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Survival in the cold Atlantic

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Jean Bruce Cotten hold up a picture of the Alexander Milne family and and Jessie Bruce Trout. In the first row from left are Alex Milne, Margaret Milne, James Milne, Nellie Milne and Aunt Margaret. In the second row from left are Harry Milne, Jessie Bruce Trout, Alex Milne Jr. On the table is the customs card Jessie Bruce Trout was given while on the RMS Carpathia, which rescued her and other Titanic passengers after that ship struck an iceberg. Ron Agnir/Journal

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The front page of the Columbus Citizen recounted Jessie Bruce Trout’s ordeal on the Titanic. Ron Agnir/Martinsburg Journal

Coal strike put West Virginia woman's aunt on the Titanic

By Matthew Burdette -- Martinsburg Journal

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. -- For 100 years, the sinking of the RMS Titanic has captured the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world.

Billed as unsinkable, the ship was the largest and most opulent of its time, and Titanic's demise on its maiden voyage only has added to the ship's mystique and allure.

One Falling Waters resident, though, has a special connection to the doomed ocean liner.

Jean Bruce Cotten, of Falling Waters, is a descendant of one of the 710 survivors of the worst civilian maritime disasters of the 20th century.

Cotten's aunt, Jessie Bruce Trout, was a widowed 27-year-old when she boarded the ship headed from Southampton, England, to New York City on April 10, 1912.

Trout, one of 12 children of a Scottish family, immigrated to the United States through Winnipeg, Canada, in 1904. Her father, a noted cattle breeder, settled the family in Columbus, Ohio, where Jessie married William Henry Trout. The couple was married in March 1911, but tragedy struck just six short months later. On Sept. 22, 1911, tragedy struck when William was killed in a railroad accident.

Distraught, Trout retreated to Aberdeen, Scotland, in January 1912, sailing first-class on White Star Line's RMS Oceanic to visit with her grandparents.

A few months later, Trout was ready to return to her life in Ohio, but decided to stop off in England to visit her sister, Margaret, the only one of Trout's siblings who never immigrated to America.

After her visit, Trout returned to the shipyards, only to find out her return passage on Oceanic had been canceled because of a coal strike.

To make amends, the White Star Line transferred all passengers to the Titanic.

Four days into the crossing, Titanic took its place in history, striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic.

"The first-class passengers on Oceanic got second-class tickets for the Titanic," Cotten said. "Jessie was in her second-class cabin when the ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. She told the family she looked out the porthole and described the iceberg as a tooth that had been pulled, looking at it from the root side."

Trout immediately went up to the next deck, where she was told by the steward that nothing was wrong and that she should return to her cabin. A short time later, the purser came and told her to move up on the main deck.

Trout hurried topside, wearing just her nightgown and an overcoat. Trout returned to her cabin to retrieve a bracelet and her comb.

When she arrived back on deck, she was assigned to lifeboat No. 9, which was the second to last to be launched.

"There were 40 women, six crewmen and two young men who jumped onto the lifeboat as it was being lowered," Cotten said. "It was a moonless, starless night. The only light was coming from the ship."

Trout's lifeboat was about a half mile from the ship when it foundered. At that point, it was totally black.

"Jessie told stories about how cold it was," Cotten said. "It was about 28 degrees. She said the people who jumped off the ship as it went down tried to get to the lifeboats, but they didn't last long because it was so cold. Then again, it was hard to see people because it was so dark. There really wasn't any light."

Almost four hours later, Trout and the others in the lifeboats rejoiced as the RMS Carpathia approached. Trout finally was able to board the rescue ship about 7 a.m.
Four days later, the Carpathia moored in New York City. Survivors were given clothing to wear and money so they could return to their homes.

All told, 1,514 died in the disaster, which spurred officials to rethink and enact stricter safety standards for maritime travel.

Trout's journey finally ended on April 22, when she arrived in Columbus.

"All of her relatives thought she was coming back on the Oceanic. So, when the accident happened, no one knew she was on that boat. Everyone was shocked to find out that she was on Titanic."

Trout married several years later to Harvey Walter Bortner and moved to Michigan.

"In 1930, 17 years after the accident, Jessie and her husband were driving in the winter and slid on a small patch of black ice," Cotten said. "The car began to skid, and she jumped out into a ditch. The car just slumped over on her and severed her vertebra at the neck."

Trout was 44 when she died.

Trout had three children with her second husband, a son and two daughters. Her son, ironically, was born on April 14, 1915.

"I certainly think of all this every April 14," Cotten said. "We remember Jessie and her experiences. We all heard the stories growing up. I was born 12 years after Jessie died. And, none of her siblings are left alive, only nieces, nephews and grandchildren are left living."

"We gathered as much information as we can," Cotten added. "We have a copy of the landing pass that she had to have to get off the Carpathia and a photo. Jessie was actually bringing back family heirlooms from Scotland on her way back, including her father's prized cattle trophies. Now, all of those trophies are at the bottom of the ocean, along with all her other possessions."

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