BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Swedish immigrant Oscar Palmquist survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, only to be found dead more than a decade later in a shallow reservoir near his home in Connecticut.
Authorities at the time attributed his death to accidental drowning, but his family and others said that was unfathomable, considering the fear of water he carried from his ordeal in the frigid North Atlantic.
The matter went no further, and Palmquist was buried in an unmarked grave at a Bridgeport cemetery. This weekend, he finally will receive a gravestone, provided by an association dedicated to recognizing lesser known steerage passengers whose families were often too poor to place a stone.
“I just felt it was no justice for him, no recognition for what had happened to him and no one ever pursued it,” said Shelley Dziedzic, president emeritus of Titanic International Society.
Palmquist’s descendants welcomed the recognition at Mountain Grove Cemetery, where showman P.T. Barnum and dwarf performer Tom Thumb also are buried. The society raised more than $2,000 in small donations from around the world for Palmquist’s stone, Dziedzic said.
“I think it’s extremely generous of these people,” said David Palmquist, his great-nephew. “They’re seeking out the poorer class of people who were otherwise forgotten pretty much and families that could not or did not pay for headstones.”
Oscar Palmquist was a third class passenger on the Titanic and traveled under the name of Johansson, his family’s name in Sweden, relatives said. He was emigrating to Connecticut, where his brother lived.
Palmquist was one of the last passengers to flee the Titanic and jumped into the ocean with two lifejackets tied around his waist, according to an account his brother gave to the Yonkers Herald in New York at the time. He clung to the door of a stateroom in the water and at one point reached a lifeboat, only to be struck with an oar by someone who feared the boat would capsize if it took on too many people.
A Swedish girl on the boat threw him the end of her shawl for him to hold until a rescue ship arrived, according to the newspaper, which reported the girl died from exposure.
David Palmquist said the newspaper account closely matches what he had heard from relatives, though he doubts that his uncle could hold onto a shawl throughout the ordeal. He said his uncle may have swum to a capsized boat with other survivors, perhaps including the girl with the shawl.
More than 13 years later, Palmquist was working as a machinist when he got into a fight with a co-worker and both were fired, according to Dziedzic and relatives. There were rumors that Palmquist was involved with the man’s wife, they said.
On March 27, 1925, Palmquist dressed in his best suit and stopped at a neighborhood barber for a shave before heading out to catch a trolley for a night on the town. That was the last time anyone saw him alive. Weeks later, his body was found floating in the reservoir.
Palmquist’s minister was quoted as saying he suspected foul play and called for an autopsy, but no further action was taken. Palmquist had gone to a fortune teller about five years before his death who warned him the next time he went in the water he would drown, the minister said.
An undertaker at the time also cast doubt on the drowning theory, saying Palmquist did not have water in his lungs and the condition of the body showed it was in the open air rather than water, relatives said.
Robert Palmquist, his 85-year-old nephew who lives in Shelton, said his father received a threatening call at the time telling him not to push the matter or he would meet the same fate as his brother. His father did not talk about his brother, but he learned details form his mother.
Police were quoted at the time saying there was no evidence of foul play and they believed he fell in the water.
David Palmquist, the former city historian in Bridgeport, said he was fascinated by his uncle’s life.
“Imagine if he had lived,” Palmquist said. “All of us could be sitting around the table and he could be telling us stories about the Titanic.”