Along the Way: The Shamokin-Titanic Connection

Grave of Joseph Zupicich, St. Edwards Cemetery, Shamokin

I paused at the gates of Saint Edwards Cemetery. The journey this far had been exciting with the GPS sending me down dead-end roads and wanting me to go the wrong way on one-way streets. The last three blocks had been almost straight uphill and for the moment I was thankful I did not have to travel this hill in the wintertime.

“We going to fit?” my father asked as I studied the narrow entranceway.

“I think so,” I replied thankful I did not have a larger vehicle. I carefully navigated along the narrow roadways lined with trees that passed mere inches from my mirrors. The turn from one roadway to another was a challenge as the large trees stood guard on each corner of the intersection. I passed the driving test and arrived at the section of Saint Edwards Cemetery and arrived at the section I needed to be in.

Getting out of the vehicle, I scanned the stones. I had been sent vague directions to the burial spot within this section to the grave I sought.

“Let’s find it” my father spoke as he started towards the area I knew I had to search. Within a couple minutes he announced he had found the grave. I walked over and joined him at the grave of Joseph Zupicich. The name may not be familiar with most, but the bottom of his tombstone told his contribution to the world stage – “Rescuer of Survivors of Titanic.” Here on the hilltop overlooking the eastern end of Shamokin rests one of the crew of the RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued the survivors of the disaster.

Joseph was born October 19, 1894 in Labin, Istarska, Austria-Hungary. One of his first jobs was aboard the RMS Carpathia. Zupicich was just nineteen when his life would change forever. Note: His birthplace is in present-day Croatia.

The RMS Carpathia was a part of the Cunard fleet of liners and made its first trans-Atlantic crossing in 1903, from Liverpool to Boston. On April 11, 1912, the RMS Carpathia left New York City carrying passengers for Europe – a destination they would never make.

It was shortly after midnight on the morning of April 15 when the crew was alerted of the disaster. Upon arriving on deck, the crew of fifty was informed by Captain Arthur Rostron that the RMS Titanic had struck an iceberg and was sinking.

Despite being fifty miles from the sinking ship, and having a ship loaded with close to seven hundred passengers, the RMS Carpathia headed northward to aid the passengers. The ship sped to the location of the RMS Titanic, making it way through the field of icebergs. Note: Although there was another ship closer to the RMS Titanic, it did not respond to the distress calls.

The ship arrived as the RMS Titanic slipped beneath the waves. The RMS Carpathia circled the sinking ship three times rescuing seven hundred and five people from the freezing waters. Zupicich, along with the crew and passengers of the RMS Carpathia, gave up clothing, towels, blankets, and other needed personal necessities to those they rescued. The decision was made to head back to New York City, and arrived in port on April 18.

Upon arriving in the United States, Zupicich stayed, finding work as a dishwasher in New York City at the Astor Hotel. John Astor had perished in the disaster. Madeline Astor, who was pregnant at the time, survived and offered work to the crew of the RMS Carpathia. Zupicich accepted the offer and stayed in America.

Soon after, Zupicich arrived in Shamokin after being told there was work in the coal mines. He worked the mines until 1921, when he lost his left hand and forearm in a mine explosion. Unable to work in the mines, he operated a small grocery store with his wife, Lucille.

Zupicich was the last surviving crew member of the RMS Carpathia when he passed at the age of ninety-four years in 1987. Sadly, he died three days before the seventy-fifth anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Captain Rostron left the RMS Carpathia the year following the disaster. The RMS Carpathia would join the war effort two years later, transporting Canadian and American troops to Europe to fight in World War One. On July 17, 1918, it was sunk in the Celtic Sea by a German U-Boat.

Once I finished paying my respects to the man who helped save the survivors from the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I made my way back through the narrow roadways, leaving Joseph Zupicih to rest on the hilltop overlooking Shamokin.

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