That day, on the Southampton docks in England, the Torkos family wallowed in disappointment. Anxious to head home to Monessen, Westmoreland County, the Hungarian family had been banned from boarding the ship because of the cut on 7-year-old Mary's cheek.
Fearing the spread of infection throughout the ship's steerage, officials banned Mary, and thus the Torkos family, from boarding. Catherine Torkos and her three children would have to wait a full week for the next ship to New York City, which posed one big problem. Catherine had no way to tell her husband, Joseph, of the delay and prevent him from awaiting their arrival in New York.
So the Torkos family booked passage on the Kortland, having been banned from the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. A day or two earlier, Mary's brother Michael had shoved her onto a rock pile, leaving her with what turned out to be life-saving cut and bruises. History soon proved how the family's bad luck turned into miraculous good fortune.
The Torkoses' near-miss represents one of the harrowing stories of immigrants who boarded the Titanic -- or tried to -- en route to upstart lives in Monessen, the industrial Monongahela River town, where steel-mill and tin-mill jobs awaited them.
Unlike the Torkos family, 13 Finnish immigrants bound for Monessen kept their appointments with fate when they successfully boarded the Titanic. Only five would survive.
Author and historian Cassandra Vivian, who grew up in Monessen and now lives in Mount Pleasant Borough in Westmoreland County, has a continued interest in the Monessen-Titanic link.
Doing research for her book "Monessen: a Typical Steel Country Town," Ms. Vivian spent months reading every edition of Monessen newspapers on library microfilm and unexpectedly came across the long-forgotten Titanic-Monessen link she claims to be her most fascinating discovery.
She also used the information in her play, "Titanic: The Monessen Story," that's yet to be performed. She will read from the play from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. April 18 in the Mount Pleasant Library.
The single-act 2001 work, written under a grant from the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, has Monessen immigrants, including those killed in the disaster, telling their stories and railing against the caste system on the Titanic and in society. The immigrants were locked in the ship's steerage, with men separated from the women, while first-class passengers, who had more than twice the survival rate of third class passengers, partied in the upper decks with family, friends and, in some cases, mistresses.
Ms. Vivian also had organized events featuring descendants of Titanic victims and survivors, including Mary Torkos Delansky Cyzick, who lived in Point Marion, Fayette County, before her death in 2000 at age 95. The cut on her cheek likely gave her 88 additional years.
Most immigrants heading to Monessen on the Titanic could not claim good fortune.
The entire Panula family, a Finnish-American family and a family friend, were en route to Monessen, according to the ship manifest, but actually were going home to Coal Center, Washington County.
After the Titanic struck the iceberg, Maria Panula wandered through steerage in an attempt to reunite her family, including two older sons locked in the men's section. In the women's section she was with her three younger sons and her companion, Sanni Riihivuori. Ms. Vivian quotes another Finnish survivor who said one of Mrs. Panula's older sons did reach his mother to announce that the ship was sinking. The family headed to the boat deck but got separated, and Maria, who had one child drown before the voyage, was on deck but hysterical.
The entire Panula group perished, including Maria and her five sons, Juho, Ernesti, Eino, Urho and Jaako, and Ms. Riihivuori. Back in Coal Center, John Panula did not learn of his family's demise until six days after the disaster.
Four other Finns traveling together to Monessen managed to survive, but barely. They included Helga Lindquist Hirvonen, her baby daughter Hidur, her brother, Eino Lindquist, and his friend, Erik Jussila.
Eino Linquist was sleeping in a cabin when awakened by Mr. Jussila after the collision. The two went on deck to discover the ship's crew lowering lifeboats and placing a man on each end of the boat and one in the middle to row. Mr. Jussila was summoned to row but Mr. Lindquist was left on deck.
According to Ms. Vivian's research, Helga Hirvonen, claiming she was the last person allowed on a lifeboat, said she was chosen because she had a babe in arms. Twenty minutes later, she had "a ghastly front-row seat" to the sinking of the Titanic. "I saw it plainly," Ms. Vivian quotes Mrs. Hirvonen. "When it took its final dive, people were leaping from all sides into the water. Some of them were saved." Her lifeboat was only partially filled, allowing some people paddling in the ocean to climb aboard.
Her brother Eino survived, reportedly being found on a raft after 61/2 hours at sea.
Pekka Hakkarainen, who died in the disaster, had been a tinsmith in Monessen's tin mill. Returning to Finland in 1911 for a visit, Pekka met and married Elin. The couple originally had planned to board the RMS Mauritania to travel to Monessen but changed plans when they heard the new luxury liner was making its maiden voyage in April. The last time Elin remembered seeing her husband was just moments after the ship struck the iceberg, when Mr. Hakkarainen dashed from the cabin to investigate.
Mrs. Hakkarainen, married only three months, was huddled with other women against a deck house when motioned to get into a lifeboat. She didn't move, still scanning faces in search of her husband, Pekka. Helga Hirvonen and other Finns remember Pekka helping his wife into a lifeboat with a fond farewell. But his widow could not remember it afterward.
Ms. Vivian quotes Elin Hakkarainen's explaining the sinking in the booklet, "I'm going to See What Has Happened," written by her son and a co-writer.
)Learning that the Titanic had sunk, then finding that his family did not arrive on the rescue ship in New York, Joseph Torkos returned mournfully to Monessen convinced they had perished. He soon had to return to the Pittsburgh Steel mill along the Mon, where he labored in grief on the night shift.
Then one night a guard hurried through the mill in search of him.
"Joseph," he said. "Your family is at the mill gate!"
"You have the wrong person," he replied, angry that the guard would pull such a prank. "My family was all lost on the Titanic."
But the guard pleaded for him to head to the front gate. That's when Joseph Torkos had a joyful reunion with his beloved Catherine, and their three children -- the mischievous Michael, young Elizabeth and Mary, whose life-sparing cut on her cheek had all but healed.lifestyle
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578.