Completely at random, Dr. Paul J. Hustoles decided to do a drawing for two free tickets to “Titanic” at a recent Mankato Rotary meeting, where he was giving a talk about MSU Theatre and Dance.
Of all the 50 or so names in the room, Jenna Arkins was the name he drew, and what she had to say took aback everyone within earshot.
She said that her husband, David Arkins, would be particularly excited to see the show because he is the great-grandson of a third-class passenger survivor of the actual RMS Titanic – the “unsinkable” ship that sank on its maiden voyage April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew.
The odds of the Arkinses being the ones to win the tickets, the odds of a that couple living in southern Minnesota when only about 700 passengers had survived, the odds of David’s ancestor having been a poor, third-class passenger, most of whom died – a great deal of luck seems to have followed the Arkins lineage throughout the ages.
“As far as luck has gone, there’s a number of different things that should have never happened that have happened,” David said.
David and Jenna of St. Peter visited the Ted Paul Theatre recently – where the Mainstage opener “Titanic” debuts Oct. 1 – to share what he knew about his great-grandmother’s remarkable story of survival.
Kate Connolly was her name, and she hailed from County Cavan, Ireland, where the 23-year-old was dating her soon-to-be husband, William Arkins.
Kate’s sister had already made her way to New York. Kate was poor, but she managed to get money together for a ticket on the Titanic to join her family.
“She went first to try to get settled,” David said. “(William) was going to follow later.”
Of the ship itself Kate described the third-class accommodations much differently than is often portrayed in movies and on television. Third class had its own dining halls, and most of the lower-class passengers were bringing all of their belongings with them to move to the United States, so they had pillows, sheets and incidentals that made the trip comfortable for them.
“It was more or less like second class on other ships,” David said. “At that time, it was pretty good digs.”
Kate knew three other girls from the County Cavan area, and the four of them had met two men from Ireland who would prove to be their saviors.
The women were together in their room in steerage (third class level) when the Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1912. At that level of the ship, it was clear something was wrong.
“They were instantly scared. They felt it. They became alarmed immediately,” David said. “They came out, and they started asking questions. At that point they were more or less mocked. This was supposed to be an ‘unsinkable’ ship, so they were told they were obviously overreacting. Shortly thereafter, everyone realized it was a big deal.”
The women and the rest of the third class were trapped in steerage. But the two Irish men they had met before had gotten in with some second-class passengers and found a way out of third class. Feeling a loyalty to their fellow countrywomen, they came back for all four women from County Cavan and brought them up to second class. From there they were able to reach open air and find a lifeboat.
Kate also met up with a second-class passenger who had three girls, including a 2-year-old, and she helped the family get into a lifeboat. While being lowered, the lifeboat was nearly crushed by the lifeboat above it due to tangled wires, but they were cut at the last minute and the lifeboat managed to row to safety just in the knick of time.
As the boat was being lowered into the ocean, it contained 49 passengers. Although Kate didn’t share many details with family on the events that unfolded thereafter, the boat ended up containing 69 passengers when they were picked up by the Carpathia (the rescue ship that arrived at 4 a.m. to take on the 705 survivors).
“She never talked about what she saw (in the water) or much of what happened,” David said. “She said the biggest struggle for her was boarding the Carpathia with the 2-year-old. And then on the Carpathia, they were broken down by class again, and the woman she had helped picked up her children, didn’t say anything, and didn’t offer my grand-grandmother any help.”
Kate never found out what happened to the two Irish men who had saved her. Of the 709 third-class passengers, 537 died (75 percent). Only 13 percent of those survivors (59) were men.
Kate, of course, made it to New York. William joined. They were married. She worked as a maid, and he worked somewhat ironically in a shipyard.
Soon, however, their luck followed them again when William bought tenement housing in Manhattan, which would turn into them owning a block of real estate in New York City and original stock in AT&T, among other good fortunes.
Kate lived to be only 60, dying of a stroke. Kate and William’s son, Peter Arkins (David’s grandfather), was only in his 20s when she died. David never met her, of course. But the few times Kate shared her stories of the Titanic with family were preserved in memory, as well as in books and articles about the event that featured her.
“Everything’s documented with the boat, including names and ages,” David said, adding that a second Kate Connolly (a second-class passenger who died on the ship) has resulted in some confused reports.
“She was very lucky,” David said.
The Arkinses plan to attend the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3 production of MSU Theatre’s “Titanic,” which, coincidentally, includes three third-class passenger characters named Kate.
Sponsored by the Consolidated Communications Community Fund, the musical examines the causes, the conditions and the characters involved in this ever-fascinating drama. This is its Minnesota State Mankato debut.
If you go
MSU Theatre’s Mainstage opener, “Titanic”
7:30 p.m. Oct. 1-3 and 8-10; and 2 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11
$22 regular; $19 for seniors ages 65 and older, children under 16 and groups of 15 or more; and $15 for MSU students with a Mav Card.
Season tickets for all six Mainstage shows are on sale for $100 through Oct. 11.
MSUTheatre.com or 389-6661.