April 15th is the official sinking date of the R.M.S. Titanic. It actually struck the iceberg very late on the 14th (ship time) and took approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink beneath the freezing waters of the North Atlantic at 2:20 a.m. (ship time) on the 15th of April in 1912. Now while it was a huge loss of life (1,517 souls) there were some extraordinary survivor stories with Chicago links. One of those is the story of Annie Kate Kelly which I will cover in an article later today but this one is about Ida Sophia Fisher Hippach and her daughter Gertrude “Jean” Hippach.
The Hippach family was no stranger to tragedy. Ida and her husband Louis A. Hippach (co-owner of the Tyler-Hippach Glass Company) lost two of their young sons (Robert L. 14 and Archibald A. 12) in the Great Chicago Iroquois Theater fire of December 1903 and the lost their only other son, Howard H., when he was killed in a vehicle crash in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin on October 29, 1914 at the age of 19.
After the death of her two youngest sons in the terrible fire of 1903, Ida was suffering from depression and decided to take her daughter Jean (17 at the time) on a European vacation to try to lift her spirits. They finished their vacation in France and on April 10, 1912 she purchased two first class tickets in Cherbourg, France on the “unsinkable” R.M.S. Titanic bound for New York City on her maiden voyage.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with a grandson of Jean Hippach and he recalled some of the details that Jean had shared with him.
“I remember it was strange when she talked about the events of that night it was as though it was not a big deal. She remembered that she was just about asleep when she felt a slight vibration. Shortly after that a man came to their cabin and told them to put on life vests and come outside on deck quickly. She remembered how enormous the iceberg looked and then a completely naked woman who was holding a drink and obviously intoxicated threw herself off of the ship. She did not suspect that the woman survived since it was so cold and it was over a 100 foot drop down to the water. One of the last lifeboats was being lowered and John Jacob Astor himself guided her and her mother down to one of the lower decks at which point they were able to exit through a porthole into the already lowering boat. Mr. Astor who later perished aboard the sinking ship gave her mother his hip flask as she was entering the boat. She remembered the boat being rowed away from the ship and the horrible screaming as the ship eventually sank completely out of sight. She did say that probably the most haunting memory of the event was how long into the early morning hours you could hear women calling out the names of their husbands who would never answer.”
After the Titanic disaster, the bad luck didn’t seem to end. On August 29, 1914, Jean was in a vehicle driving by a Hugo Carlson. They were traveling north on Lake Shore Drive and when they were just north of Fullerton Avenue their vehicle struck and killed an 8 year old boy named John Dredling while his parents and siblings watched. Carlson and Jean jumped from the vehicle to help the boy and while they were outside of the vehicle someone had stolen Carlson’s briefcase! Of course Jean’s brother Howard was killed roughly 2 months later in a vehicle crash and her father’s offices at Tyler and Hippach were bombed by radical labor groups in 1922. In 1929, after being married for nine years to Swedish military officer, Khalmar Unander-Scharin, the marriage ended in divorce. Jean tried marriage again on January 26, 1942 when she married a reserve officer, Dr. Budd Clarke Corbus, in a quiet ceremony at her Lake Forest home but they had only spent 5 days together and the divorce was final a year later.
Her father, Louis Hippach died on May 30, 1935 and Ida Hippach, her mother, passed on September 20, 1940 and are buried at Rosehill Cemetery although the Hippach Chapel which was built as a memorial to Louis’s parents is at Chapel Hill Gardens Cemetery in Oak Brook Terrace.
Jean’s grandson remembered that later in life she loved dogs and was a terrible driver. He had memories of taking a ride with his grandmother in her car filled with dogs and her barely able to stay on the road. He couldn’t believe what it must have looked like to the neighbors.
He did think it odd that even though his grandmother had survived the Titanic, she never feared getting on a ship after that but was terrified of airplanes! She had no problem taking a cruise after that and he things it might have been due to the fact that she had already survived the worst so what else could possibly happen?
Jean Hippach passed away quietly in her home at Wianno, Massachusetts at the age of 79 on November 14, 1974.
This afternoon I will be publishing an article on Chicago’s own Annie Kate Kelly of the Addergoole 14 and my chance encounter with her great-grand niece .
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