundred years later. And for that matter, thanks for bringing to our attention all the dogs of the Titanic.

Fred United States

9/9/2012 10:14:45 AM #

this morning while taking a walk through the tranquil and beautiful cemetery in Manchester, Vermont, i came across a marker in the Isham family plot which simply gave Ann Elizabeth Isham's birth and death dates with the message 'lost at sea'.  that being enough to pique my interest and having some vague recollection that the Titanic went down in 1912, i rushed home to research Ann Elizabeth.  Sure enough, there she was among the list of passengers on the Titanic!  i also came upon your post and thank you for fleshing out the story even if only with 'legend'.  my day is complete: a long walk on a gorgeous day and a historical mystery, satisfyingly solved.  Live history; history lives!

Meena United States

9/9/2012 10:14:45 AM #

this morning while taking a walk through the tranquil and beautiful cemetery in Manchester, Vermont, i came across a marker in the Isham family plot which simply gave Ann Elizabeth Isham's birth and death dates with the message 'lost at sea'.  that being enough to pique my interest and having some vague recollection that the Titanic went down in 1912, i rushed home to research Ann Elizabeth.  Sure enough, there she was among the list of passengers on the Titanic!  i also came upon your post and thank you for fleshing out the story even if only with 'legend'.  my day is complete: a long walk on a gorgeous day and a historical mystery, satisfyingly solved.  Live history; history lives!

Meena United States

Pingbacks and trackbacks (2)+

Add comment

  Country flag

biuquote
  • Comment
  • Preview
Loading

Filter by APML

RecentPosts