Surviving Titanic: Byron Center Family Remembers Great-Grandmother’s journey

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-05 22:57:39-05

BYRON CENTER, Mich.–From the eerie sunken wreckage footage to the Hollywood love story, there is nothing quite like Titanic.

It’s been more than a century since the legendary ocean liner sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, yet the stories of the ship and the people on it still captivate people throughout the world.

For the Senkowski family in Byron Center,  it is more than world history, it is part of their heritage.

“I”m here,  my children are here by the grace of God and lifeboat number 9,” said Kelley Senkowski.

Her great-grandmother, Jessie Trout, was a passenger on Titanic and a survivor.

“The one thing people ask me is did she survive?” Senkowski said. “And then they pause,  and think about it. Oh, she must have because you are here.

Senkowski has spent countless hours researching her great-grandmother’s journey.

In 1912,  Jessie Trout, a petite 26-year-old woman  from Ohio,  had recently become a window. Her husband was killed in a railroad accident.

Heartbroken, she traveled to Scotland to visit her grandparents and then London to stay with her sister and her family.

Eventually Trout became homesick and wanted to get back to her parents in Ohio,  so she bought a ticket on the Oceanic, but a coal strike in the British Isles pushed back the departure.

“So she decided two days before to trade up her ticket for approximately$7 from first class on the Oceanic to 2nd class on the Titanic,” explains Senkowski of her great-grandmother.

Little did Trout know then the horror that would unfold four days into the epic voyage when the RSS Titanic struck an iceberg and quickly went down.

“It looked like the roots of a big double tooth that had been pulled,” Trout said of the iceberg during a newspaper interview in Ohio.

The young woman said even when she realized what was happening, she went back to her room to get some special belongings.

“She ran back downstairs to get a purse and a hair comb because the hair comb was a gift from her late husband,” explained Senkowski, who has a picture of the blue purse that her cousin now possesses in Michigan.

Trout still made it to a lifeboat. In a nightgown and a top coat, she managed to grab her purse and  make it back on deck.

A man grabbed her and placed her in lifeboat number 9.

“Which was the second to last to leave, to think she almost missed it, ” said Senkowski.

The young woman was also handed a small boy, which she held and kept warm until they were rescued.  He was later identified as one of the famous french orphans on the Titanic.

Even though Trout and the twins survived, their  journey was not easy as they watched the ship sink into the freezing waters. More than 1500 people perished.

“She would have to have seen the people and heard the screams and I  don’t know how you would deal with that and being in a boat that did not go back,” said Senkowski.

During later interviews with an Ohio newspaper, Trout talked about her survivor’s guilt.

Senkowski still has a photo of her great-grandmother that was taken shortly after the Carpathia rescued the Titanic survivors. In it the once vibrant young woman looks fragile and worn down.

Afterwards, she returned to her parent’s home in Ohio, who had no idea their daughter was ever on Titanic. They believed she was on the Oceanic and when they checked the survivor’s list from the Carpathia her name had been misspelled.

Several years after Titanic, Trout married a man from Minnesota. They ended up settling down in Tuscola, Michigan and having three children, one of which turned out to be Kelley’s grandmother.

Sadly, Jessie Trout died  in a winter weather car accident in Michigan at the age of 45.  She bailed out of the family’s vehicle after spotting dark water ahead.

Generations later, Kelley Senkowski, her husband, and five children, are sharing her story on Titanic. This month, they will be able to experience part of Jessie Trout’s journey when they go tour the traveling Titanic exhibit coming to the Grand Rapids Public Museum on Friday.

“I just think she was there through all of it, it is very powerful,” said Senkowski.

Senkowski will be speaking on Friday at 5:30 p.m. as part of opening day.