Monday, April 16, 2012

Polar the Titanic Bear

April 15th marks the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  We pulled out this book which has amazing photographs and a true story told through the eyes of a toy bear.  It was written in 1913 by Daisy Spedden and given as a Christmas gift to her son.  The original story is framed by a fascinating Introduction and Epilogue by Leighton H. Coleman III (a relative of the Speddens) who presents a portrait of life at that time and details, both sad and happy, of the Spedden's history. 

Daisy Corning Stone Spedden
illustrations by Laurie McGaw 2001

The book follows the Spedden family who were part of the wealthy upper class at the turn of the 20th century.  The titular bear is given as a gift to their son Douglas who brings it along on all the family's travels.  The story is a glimps into that world of the "gilded age".   
From the Epilogue:

The letters, diaries, photo albums and mementos of Daisy Spedden record a way of life that is gone forever.  Turning the pages of Daisy's photo albums, one sees pictures of large houses with beautiful gardens, where elegantly dressed people attended parties.  In the winter they boarded ocean liners to stay at grand hotels in places like Cannes, Madeira and Bermuda.  No one had to work to make a living except the servants who took care of the children and the housework.  Few of the small number of people who lived this way eighty years ago seemed to have thought their comfortable world would ever come to an end.

Through illustrations and original period photographs, the Spedden's experience on the Titanic is told.  They were loaded into a lifeboat (Douglas holding his bear, Polar) and rescued by the Carpathia.  But the book tells so much more than just the Titanic disaster.  While on board the Carpathia, Douglas' mother and nanny help take care of the other survivors, regardless of their social positions.

But the world would soon ask the opposite question, demanding why so few people from third class had been rescued, and a popular song about the Titanic would claim that "they kept them down below where they were the first to go."
Historians now point to the Titanic disaster, which was followed two years later by World War I, as the beginning of the end of an era where society was sharply divided between rich and poor.

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