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Giovane Luz of Leominster attended the funeral of Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 living in America, in the Old Swedish Cemetery in Worcester yesterday. He did not know her, he said, but he was curious and wanted to pay his respects.
Giovane Luz of Leominster attended the funeral of Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 living in America, in the Old Swedish Cemetery in Worcester yesterday. He did not know her, he said, but he was curious and wanted to pay his respects.

30 attend services for Titanic survivor

Funeral draws friends, strangers

Giovane Luz did not know Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last Titanic survivor living in the United States, who died Saturday at age 99.

But her story -- what little is known of it -- compelled him to drive from Leominster to Worcester for her funeral yesterday. And when he had the chance, he snapped a photo of himself next to Asplund's coffin.

''I got so excited to come," Luz said. ''Every person who escaped was very lucky. She made it to 99."

About 30 people attended her funeral yesterday at Nordgren Memorial Chapel in Worcester. Some were friends, neighbors, and former co-workers, but others were strangers, hoping to get closer to Asplund, even if only in death.

For most of her life, Asplund shunned publicity and requests to tell her story. At age 5, she lost her father and three of her four brothers, including her twin, aboard the doomed ship.

Yet many are drawn to her story because she was the last person alive who could speak of the disaster firsthand. Now only two survivors remain, and both were too young to remember any details. They both live in England.

''The less you talk, the more people want you to," said Muffet Brown, a descendent of a Titanic passenger, who has studied the ship's history. ''I think it's OK because part of the outpouring is that people feel sympathy."

Asplund never married and worked for years as a clerk at an insurance company. Only a few distant cousins attended the funeral. Co-workers who attended declined to comment.

Nicole Papas of Worcester said she never met Asplund and heard of her death on the news. She wore dark glasses and a black suit to the funeral, explaining that she became obsessed with the story after watching one of the movies. She began researching local deaths aboard the ship and now tends the Worcester grave of a passenger.

''I just don't like people to be forgotten" she said. ''I don't think you have to be a blood relative to be involved."

Bill O'Neil of Worcester snapped photos of Asplund's white casket, saying the funeral gave him the chance to show respect to a woman he admired but never met.

''She never talked about it. She never took a penny," he said. ''She took care of her mother. I applaud her for that."

Paul Phaneuf, board member of the Titanic Historical Society in Springfield, said he was sorry to see Asplund die and that the society had not yet tackled the issue of whether to put a bronze plaque noting the Titanic on her grave.

''We are putting to rest a lady who was a piece of history," he said. ''Today, it's about commemorating someone's life."

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at woolhouse@globe.com.

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