An Alexandria native insisted his wife get on a Titanic lifeboat
Alexander Oskar Holverson grew up in Douglas County and still has relatives locally.
It’s been 109 years since the RMS Titanic sank in the icy Atlantic, and the memory of an Alexandria man who perished that day lives on.
Alexander Oskar Holverson, who grew up in Urness Township and Alexandria in Douglas County, was a businessman living in New York City at the time. He and his wife, Mary, a Pennsylvania native, boarded the supposedly unsinkable luxury liner as first-class passengers, according to Encyclopedia Titanica, a nonprofit online site devoted to the ship.
The sinking was not just a humanitarian disaster but an enduring example of marketing hubris.
He picked up his wife
To mark the disaster's anniversary, the Douglas County Historical Society posted the following on Facebook on April 14, based on reporting in the Alexandria Post News at the time.
Alexander moved to St. Paul to work for the Boston Clothing store. In 1912 He was working for the Cluett-Peabody company of New York City, which was opening new distributing stations in South America. He and his wife, Mary Aline Holverson, were traveling the loop between New York, Panama, Buenos Aires, London, and back to New York when they boarded the Titanic.
“Alexander was soundly sleeping, but Mary was awake. Mary felt the collision of the Titanic with the iceberg, which was alarming but did not feel like immediate danger and woke Alexander to go investigate what happened. The crew told Alexander there was no danger and to return to bed. However, when he returned to their room, Alexander instead told Mary to dress and they quickly proceeded to the deck, where lifeboats were being lowered.
“You get in a boat,” said Alexander, but Mary initially refused, unwilling to leave her husband behind. “I cannot come now,” replied Mr. Holverson. “Only the women now. I will come later.” Mary still refused, but Alexander picked her up and placed her into a lifeboat with his assurances he would be in a later boat.”
No more lifeboats
Sadly, there weren't enough lifeboats for all aboard.
Of the 2,224 people on board, more than 1,500 died, including the millionaire John Jacob Astor, among other wealthy passengers.
A cable-laying ship, the Mackay-Bennett, recovered the majority of the bodies of those who died in the Titanic sinking, including Holverson's. The bodies of third-class passengers were buried at sea, while the bodies of wealthier passengers were carried to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Those involved in the recovery effort made careful notes on many of those recovered. Those notes suggest that the Holversons dressed in haste, while also taking pains in their appearance. Alexander’s body was found wearing a black overcoat, grey suit, black and grey necktie, and a blue shirt over green pajamas with a black stripe, according to Encyclopedia Titanica. He was also wearing patent leather shoes, a gold watch, a gold tie clip, gold mother-of-pearl cufflinks and a solitaire diamond ring.
His body was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
News of his death hit the Alexandria area hard.
“Relatives here have little hope of more favorable news, and the uncertainty of his fate has been a severe blow to his aged parents,” reported the Alexandria Post News on April 18, 1912.
Alexander’s mother, Rachel, died five months later, at 67, according to FindAGrave.com. Her great-grandson, Darrel Holverson of Alexandria, said he doesn’t know whether her son’s death contributed to Rachel's. Alexander was Darrel's great-uncle.
Mary was rescued by the Carpathia and returned to New York City. She never remarried and died six years later, at age 41, according to FindAGrave. She was also buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Darrel Holverson, 67, who retired from Douglas Machine, said he and brother Larry Holverson, long-time Echo Press sports editor who retired several years ago, and Darrel's children and grandchildren are Alexander's only living relatives.
Darrel grew up with no cousins on that side of the family. His grandfather, Sidney Holverson, was Alexander's brother.
The family connection to one of the greatest maritime disasters in history didn’t seem all that momentous to him as a kid.
“It was the same as the Lusitania,” he said. “It was just a ship that went down.”
It wasn’t until he was grown that he realized the importance of the event and wished he had learned more.
“I remember that his brother Henry had to go to New York and he walked down rows and rows of bodies and he had to identify his brother,” he said. “I know he was buried there in New York.”
Family connections that remain in the Alexandria area are The Pillars Bed & Breakfast, which Henry Holverson built, and the family farm which was near St. Petri Church south of Evansville. Another connection, Henry Holverson’s drugstore, was lost when the building it had been in burned in 2020 in the downtown Alexandria fire.
Alexander's parents, Amund and Rachel Holverson, are buried at Kinkead Cemetery in Alexandria.
Alexander made international news in 2017 when a letter found on his body sold at auction for $166,000. Written to his mother on embossed Titanic stationary, it described the ship, its food and its wealthy passengers and still bore stains of its time in the Atlantic Ocean. News reports said it was sold by the Holverson family, but Darrell said it was not the Douglas County branch, but must have been relatives of Mary Holverson. He said he has never seen the letter.