As a 17-year-old, Bertha Lehmann anticipated making a trans-Atlantic trip like no other.
She couldn’t have guessed it would be a voyage that would live on as a tragedy that surpasses time and ocean depths. The teenage waitress thought she was making a trek as a second-class passenger from her home in Bern, Switzerland to live with her sister in Central City, Iowa. She had planned to depart later, in May, but took an earlier April passage to surprise her sister. Her father saw her off as she boarded trains to take her to the ship for the tip, but reportedly he felt misgivings about her voyage.
Lehmann waited in Cherbourgh, France, to board the ship that would take her to America. When she saw it, she recalled it was better than any hotels she saw in her homeland and she looked forward to spending a week living like a princess.
The remarkable giant of a ship before her was RMS Titanic. Lehmann was a passenger on the maiden voyage. On April 14, Lehmann was asleep when she felt a jolt.
In an Associated Press story, Lehmann was quoted from journals and writings that have remained with her family. Lehmann described the jolt as a feeling of being on a train and grinding to a sudden stop. From her sleeping mind, she at first thought they must have docked in New York. She got up and saw lights outside a porthole. Later, she thought they must have been stars or reflections off the iceberg. She heard excited voices, but Lehmann spoke German and French, not English.
“Although I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, I knew something had happened,” Lehmann said. She knew the ship wasn’t moving. She got dressed. She went outside to the deck.
The AP reported Lehmann met Roger Bricoux on deck. A member of the Titanic orchestra, the French cellist advised her to get a coat. Once she returned to the deck, he helped her into a life belt and led her to another deck where she waited to get into a lifeboat. She observed ladies who did not want to leave their husbands and women were crying and hanging on to arms of loved ones.
“As I stepped into the lifeboat ... I fell,” Lehmann wrote. “I thought for a moment that I was going to fall right into the water, but I hit the bottom of the boat.”
During the night on April 15, 1912, the ill-fated Titanic could not survive the gash torn in its side from the collision with the iceberg.
Lehmann saw it all from a crowded lifeboat.
“We were not very far from the (Titanic) and could still hear people crying and yelling to one another,” Lehmann wrote in a journal. “All at once there were three loud reports. They sounded something like a very loud crash of thunder when it strikes very close to you. We all looked at the Titanic. It had broken apart. The front part of the boat went under first. The helm of the front half sank and then the middle.
“The last part of the boat was still above water. The broken part of the last half sank slowly into the water and then the stern. That was the last of the ship that would not sink.
“All was silent for a while and then the people that went under from the suction of the boat came up again. And of course those that had life belts stayed up. We could hear them yelling and screaming for help. As we rowed farther and farther away, the cries were lost in the distance between us and the boat.”
They were eventually picked up by the Carpathia.
Lehmann’s first husband was killed in World War I. She later moved to Pequot Lakes and married Carl Luhrs and raised a family. She died in Brainerd on Dec. 5, 1967, at the age of 72.
The AP reported her family in Sedalia, Mo. planned to be guests of honor at a musical tribute to Titanic in Branson, Mo.
Pearl Leemhuis of Sedalia told The Sedalia Democrat her mother never really talked about being on Titanic other than to say hearing the people in the water was the hardest part.