LEWISTON, Idaho -- Benjamin Howard had been ailing for some time when he and his wife, Ellen, decided a sea voyage to America would benefit his health.
Two of their sons had settled in Idaho, and the couple planned to visit them in the spring of 1912. They left their home in Swindon, England, and took a train to Southampton, setting sail on the Titanic the next day.
The Howards were among the 1,514 victims when the ill-fated vessel collided with an iceberg and sank in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean 100 years ago this month. Several of their descendants live in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, including Mary Pell, Richard Smith and Megan Ah Hi.
A letter, a few photographs and an old newspaper clipping have helped fill in some blanks for the family, but they don't have many details about the Howards.
"Their son is our grandfather, and he was single and 24 years old when this happened," Pell said. "We were told it was very painful for him and was not discussed."
Pell, 66, lives in Lewiston, and her 63-year-old brother, Smith, is a Clarkston resident. They are both well-known in the valley from their long careers as hair stylists at Mary Pell and Associates. Smith's 27-year-old daughter, Ah Hi, is carrying on the family tradition at the Lewiston salon.
It comes as no surprise that one of the items their ancestor asked his parents to bring to Idaho was hair clippers, according to a hand-written letter from Ellen to her son.
"Dad and I went to Bristol last week and said good-bye to our friends there," she wrote. "They were all sorry to part with us, but hoped it would be for the happiness of us all. Dad has just come back from getting a couple of knives and has brought in a pair of hair clippers ... so now look out for some experimenting when we get to Idaho."
A post card from Cherbourg, France, and a letter from Queenstown, Ireland, were the last words the family received from the Howards.
Shortly after the ship went down, their daughter told a newspaper reporter in Swindon that the news was a horrible shock, but they were still hoping for the best. "It is terribly hard having to wait in uncertainty with this awful suspense," she said.
Benjamin Howard was widely known and respected in Swindon, according to the article. He had retired as supervisor at the Bolt Shop and was 64 at the time of his death.
The Howards were among 325 second-class passengers on the luxury liner, Smith said. It stands to reason that Benjamin died on the sinking ship. Most of the men in second class were left aboard due to the women-and-children-first protocol for loading lifeboats.
But Pell wonders why her great-grandmother wasn't evacuated. Or did she make it off the ship and succumb to hypothermia?
"I've always been curious whether she stayed on the boat with her husband."
Knowing she had great-grandparents on the Titanic has made the disaster more poignant, Pell said. She remembers taking her parents to a popular movie about the deadly voyage and thinking about Benjamin and Ellen's last hours on the ship.
"I was really emotional," she said.
Pell thought about taking the replica voyage that was recently launched to commemorate the event, but she decided against it.
"It's too deja vu," she said. "I heard they were playing the same music and serving the same menu."
Smith is taking a Carnival Cruise in two weeks.
"My wife reminded me my great-grandparents got on a ship in April 1912 and now we're getting on one in April 2012," he said with a smile.
Smith's wife, Janeen, has done most of the family's research on the Howards and their Titanic voyage. The historic tragedy has been in the news all week because of the 100-year mark, and Smith has watched some of the coverage.
"Something surprising to me is how big it still is," he said. "It seems to be an event that has never gone away."
Sandaine may be contacted at kerrislmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264.
(c)2012 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
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