History enthusiast Rickey Abbott had walked by Albert Caldwell’s Greenville gravesite many times without realizing the story that was at his feet.
Caldwell, who died on March 10, 1977, had been aboard the RMS Titanic. The Iowa native was one of only 130 male passengers to have survived after the ship struck an iceberg and went down in the Atlantic on April 15, 1912.
Caldwell, who boarded the Titanic with his wife and young son, never lived in Greenville. Nearly a quarter century after the disaster, Caldwell married Stokes native Jennie Whitley Congleton. When Caldwell died in Richmond, Va., at age 91, Jennie Caldwell had her husband buried near her family at Pinewood Memorial Park.
In his 14 years as sales manager for Pinewood, Abbott, who has been interested in the Titanic since childhood, had never heard that story. But last summer, he received word. It came in a letter to Wilkerson Funeral Home, dated Aug. 5, 2011, from a writer in Norway who was working to collect obituaries of the 705 passengers who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Unlike the well-publicized cemeteries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many of the victims of the disaster were buried, the final resting places for those who survived the disaster are largely unknown.
“It makes you wonder where are all the survivors (now buried),” said Abbott, who heads a local Sons of Confederate Veterans historical group. “So many of them (Titanic’s passengers) were from far away from here. I wouldn’t doubt if he’d be the only one in the state of North Carolina.”
The last Titanic survivor, Millvina Dean, died in 2009 at age 97. She was an infant at the time of the sinking and had no memories of the Titanic.
Ed Congleton of Stokes said many local people who remembered Caldwell, known to Ed simply as “Uncle Al,” have passed away as well. Congleton, 59, remembers his boyhood years when the Caldwells would visit the family in Stokes.
“I think he enjoyed being around here,” Congleton said. “With him coming down here and being with our family, he kind of felt like this was his home.”
Congleton said his great-uncle always was willing to share stories of Titanic and help people understand the reality of the historical event.
On the 100th anniversary of the disaster, Abbott wants people to know Greenville’s connection to the Titanic.
“This has Greenville ties many do not know about,” he said. “People just can’t believe it; they’re shocked. I just think people need to know it.”
Contact Kim Grizzard at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 252-329-9578.