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Oskar Hedman, Titanic Survivor


On this date in 1912, 27 year-old Oskar Hedman was coming back to North Dakota after conducting business and visiting family in Sweden. Known to his friends as “Happy,” Oskar was a smallish man with “a Jimmy Durante face.” He had lived around Bowman for six years, farming, selling land and working as a settlement recruiter.

On this trip, Hedman and at least 15 prospective settlers were traveling in 3rd class steerage on a new ocean liner, the Titanic. The following is based on newspaper accounts posted on the website, “Encyclopedia Titanica.”

On the evening of the 14th, Oskar was sleeping in a berth he shared with 25 year-old Carl Jonsson, a laborer described as a “giant Swede.” They woke to an unusual jolt. Oskar said they probably would’ve paid no attention, except for the commotion that began minutes later.

He and Jonsson headed for the front of the ship through water that soon reached their armpits. Hedman said, “...we found great heaps of ice... the life boats were being lowered... but they were already roped off, and officers with guns ordered us to stand back for the women and children.”

“Husband and wife were obliged to part; sister and brother, father and daughter were forced to leave each other, each realizing that it was doubtful they would ever again see each other,” Hedman said. “It was a sight that no man will care to witness a second time.”

Hedman remembered giving his coat to a woman who appeared on deck partly dressed. Then distress flares went up, and Jonsson realized they were going down. They decided to jump. Both were expert swimmers, but although the water was calm, it was deadly cold.

“My friend grabbed something that floated by and told me to hold onto it,” Hedman said. “It proved to be a dead man inside a life preserver. I climbed on and rode like I was on horseback.” Meanwhile, Jonsson grabbed at an overturned life raft but was pushed away. They’d been in the water for 30 minutes already, and Jonsson went under.

Headman neared a lifeboat filled with 40 women and children when one of the four men aboard fell overboard and was lost. Someone yelled out to Hedman, asking if he could row. He lied, saying he was an expert rower. They pulled him in, and they rowed away from the sinking ship just minutes before the boiler exploded. It was 2 a.m. when the deck caved in the middle and untold numbers of people fell to the bottom of the hold to be swallowed by the ocean. Hedman said the sight was too awful to put into words, saying only that he thought again and again of watching grain being sucked into the hopper on his farm.

Hedman was on Lifeboat 15, the last one launched before the Titanic sunk. In an unexpected twist, Jonsson was found alive on a floating door six hours later. The two men arrived in New York four days later. Penniless, Oskar wired a former St. Paul employer for money, which he split with Jonsson and an 18 year-old Finnish girl so they could all reach their destinations.

Happy Hedman’s ocean-crossing days were over. It appears he settled in Beach for a time, then became a chiropractor. He died in 1961 in Onida, South Dakota, where he was known as Doc.

Written by Merry Helm