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Albert Wirz: Victim Of The Titanic

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In 1912 a 27 year old Swiss farmer named Albert Witz decided to come to Beloit, Wisconsin, where his step-Aunt, Maria Brown, had found employment for him in a Beloit machine shop. Maria, whose sister Lina had married Albert’s father after the death of his first wife, had come to Beloit with her son Adolf. She married Terrance Brown, and at the time of Albert’s trip they resided at 1208 Fifth Street, near the intersection with Middle Street, the property now a part of the parking lot across from the High School.

Albert’s parents were very reluctant about his sailing to America, fearing a terrible accident according to one account. But he was determined and on April 8, 1912, he boarded the train at Uster, Switzerland, and set out for Southampton, England. Albert was traveling with a friend, Anton Kink, and his family, who were immigrating to Milwaukee. The boarded the awaiting ship on April 10 as third-class passengers, surely impressed with what was then the largest ship in the world. Albert and his companions had booked passage on the Titanic for its maiden voyage.

Albert shared a cabin on G Deck with Anton, Anton’s brother Vinzenz, Leo Zimmerman, Josef Arnold (who was traveling to New Glarus, Wisconsin), and an unknown Bohemian passenger. Their cabin was seven decks below the boat deck, and near the bow of the ship. Anton’s wife, daughter and sister were berthed in the stern; in third-class men and women’s quarters were separated, the men forward, the women aft.

As is well known, the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday evening, April 14, 1912. Most passengers barely noticed the collision as many had already retired for the evening. But on G Deck near the bow Albert and his companions were close to the impact. Anton Kink and his bother rushed to the stern of the ship, where he rejoined his wife and daughter. They made their way to the boat deck where they entered Lifeboat 2; with women and children being put in first. Anton might have perished, but was saved because he jumped into the boat when his wife and daughter cried out for him.

At 2:20 a.m. on the 15th the great ocean liner sank into the sea, claiming over 1500 lives. Anton’s cabin-mates were all lost, including Albert Wirz. In interviews with survivors Albert was never mentioned, but he must have found his way to the boat deck dressed with his lifebelt on, because he was one of the few victims recovered from the sea. His survival in the frigid ocean would not have exceeded 20 to 30 minutes.

Albert’s body was found on April 24, ten days after the disaster, identified and assigned Number 131 by the cable ship, MacKay-Bennett, employed by the White Star Line to search for and retrieve victims of the sinking. Following is the description recorded of Albert and what was found in his possession:

  • No. 131 - Male - Dark Hair - Mustache, Fair
  • Clothing - Dark suit; woolen socks, buckle shoes
  • Effects - Two watches, brass chain; one ink pot; match box; knife; memo book; insurance book; passport; keys; empty purse; purse containing 36¢
  • Third Class Ticket No. 315154
  • Name - Albert Wirz

The MacKay-Bennett was heading to Halifax, Nova Scotia, but before arriving the mark of identification on Albert was lost. A description to re-identify his body was needed, so the Beloit representative of the White Star Line, Ernest C. Dahlberg, was contacted. A jeweler by trade, Dahlberg’s shop was on Grand Avenue just west of the bridge. He sent a description of Wirz, presumably obtained from Mrs. Brown; in the meantime Albert’s body lay unidentified in the morgue at Halifax. Finally on May 7, 1912, the New York White Star office communicated the following:

The White Star office in New York wires that the identification of Albert Wirz is positive. Will forward body to Beloit at our expense. Wire us immediately to whom body should be addressed.

Albert Wirz’s body arrived in Beloit on May 11, and was met at the train by Mr. and Ms. Brown. The hermetically sealed zinc casket was immediately sent to Meechan & Son’s undertaking parlor, on Grand Avenue. The funeral was held Sunday, May 12, 1912, in Oakwood Cemetery, and conducted in German by Rev. Peter Pichler of the German (St. Paul’s) Lutheran Church. Interestingly, the two papers of the day had conflicting views on the size of the group that attended the service. The Beloit Daily News stated that “a large crowd of people witnessed the funeral services for Albert Wirz,” but the Beloit Daily Free Press said that “only a handful were in attendance upon the last rites for the young man.”

The Browns presumably couldn’t afford a maker for their nephew, so the grave remained unmarked for over 80 years. Gunter Bable of Switzerland, founder of the Swiss Titanic Society, rekindled the memory of Mr. Wirz’s story. He contacted the Beloit Historical Society, and through his efforts, and those of Floyd Andrick, Albert’s grave received its long overdue marker, which was dedicated in a ceremony held September 5, 1996. Rev. Charles Larson of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church led the memorial service, just as his predecessor Rev. Pichler had 84 years previously, but this time in English.

Of the man lost in the Titanic sinking, only 336 bodies were recovered, and of those over 100 were buried at sea. The rest were taken to Halifax, where most were buried outside of Halifax in a lovely cemetery under uniform marble marker. Only 50 of the victims were buried outside of Halifax, and only 3 in Wisconsin (the other two are buried in Green Bay and Milwaukee).

Summing up the tragedy of Albert Wirz’s death, on May 11, 1912, the Beloit Daily News had the following to say:

His journey is finished. He has reached the place he set out for. But no ruddy cheeked (Swiss) lad will add his wealth of energy and labor to the industries of Beloit. Instead a little mound in the city cemetery marks the consummation of his life’s hopes and incidentally brings home to the people of Beloit, the great ocean tragedy that shocked the entire civilization of the present day and will go down in history as one of the great disasters of all time.

Marker at Oakwood Cemetery reads:

Victim of the Titanic
May 19, 1854 - April 15, 1912

Scott Richard, 2002