Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

An emigrant lost on the Titanic

The sinking of the RMS Titanic, as painted by ...

The sinking of the RMS Titanic, as painted by Willy Stöwer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Small details can restore the forgotten  to life and bring a poignancy to someone about whom little else is known.  Were it not for the manner of his death and the subsequent recovery of his luggage from the ocean bottom, the hopes and ambitions of the 27 year old German emigrant Franz Pulbaum would remain unknown. In many ways Pulbaum was not a typical emigrant and yet in other ways he reflected the aspirations of them all.

Pulbaum, born on 14 October 1884, had emigrated from Bremen in 1907 aboard the  Missouri and lived in New York. He was returning to New York from a visit home to Germany and a stay in Paris, travelling as a second class passenger (ticket number SC/PARIS 2168),  which had cost him £15 0s 8d. He boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg on Wednesday 10 April 1912 and went down with the ship on 15 April. His body was never recovered, but his cabin trunk was recovered by RMS Titanic Inc. in 1993.

Yet, we learn so much about him from his luggage, though that only gives a limited snapshot of the man and his life. It is hard not to be touched by these personal possessions, some of them displayed at the ‘Titanic: the Artifact Exhibition’ at the Millenium Dome in 2010,. Among them was a striped grey tie, bought in New York, blue garters and newly purchased silk socks still attached to each other at the toe. He was never to have the chance to wear them.Pulbaum socks

The newness of some of Pulbaum’s clothes contrasts with the equal poignancy of the more worn clothing also recovered from the ocean in 2000 in the humbler suitcase of another emigrant, William Henry Allen, a 35 year old Birmingham toolmaker travelling in third class and whose ticket had cost him only £8 1s. Neatly packed for a new life, his case contained his best black woollen three piece suit, shirt collars, both smart shoes and worn work shoes, socks and darning wool, as well as a pocket watch and sterling silver match box still containing matches.

There was also collection of 29 postcards, envelopes, a letter and postage stamps, tied together with string, clearly intended to remind Pulbaum of his stay in Paris, including such tourist spots as the Jardin des Tuilleries and views of the Seine. One of them was still strongly perfumed with the Lenthéric scent Aeolian. This perfume card, with an Art Nouveau design, could have been picked up at any one of a number of shops in Paris or even at the House of Lenthéric itself.

Carefully packed in his cabin baggage  were his working tools, including a tape measure, indicating the importance to him of his craftsmanship and skills as a machinist or engineer and the need to have his equipment readily available without fear of loss. While in Paris he had stayed at Luna Park, an amusement ground, in Paris and had with him a postcard, the image partly obliterated by the sea, of Le Scenic Railway, a roller coaster, in operation at Luna Park. Pulbaum himself was connected with the similar fairground on Coney Island. Among the documents in his luggage was a stock certificate for shares in the Bowery Witching Waves Company, a firm which manufactured fairground rides. The Coney Island ride had opened in about 1910. The tools of his trade, the stock certificate, the postcard  and his address in Paris having been given as Luna Park strongly suggest that his return to Europe had been a business trip to inspect the mechanical rides at the Luna Park amusement park.  as much as a visit home to Germany.Pulbaum

It was not only his stock certificate that indicated his desire for a place as a professional in American society and a stake in his new country. He also had a leather-bound pocket book  from “Maryland Club Rye.” containing useful advice for businessmen. There was also a Kaiser German-English dictionary, useful but suggesting that he was still mastering the English language.

Pulbaum had already taken the first steps towards becoming a citizen of the United States before his return to Europe. On 17 February 1912 in New York he had signed his declaration of intention and this was found in his cabin trunk among his other possessions. Perhaps this one document, badly waterstained but still legible, makes him truly representative of  so many of the emigrants on the Titanic, whether, like him, travelling in the luxury of second class or in steerage. Sadly it was an ambition that for him was never realised.Mattania

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