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Image and article source: [pilotonline.com]

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been obsessed with the tale of Titanic.  I stood in line for hours at the Commodore theater in Portsmouth to catch the Leo and Kate live out the tale.  My Nana took me to the Titanic Tea Party at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News.  I watched every PBS special ever made on the unsinkable ship.  And, even as I write this, I'm watching a new network production commemorating one of the most memorable disasters in the last one hundred years. 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. 

Local Titanic survivors who lived to tell
By Denise Watson Batts
The Virginian-Pilot

Leah Aks and her 10-month old son, Phillip, boarded the ship in Southampton, England. Selini Yasbeck, a 15-year-old newlywed, stepped onto the luxury liner in France, heading to her new home in America.

Years later, the three would become Norfolk residents, but they were first linked by what would happen on April 14, 1912. They would become survivors of the Titanic.

The three have since died - Yasbeck, who later remarried and Anglicized her name to Celiney Decker, passed in 1966; Leah Aks in 1967; her son, F. Phillip "Filly" Aks, in 1991. Over the years, the three would often tell their stories so that people would not forget what happened during that fateful night.

Leah Aks, then 18, paced one of the Titanic's decks around 10:30 p.m. on April 14, her mind on her future. She would be joining her husband, Sam, who had settled in Norfolk and was working as a tailor. Weeks before, he had sent her the money for passage on another ship, but her parents did not want their only daughter and grandchild to sail yet. They wanted them to travel on the ship that they heard was unsinkable.

The cold drove Aks back to the cabin that she shared with another third-class passenger and Filly, who had been asleep. She was in bed by 11:30.

Assigned to a nearby cabin on the same deck, Yasbeck was traveling with her husband and 18 other friends and relatives from Lebanon. Her husband, Antoni, had been to the United States before and was part owner of a business in Pennsylvania. He had traveled back to his homeland to marry Selini.

The 15-year-old was asleep when the Titanic hit the iceberg at 11:40, but, according to newspaper articles, the sound piqued more curiosity than fear. She and her husband dressed and went out on the deck to see what was going on.

Aks had finally begun to doze when she heard "a crushing sound."

"The ship didn't lurch. It only seemed to pause briefly. That was all. I thought nothing of it and had started to try to sleep again when someone knocked at the door."

Then came a man's voice. "Quick. The ship is in danger."

Yasbeck, who spoke little English, could not understand what was going on.

"Everyone seemed to shout and dance and the band played music," she said in a 1951 Virginian-Pilot article. "People seemed to sing and laugh at first."

Then water began to flood the deck. The couple turned to go to their cabin to grab some money and belongings, but the water was soon waist deep. Then lifeboats were being lowered, and the call for women and children first ripped through the crowd.

Aks grabbed Filly and rushed into the passageway that was dark, except for a few lights ahead. She could feel the cold water on her feet. She and Filly had only nightclothes on, and from somewhere Aks grabbed a shawl to wrap around her son.

The stairs were packed with screaming passengers, and in the frenzy, someone grabbed Filly. He was gone. Aks pushed her way to the deck, where women were being pulled from their husbands' arms and shoved onto boats along with children, and men, who were storming the lifeboats, were being pushed back by officers waving pistols. Aks couldn't find her son.

Yasbeck got into a boat and turned to look at her husband, who watched as she and others were lowered to the sea.
Aks wasn't thinking about getting off the ship; she was searching the hysterical mob for her child.

"My mind became paralyzed and I began to be glad that the baby was not there," she said in a 1951 article. "If he had to die, I didn't want to see it."

Then, as the last lifeboat was being lowered, a woman got out to kiss her husband one last time. Someone picked up Aks and put her in the woman's seat. The boat began to descend.

The woman never made it back into the lifeboat.

Both Aks and Yasbeck remember drifting from the sinking ship and hearing the screams mingling with the music.

Of the 2,200 on board - 1,300 of whom were passengers - about 1,500 died in the early morning of April 15.

Survivors were picked up by another ship, the Carpathia, which heard the Titanic's distress signals.

Of Yasbeck's family and friends, 15 died, including her husband and 4-year-old nephew. She didn't remember much of her time on the Carpathia as it headed to New York. Neither did Aks, who was still numb four days after the sinking. She could not even remember that she had a son, but was sitting on deck one day when she heard a baby crying. Something about the cry sounded familiar.

The child was sitting in another woman's lap but was straining to go to Aks. Aks slowly recognized that it was Filly, but the woman who held him said he was hers.

Yasbeck heard the commotion surrounding a girl saying someone had her baby.

The captain was called. Aks was able to identify Filly by a birthmark, and, considering that the Aks family was Jewish, Aks told the captain about Filly's circumcision.

She was also able to nurse, while the other woman could not.

The woman later said that Filly had been tossed into her lifeboat and landed in her lap, unhurt. She thought he'd been given to her as a miracle.

Aks' husband picked up his family and brought them to Norfolk. Yasbeck and some of her relatives lingered in New York, hoping for truth in rumors that other survivors had been picked up by other boats. Yasbeck then moved to Pennsylvania, and later married Elias Decker and they moved to Norfolk. Even after marriage, she was still often remembered in stories of the Titanic as the 15-year-old bride, her last name often spelled differently.

The husbands both went into the salvage business, and Filly followed, but the women did not meet until April 1951, surrounding the 39th anniversary of the sinking.

The women realized then that they had so much in common, including living only blocks from one another in Norfolk for years.

A hundred years ago Sunday, in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, a supposedly unsinkable ship went down, taking more than 1,500 souls with it. The sinking of the Titanic - a drama that unfolded in less than three hours - remains the benchmark of disasters. In fact, ever since that April night in 1912, you might say that we've been hooked on disasters in general and the tale of the great luxury liner in particular. "The story is ageless, like all great stories," said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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