I was wondering the other day if there were any Louisiana connections on the Titanic. I found one but don’t get too excited.
A Miss Alice Compton of Lakewood, N.J., and New Orleans was reported by the Asbury Park Evening Press as rescued along with her mother. Alice’s brother, Alexander, perished.
The only problem is that there wasn’t an Alice Compton on the Titanic. Alice was Sara Rebecca Compton (the newspaper got her name wrong). She died in Miami in 1952. I can find no indication that she ever lived in New Orleans so that probably was just something else that the newspaper got wrong. More likely, the newspaper meant to say New York, where Sara was born.
But don’t take my word for it. The Times-Picayune went out and questioned the Comptons of New Orleans in 1912. According to the paper: “None of the Comptons who live in New Orleans know the family of the same name that was aboard the Titanic and are unable to account for them or to say who they are.”
The search for the Titanic victims’ New Orleans roots didn’t end there. A Sen. C.C. Cordill of Louisiana wondered if they were connected to the Comptons of Tensas Parish. Apparently a daughter of Judge Stacey married a Wilbur Compton of Botnay Bay plantation in Tensas Parish. The marriage produced a number of children, including brothers who became prominent businessmen in Mississippi and had families who were rumored to travel abroad.
Despite the sleuthing and speculating, the Comptons of Titanic were not from New Orleans or Tensas Parish. Sara’s father was born in New Jersey. His mother was born in New York, not Tensas Parish. The Comptons of Titanic were not descended from Thomas Wilbur Compton and Emma Stacy of Tensas Parish.
So it’s doubtful Sara was of New Orleans just as it’s doubtful that a New Orleans shipyard telephone operator named Rosemary Eller ever set foot on the Titanic.
Eller emerged in 1944 claiming to have been born Helena Yates and rescued from the Titanic. Her story was that she was rescued from the ship, taken to the New York Baby hospital and later unofficially adopted by the Starks (or Stark or Starke or Starkes) family of New Orleans.
Here’s the problem: There was never a Helena Yates on the Titanic. The only Yates aboard was a gambler, and he seemed to have been a con artist who lied about being on the Titanic. Regardless, if he was onboard, he probably wasn’t toting a baby.
But back to Rosemary.
From reading the historical records, it appears that Rosemary didn’t know she was adopted until both her parents were gone. What probably happened is that she was orphaned – or abandoned – at a young age. Somehow, she found her way to New Orleans into the arms of a family who had recently lost a child.
Maybe her birth mother dropped her at the foundling hospital with a fantastic story about the Titanic that was written into the hospital records. Who knows.
Here’s the story of Rosemary Eller.
Rosemary was taken to a foundling hospital in New York on April 23, 1912. Supposedly, a nurse brought her in and said she was a survivor of the Titanic. The shipwreck would have been the talk of New York at the time.
Already, though, the story starts running off the tracks. The Titanic, obviously, sank in April 1912. Eller later claimed she was six months old when the Titanic sank. When she died, her birth was recorded as Sept. 27, 1910. So she was actually a toddler when she was taken to the foundling hospital – not six months old.
In 1915 or so Rosemary was baptized as Helena Yates at St. Vincent’s Ferrer Church (this is all according to Rosemary). Interestingly, the foundling home baptized other children at St. Vincent’s before putting them on the Orphan Train. Hmmm … By 1920, Rosemary was living in the household of John and Mary Burke Starks in a rented house at 1110 Felicity St. (it’s now a parking lot) in New Orleans.
Her adoptive father died just before Christmas 1920. He had been a farmer and an ice dealer. He and Mary had many children, including a little girl named Mary Rose who died in 1913. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they adopted a child to fill that terrible void. Mary was past childbearing age by the time Rosemary joined the family.
Interestingly, the 1930 census lists Rosemary’s birthplace as New York. At that point, the Starks, minus John, were living at 2622 Magazine St.
In 1944, Rosemary made the noise about being a Titanic survivor. The story made a small splash and then disappeared without a followup.
Rosemary moved to California and died there, in Oakland, in 1962. She left behind three children and six grandchildren. Her obit listed her as a loving mother and a dear brother. Poor Rosemary.
Hopefully, she was able to discover her real story even if it wasn’t as glamorous as being rescued from the Titanic.