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April 13, 2012

Son recalls his mother's anguish over those not rescued

A knock came on the cabin door, and someone — a steward or the father and son from the next room — had a warning for Elizabeth Lines and her 16-year-old daughter, Mary.

Wake up. Get moving.

"They were told, 'This is serious,'" says Bradford Wellman, 80. "'Get your life jackets on. And get up on deck.'"

On its 100th anniversary, the sinking of the Titanic remains for many an obsession. But few have as much reason as Wellman to be fascinated by the story.

His mother and grandmother made it to a lifeboat that night, Mary Lines clutching a flashlight from the cabin.

Absent that escape, Wellman said with a grin, "I wouldn't be here."

Wellman lives with his wife in a retirement community in Scarborough, Maine. His mother lived most of her life in Topsfield, Mass., a Boston suburb.

Mary Wellman seldom spoke of that dreadful April night in 1912, he recalls. Mother and daughter were on their way from Southampton, England, to New York to attend brother Howard's graduation from Dartmouth. By some accounts, they were traveling first class; Wellman thinks second class is more likely.

In any case, he said, the voyage began an interval of sorrow and horror that drove Wellman's mother to a mental breakdown.

She only began to speak of her experiences aboard Titanic with the publication in 1955 of the book "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord, said Wellman. The author neglected to include her name among the survivors, and she contacted him about the error.

Perhaps the title had an impact, too, because Mary Wellman, who died in 1975, began to feel it was indeed a night to remember. "She started to talk about it," her son said. "But not a great deal."

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