Titanic’s lower-class menu offers locally brewed lager

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Maxine Peterson and Nancy Ottman, foreground, dressed in period clothing, attend a dinner to commemorate the sinking of the RMS Titanic at the Animas Museum. A bottle of the specially labeled “3rd Class Steerage Ale,” center, created by Steamworks Brewing Co., was a highlight of the evening.

While Col. Astor smoked his last cigar, and the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” helped others in her lifeboat survive, the folks in third class on the RMS Titanic were given permission to go up to the first-class deck because there had been an “incident.”

That’s how the Animas Museum’s commemoration of the 101st sinking of the famous ship ended, but before that, there was fun aplenty.

The festivities began with Jeannine Dobbins and Laurie Robison, members of the Westwind Pipes and Drums, playing the bagpipes to greet guests. Among their offerings: “Scotland the Brave,” “Danny Boy,” “Balmoral,” “Bathgate Highland Gathering” and other traditional favorites. Dobbins said they would start playing, get about eight measures in, and the guests would be past them and in. The women enjoyed finishing the tunes for each other.

Many guests dressed in period costume, which ranged from late Victorian (the queen died in 1901) to Edwardian, but because we were in steerage, there was a mix of the elegant and the quotidian.

A group of valiant volunteers prepared and served a hearty tea, known as dinner to us colonials. No appetizers – third class, remember? – but a rib-sticking meal that surely helped those who made it on a lifeboat survive. Kathy Szelag both donated the cost of all the food and prepared the beef ragoût, which was the entrée. Nancy Macho made the pickled cabbage, Suzanne Parker the boiled parsley potatoes and dessert currant buns, and Rani Holt finished the meal off with Irish soda bread and the other part of the dessert, stewed apricots.

It was all delicious, but a lot of food. Amazingly, the bottomless pit that is known as Duane Smith asked for a second plate. Wowzers!

The museum has had three interns from Fort Lewis College working there this semester, and they all volunteered to help serve. Sarah Jones, Cassandra Fisher and Evan West were definitely in the spirit.

This was just the beginning of Jones’ Titanic adventures. Not only does she have a personal collection of Titanic memorabilia, she will be working at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque this summer on its Titanic exhibit, which opens Tuesday and runs through Oct. 27.

Other servers included Lou Kiene, Kathy McKenzie and Susie Kuhnert.

La Plata County Historical Society board member Gay Kiene greeted guests, and her fellow board member Jeff Johnson served as bartender. He was popping open specially bottled Steam Engine Lager donated by Steamworks Brewing Co., the kind of beer that would have been popular circa 1912, with a label designed by Justin Travis.

The special bottles came about because Animas Museum assistant Brianna McCormick has been helping director of marketing and Steamworks co-founder Brian McEachron research the history of 945 Main Ave., where Steamworks will open its new restaurant, El Moro, sometime in June. Let’s just say it has a colorful past, and her help has been invaluable.

McEachron said that not only was the lager authentic, it perfectly enhanced the menu selected, and I would have to agree with him there.

McCormick had a lot of fun researching third-class meals and entertainment for the event, too. She played the part of steward Evelyn Marsden, keeping us updated about the progress of the “incident” and providing the evening’s entertainment with a recitation of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem “The New Colossus.”

You know, ”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Because the poem was actually written for a fundraiser, to purchase a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, and the ship would supposedly be sailing by the lady with the torch in a few days, it was deemed perfectly appropriate by all in attendance.

Decorations included “lifeboats,” antique and antique-looking dishes and drawings and information about the White Star Line’s “Queen of the Ocean.”

Each table sported several portraits enumerating the lives of steerage passengers who survived. (Organizers thought it might mute the fun of the evening if people were pondering those who had died.)

Some were rescued in spite of efforts to get them to go back below or being denied a spot in a lifeboat. Winnie Coutts, who was traveling with her sons ages 9 and 3, kept being directed to the wrong places and couldn’t get to the boat deck. Then, after finally arriving on the deck, a ship’s officer tried to deny the 9-year-old a spot because he looked “too old” in his straw hat.

There was plenty of sadness to go around, too, since the reason the Titanic is remembered, of course, is because of immense tragedy. Little Mary Nakid, 18 months, survived the sinking, only to die in July 1912 of meningitis. She was the first passenger rescued to die.

One of my fellow diners had a bit of a connection to the Titanic, herself. Diane Skinner’s brother retired from teaching at Widener University. The Wideners were a prominent Philadelphia family, and George D. Widener and his 27-year-old son Harry Elkins Widener went down with the ship. It is indeed a small world.

Events coming up next on the museum’s schedule are free. “Family Days – Get a Jumpstart on Your Garden” will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. April 27 and the “Big Kahuna” of museum events, the Community Heritage Awards will be held at 5:30 p.m. May 24 at the Bar D Chuckwagon. Honorees this year are the Montoya family and the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elk’s Lodge No. 507. I’ll have to dig out my dad’s membership card from the 1960s for that one.

Tickets are available at www.animasmuseum.org/events.

durango colorado

Celebrating the last of the Aries birthdays are Martina Pansze, Gary Conrad, Eric Copeland, Calvin Chase, Karin Kingsley, Joe Albert, Donna Alsdurf, Suzanne Washburn, Michael Benner, Angelia Cook, Thomas McCullough, Robert Wagner, Dean Brown, Ida Kolb, Cooper Williamson and Christopher Leach.

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As the gusts keep coming, these couples are holding on to each other for dear life for their anniversaries – Bill and Marianne Griffin and Ralph and Sara Campano.

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