WEIRTON - Like so many of the Titanic survivors who watched from small, wooden lifeboats while life as they knew it slipped into the Atlantic Ocean, 24-year-old Elin Hakkarainen found herself forced to start anew, a widow before her time.
Her journey, which began 100 years ago today, April 15, 1912, in many ways began in the unincorporated steel town of Weirton and a home on Avenue I in the shadow of Ernest T. Weir's growing tin mill. There she remarried, gave birth to a son and tried desperately to put that terrible night behind her.
Though she rarely spoke of her experience, Elin's story as she related it to her son, the late Gerald Nummi, lives on in the book Nummi co-authored with Titanic historian Janet A. White, titled "I'm Going To See What Has Happened" - the last words Elin heard from her husband Pekka, who was among the more than 1,500 who died when the ship sank.
In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the disaster, White will give a presentation at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center. Elin's daughter-in-law, 85-year-old Jane Nummi, is expected to attend.
Hakkarainen was born Elin Dolck on March 20, 1888, in Kalvola, Finland. At age 19, she left home for America, taking a job as a maid for a wealthy family in Quincy, Mass., but after a few years became homesick and returned to Finland for an extended visit.
During that visit, she met 28-year-old Pekka Hakkarainen - a tinsmith at a steel mill in Monessen, Pa., who also felt the tug of home at his heartstrings - and the two were married in Helsinki on Jan. 15, 1912. Rather than embark immediately on their honeymoon trip back to America together on the ocean liner Mauretania, the Hakkarainens chose to wait until April to sail on the bigger, faster and purportedly unsinkable Titanic's maiden voyage.
They boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912, at Southampton, England. Their ticket for a third-class berth on E Deck, far removed from the extravagance of the Titanic's first-class accommodations, cost 15 pounds and 17 shillings - about $670 in today's U.S. currency. Though spartan in appearance, the ship's steerage areas were far superior to those of other liners of the day, and Elin recalled how clean and new everything looked, even the smell of fresh paint.
On the night of the disaster, a Sunday, Elin and Pekka went for a walk on the deck after an evening of socializing with their fellow passengers, many of them immigrants who unlike the Hakkarainens were making their first journey to the United States and found the couple a wealth of information on life in America. Their stroll was cut short by the biting, cold North Atlantic air, and they retired to their cabin for the night.
As Pekka reached to turn out the light at about 11:40 p.m., Elin recalled feeling the ship make a "sudden turn" and hearing a scraping sound "as if someone had pushed a row of glasses from the shelf to the floor" as the Titanic sideswiped an iceberg.
"I'm going to see what has happened," Pekka said, and left the cabin. Not overly concerned, Elin went to sleep.
More than an hour later, a commotion in the hallway finally woke her, and the cabin was tilted sharply enough to cause her to fall and tumble to the opposite wall when she stepped out of bed. Pekka was nowhere to be seen.
Dressed in a nightgown, she grabbed her purse and lifejacket and joined a group of women trying to make their way to the boat deck. Many of the stairway gates were locked, but a steward directed the group up a service ladder, through the second-class dining area and on to the upper decks.
Elin frantically looked for her husband, but a crew member ushered her into Lifeboat 15, which already was being lowered and had a near miss with Lifeboat 13, which had reached the water and drifted underneath the descending boat. Elin had a near miss of her own, nearly falling between the lifeboat and the ship's side as she boarded.
She recalled being "hypnotized" as the incredible stress on the Titanic broke apart the ship's hull and the stern section slipped beneath the glassy ocean surface, leaving a haze over the spot where the ship had been. As the survivors in lifeboats awaited rescue, Elin called out for Pekka among the hundreds of people thrashing about in the ocean, all but a few of whom would freeze to death in the 28-degree water, but noted later, "My calls were in vain, for I felt sure that he was trapped within the passageway in the ship."
Over the two hours before the steamer Carpathia arrived on scene to rescue the 700 or so survivors, Elin drifted in and out of consciousness, not sure if she was simply exhausted or freezing to death. She woke up to find someone had covered her in a steamer rug.
After landing in New York with the other survivors on April 18, 1912, Elin received some new clothes and toiletries from the Red Cross, and $125 and a train ticket to Monessen from the Women's Relief Commission.
Due to numerous misspellings of her name, she was mistakenly listed among those who had perished for years after the disaster.
Such errors were common, but most were corrected within a month or so.
In 1916, Elin moved to Weirton and married Emil Nummi, a steelworker at the Phillips Sheet and Tin Plate Co., the forerunner of Weirton Steel Corp. Their son, Gerald, was born in 1920 and the family moved to Warren, Ohio, another steel town, in 1926.
Over the years, Elin came to detest the instant celebrity status thrust upon Titanic survivors. She recalled some of the more curious questioning pushing her to the point of tears.
"People would look at me in awe and would never allow me to forget the experience I had gone through," she told her son.
On Jan. 2, 1957, Elin died after suffering a stroke. Her son's wife was in labor with her third grandchild at the time.
It will never be known if there was a connection, but family members said on the day of her death, she was seen reading a copy of Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember," one of the best-selling books ever written about the Titanic disaster.