The Strange Connection Between Bucknell University and the RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic

Bucknell University sits on a verdant rural hill in the historic river town of Lewisburg, and has a rich tradition dating back to 1846, when a school known as the University at Lewisburg was founded by a group of Baptists from nearby White Deer Valley. It was the alma mater of many notable persons, such as CBS president Les Moonves, novelist Philip Roth and Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, whose name adorns the university's stadium.

Highly regarded for its academic excellence, Bucknell now has an endowment in excess of $720 million; however, the school's future seemed very dim in 1881. That year, teetering on the brink of financial disaster, the University at Lewisburg turned to a charter member of its board of trustees for support. That man was William Bucknell, wealthy real estate broker and builder of gas and water works. Bucknell's donation of $50,000 allowed the university to survive and the institution was renamed in his honor.

William Bucknell

For the eerie connection between Bucknell University and the ill-fated voyage of the RMS Titanic, we turn our attention not toward William, but to his wife Mary. In April of 1912, as Mrs. Bucknell reached the end of the long pier at Cherbourg, she was overcome with dread. "I feel so strange about sailing," she told a friend. "I know I ought not to go on that boat. I have a premonition that something dreadful will happen."

"Nonsense!" laughed the friend, for such feelings were completely out of character for a woman like Mrs. Bucknell, who had become a globe-trotting socialite after William's death in 1890. "Why, how can anything happen in these days of splendid boats and wireless communication? I feel as safe crossing the ocean as I do the street- yes, safer, for there are no motor cars."

"I wish I did," sighed Mrs. Bucknell, "but I feel very nervous. I am half tempted not to go."

Nonetheless, the friend convinced the wealthy socialite to board the ship and it wasn't long before her fears were put at ease, thanks in part Dr. Arthur Brewe, a young physician from Philadelphia whom Mrs. Bucknell dined with aboard the vessel. Mrs. Bucknell found Dr. Brewe to be an excellent traveling companion. They were both from the Philadelphia area and had many mutual friends, such as the rich investment banker Edward T. Stotesbury. The young doctor had been called away from a vacation in Italy in order to tend to Edward's critically ill cousin.

Bertrand Library at Bucknell University

Dr. Brewe, like 1,516 others aboard the Titanic, never reached his destination. Yet his passion for helping others lasted right to the very end. Letters written by Mrs. Bucknell after her rescue state that the good doctor spent his final moments helping women and children into the lifeboats and fitting those who could not find room on the boats with life preservers. The wealthy widow spoke of Dr. Brewe as a cheerful young man, who often mentioned his wife and child in their dinner conversations.

It's unclear whether or not Dr. Brewe was one of the men who helped Mrs. Bucknell into a lifeboat, but history shows us that both Mary Bucknell and her female friend managed to be among the saved. As the maddening frenzy of the disaster turned to quiet desperation, her friend looked around the lifeboat and was relieved to see the face of Mrs. Bucknell. "What did I tell you at Cherbourg?" said Mrs. Bucknell matter-of-factly, adding that if she ever had another premonition, such as the one she had on the pier, she would heed it.

Source material:

Lincoln County Leader, July 12, 1912. Page 5
The New York Sun, April 27, 1912. Page 2

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