If it weren’t for Edward Kamuda, much of the information we have today on Titanic wouldn’t exist; it would have been lost through time and neglect which, unfortunately, happens too frequently because many people do not value history. A Titanic survivor’s death and a movie in the family’s theater was the catalyst that began a life’s work of preserving the ship’s history.
Life was fairly ordinary in the early years, Edward Stephen Kamuda was born in Ludlow, Massachusetts on November 10, 1939, son of Henry J. and Caroline (Belczyk) Kamuda. He was raised in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield where he lived until he married.
His lifelong journey with Titanic began in junior high school when he read a short story, A Great Ship Goes Down in a book, Sea Fights and Shipwrecks by Hanson W. Baldwin. The narrative grabbed his attention. Soon after 20th Century Fox’s Titanic, starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck played at his grandfather’s theater, The Grand, on Main Street in Indian Orchard, where he worked after school. The 1953 movie about the great maritime disaster made a tremendous impact on the young man – this was to be the theme of his life.
Kamuda studied everything he could find about the ship – there were only a few books available. In 1955, he read Walter Lord’s, A Night to Remember and corresponded regularly with the author. When J. Arthur Rank’s version of Lord’s bestseller played in movie houses in 1958, Rank sent a promotional book to theater owners to attract audiences. The pages had names and addresses of dozens of Titanic survivors in Great Britain, Canada and the United States for theater owners to contact since there were no big Hollywood stars to attract an American audience. Kamuda wrote to all eighty-seven and seventy-five responded. They were thrilled that someone was interested in their personal story of a long ago disaster and he asked if they would write down their recollections. The majority were elderly living on Social Security or pensions so Kamuda used his modest allowance enclosing a few dollars for postage for their reply. They were touched by the young man’s thoughtfulness and sincerity and many became lifelong friends.
Edward Kamuda searched for other people who were interested in Titanic by placing ads in newspapers and maritime magazines. Only a few responded.
In 1963, one of Titanic’s kitchen personnel that Kamuda had been corresponding with passed away; he saw his obituary in The New York Times. Walter Belford lived alone in a small flat in New York. A friend informed him that Belford’s landlady tossed out his Titanic keepsakes. Kamuda was shocked at the disregard for history and promised “… from that moment on I would do everything in my power to form a group that would preserve these precious artifacts and mementos for future generations.” He kept his promise. On July 7, 1963, five young men met at Kamuda’s home and formed the Titanic Enthusiasts of America (TEA). Thirty of the remaining survivors agreed to become Honor Members, the highest tribute of the organization. Later, survivor Mrs. René Harris asked Kamuda “…I mean really, who can be enthusiastic about a tragedy?” The TEA was changed to Titanic Historical Society in 1975.
The organization’s mission is preserving the history of RMS Titanic, also Olympic, Britannic and the White Star Line. The glue that held the group together was a publication Kamuda began, The Marconigram, its title changed to The Titanic Commutator, in continuous publication for more than a half-century.
In the beginning the Commutator was printed on a mimeograph, a cumbersome process and mostly a one man operation. Four times a year, as Editor-in-Chief, Edward Kumuda filled its pages about Titanic, survivor accounts and ocean liners. Members loved reading survivors’ experiences from the handwritten letters Kamuda possessed. The journal was mailed to members worldwide, the information was new and original.
Titanic’s story was being permanently recorded as Kamuda wanted. He referred to Walter Lord frequently in its pages and, in June 1964, Lord introduced 3rd class survivor Frank J. Goldsmith who wrote, “I am one of the few remaining survivors of the sinking of the Titanic, I would be most pleased to hear more of your organization and await what you may be able to tell me with deepest interest”. Thus began a friendship with a man whose true story as a nine-year-old boy who lost his father and a sixteen-year-old friend in the sinking, is one of the most poignant Titanic accounts. When Frank died his wish to be reunited with his dad was fulfilled when his ashes were cast by the International Ice Patrol over the wreck site on April 15, 1982.
The decade of the 1960s began as a time of social and civil unrest and there was little concern about the past. By 1969, membership hadn’t grown, the other TEA officers’ attention was on marriage and raising families. Edward Kamuda was virtually alone keeping the struggling group together, publishing the Commutator and paying for it mostly from his own pocket. With less than 200 members and years of hard work, Ed was discouraged. He decided it was time to pack it in, apparently there weren’t enough people interested in Titanic to continue. However, he was determined to go out with colors flying.
As a last hurrah he’d produce one more Commutator, a special 65-page issue devoted to Olympic . Nearly identical to Titanic, this ship had been mostly forgotten because her unlucky sister grabbed all the attention by sinking in 1912. Olympic had a very successful and lengthy career until 1935. She held a sentimental place in Kamuda’s heart.
That final edition contained rare photographs, original information and was professionally printed on glossy paper. The cost was over $1,100, an exorbitant sum for the time. There was little money available. Kamuda was forced to sell most of his beloved rare book collection and his Norman Wilkinson painting to pay the printer. He gave it his all, now it was gone. Ed didn’t know it at the time but his labor of love saved the organization.
Never before was there anything of this caliber published by a small, relatively unknown group. The Commutator caught the maritime community’s attention especially William H. Tantum IV, owner of 7C’s Press and, a man with many contacts. Through Tantum’s guidance and Edward Kamuda’s collection, the organization gained needed visibility and grew. The first TEA convention was held in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1973 marking its 10th anniversary. Six Titanic survivors attended: Frank Goldsmith, Edwina Troutt Mackenzie, Madeleine Mellinger Mann, Margaret Devaney O’Neill, Bertha Marshall and Washington Dodge. Reporters came from Paris, the BBC, The New York Times and CBS. Within a year there were 1,000 members.
Frank Goldsmith became the THS’s roving ambassador presenting slide programs on Titanic while handing out membership applications. He actively searched for survivors and introduced Kamuda to Olaus Abelseth, Marshall Drew, Mrs. John Pillsbury Snyder and Martin Swenson, a crew member. Edward Kamuda continued corresponding with his large circle of survivor friends, and some were kind enough to donate personal artifacts they saved. Lookout Fred Fleet sent his sketch of the iceberg and photos of some of his mates. 1st class saloon steward Frederick Dent Ray sent a square of carpet from the ship and his razor “…so I might have a shave in the morning”. Selena Rogers Cook donated clothing items she wore on board including a tooth that was extracted. Springfield’s Milton Long, a passenger in 1st class who perished, had left his pocket watch with his chauffeur; he was the only son of Judge and former Mayor of Springfield, Charles Long. His body was returned and buried in Springfield Cemetery.
There are numerous other examples. Because there is a distinct connection to a particular officer, passenger or crew, the Titanic 208 Main Street, Indian Orchard while other artifacts are on loan at Titanic Branson Historical Society’s collection of survivor artifacts is uniquely precious. Portions of the collection are displayed at the Titanic Museum, in Missouri and Titanic Pigeon Forge in Tennessee.
One of several early projects involving the THS was the first recording of Titanic survivors in a 33 rpm record. Titanic model kits that we all take for granted didn’t have interest during this period. Ed wrote to the Revell company that replied they didn’t believe there was enough interest in a disaster to develop one. With input from Ken Marschall, Entex made the first kit and since then, many companies have created their own versions.
In 1976, Bill Tantum contacted his neighbor, Jacques Cousteau, asking if he’d be interested searching for Britannic, Titanic’s other sister while he was in the Aegean searching for Atlantis. The reply was yes. With the aid of Kamuda’s photos, plans and maps, Tantum, then president of the THS, accompanied Cousteau on a dive and found Britannic; it was a proud moment for Kamuda. At the same time, Tantum was working with his friend, Robert Ballard to locate Titanic, however, technology hadn’t developed to the point where exploring the ocean at that depth was possible.
By 1978, the THS was supplying Titanic material for early television programs such as, In Search of; soon the THS became a primary resource for the media.
The Society had 2,000 members in 1980, the size and quality of the Commutator increased and attracted professionals with knowledge of ships and the sea and the ranks of THS swelled with historians, scientists, artists and authors. THS’s historian Don Lynch and maritime artist, then unknown, Ken Marschall were early members.
Tantum died suddenly that year and shortly afterwards Kamuda’s mother and father passed away. The THS lost a key person and it drifted for a period as Ed worked hard to keep the family business afloat where he made his living as a watchmaker. During this time he met and married Karen, who took over publishing the Commutator. Now the THS had a new team. A member since 1972, Karen’s creative background in art, shipping history, ship model making and twenty years in show business was an asset. Titanic always had been part of Karen’s life. Her grandfather emigrated from Liverpool to Boston on Cunard’s new Franconia in May 1911, the custom for the husband to come first and get settled. Titanic’s sinking made a deep impression in England as her grandmother, then a young mother sailing from Liverpool to Boston with two babies (one baby was her father and the other, her aunt), in October 1912. Her grandmother bought a book Sinking of the Titanic published in 1912 that was sold door-to-door across the United States to thousands of people. Years later this same book attracted young Karen and, after reading it, she was captivated by the Titanic story.
On September 1, 1985, Titanic’s status changed forever when Dr. Ballard and his group of French and American scientists discovered the wreck; the find was an international sensation. The Commutator featured four issues of underwater color photos. Ballard’s second expedition, in 1986, placed a bronze marker on behalf of THS and his friend, Bill Tantum on Titanic’s stern. This was the first time a memorial plaque was left on the ship in remembrance of those who died.
Membership reached 3,500 in 1986. Eleven survivors – Philip Aks, Eva Hart, Marjorie Newell Robb, Bertram Dean, Michel Navratil, Edith Brown Haisman, Ruth Becker Blanchard, Louise Kink Pope, Eleanor Johnson Shuman and 1,000 members attended the Society’s 1987 Convention in Wilmington, Delaware with Dr. Ballard as the featured speaker.
Titanic passengers, Eileen Lenox-Conyngham Schefer, Beatrice Sandstrom and Millvina Dean joined the other previously named survivors with Walter Lord in 1988 in Boston honoring THS’s 25th anniversary.
THS conventions in the U.S. included Springfield, Mass, Denver and Long Beach; also Halifax, Nova Scotia and overseas in London and Belfast.
In 1993, another THS first, Titanic Heritage Tours were organized by THS member Mike Rudd, to experience history in person at dozens of Titanic-related locations in England, Scotland, No. Ireland, France, Ireland, Canada and the U.S. All the known Titanic and related sites were visited in a span of several years.
Through THS’s combined activities, Ed Kamuda succeeded beyond his wildest dreams promising to preserve Titanic and sharing that history. With over fifty years of publications, a fine collection of survivor memorabilia and personal documents, he opened the doors in 1963 eventually introducing thousands to his passion. Titanic’s legacy is worldwide, people everywhere, like a young Edward Kamuda, became captivated about Titanic and many are carrying on work he began.
Edward Kamuda succeeded in spreading the word. His mission to remember the Titanic has been fulfilled – today the ship is remembered everywhere. What a difference in attitude since 1963 when Belford’s landlady discarded his mementos!
Another mission accomplished is the magnificent Titanic Centennial Memorial made of polished black granite unveiled on April 21, 2012, at Oak Grove Cemetery in Springfield, Massachusetts with a weekend convention for the 100th anniversary.
In addition to being the home of the Titanic Historical Society, Titanic’s link with Springfield is Milton Long. The Long family memorial in Springfield Cemetery has a bronze plaque placed by THS Advisory Board member, Paul Phaneuf and the THS in 1996.
A Memorial Garden and Walkway was created for the Titanic Centennial Memorial in the summer of 2014 from the generosity of donations from THS officers, members and friends and was dedicated on September 20, 2014. You can see this magnificent memorial and garden at Oak Grove Cemetery, 426 Bay Street, Springfield, Massachusetts.
Ed Kamuda came full circle in the Titanic story with his and Karen’s appearance in the second production of 20th Century Fox/Paramount, TITANIC (1997) – the first film made by Fox that captured the imagination of the young man in 1953, that it began his life odyssey. On the movie set, Jim Cameron paid tribute to Kamuda’s immense influence when he called the actors together to introduce, “Here’s the man who made it all possible.”