Alabama author writes of her Titanic family
by Bill Edwards
Apr 15, 2012 | 4586 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Illustration: Jessica Stephens/The Anniston Star
Illustration: Jessica Stephens/The Anniston Star
From the time she was a little girl growing up in Raleigh, N.C., Julie Hedgepeth Williams remembered her great-uncle tell the story of a great ship that sank in the middle of a cold ocean.

It was a story that Albert Caldwell of Richmond, Va., never got tired of telling, for his listeners never tired of hearing it.

Caldwell, a passenger on the Titanic with his then-wife and their infant daughter, died in 1977 at the age of 91, having never tired of telling his great-niece, a high school senior that year, of that fateful night.

“He was so glad that I was interested,” Williams remembered recently.

Now Williams, a journalism professor at Samford University in Birmingham, has preserved in print Caldwell’s experiences on board – indeed his entire life, which held plenty of adventure even before the Titanic pulled away from the Irish coastline.

“A Rare Titanic Family” is the volume, which was published in January by Alabama publisher NewSouth Books.

The bulk of the book relates the story that Caldwell told Williams, who also benefited from his own writings and even a voice recording made shortly before he died. But his life as a Christian missionary in the nation then known as Siam forms a crucial part of the book, for it explains how the young couple came to be aboard the Titanic.

“I didn’t realize there was such a rich part (of Caldwell’s story) in Siam,” Williams said.

Also important to the story is a medical condition suffered by Caldwell’s wife, Sylvia, for it helped explain why Albert wanted the sturdiest vessel afloat to take her home. Mrs. Caldwell made it home OK, as did the infant, but left at the bottom of the ocean was a small cache of gold the family was planning to use to help start a new life following their missionary experience.

Williams spent most of 2010 researching and writing the book, which the publisher wanted by the end of the year so that the process of turning the manuscript into a book could be ready by the centenary of the Titanic sinking.

“It was an intense summer of research,” Williams said.

But finally “A Rare Titanic Family” was all written, corrected and bound, the day of its “birth” being Jan. 13.

The same date, Williams notes wryly, that the cruise liner Costa Concordia capsized off the west coast of Italy.
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