On the front of the stone are three family names: Barry, Culver, Proudfoot – but we are going to look at the circumstances surrounding what is on the back of the stone.
As you can see, it says:
In late 1873, 11 year old William Barry Culver sailed to Europe on the steamship Ville du Havre. The ship left from New York on November 15, 1873 and was due in La Havre, France in about ten days, depending on conditions on the Atlantic. The Ville du Havre was the most luxurious steamship of its day and, as was common at a time when sailing ships were giving way to steam driven vessels, the Ville du Havre was also rigged to hoist sails. The ship was under the command of a French captain, Marino Surmount (some sources spell the last name "Surmounte"), and had a crew of 173 men.
|The Ville du Havre|
The Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper from December 2, 1873 gives up a little background on why young Willie Culver was on the Ville du Havre:
It was said that his grandfather never got over the loss of his namesake, William Barry Culver. Not long after the death of young Willie, Rev. Barry Jr. left Germany and returned to Chicago for good.
|The Rev. William Barry, Jr.|
Midnight Collision Between the Ville du Havre
and the Loch Erne.
In Twelve Minutes the Ville du Havre Sinks with 226 Souls.
Terrible Bereavement of Well-Known Chicago Citizens.
One Father Loses All His Children,
Another Both Wife and Children.
Nine, the Total Number Chicago Is Known to Have Lost.
Only 87 Saved, Including the Captain and 52 of His Crew.
Boat-Loads of Passingers Crushed by Falling Masts.
The Loch Erne Badly Damaged,
but Makes Every Effort to Save Life.
Her Rescued Transferred to the Trimountain,
and Taken to Bristol.
She Puts Back To Queenstown, But Has Not Been Heard From.
No Explanation Given How the Catastrophe Occurred.
List of the Saved -- Description of the Ville du Havre.
The Purser's Account of the Disaster.
THE COLLISION WAS WHOLLY UNEXPECTED.
We can learn a little more about the last few minutes of Willie Culver's life from Anna Spafford's own remembrance of that horrible night:***
It was the 21st of November, and after dinner Anna Spafford and the nanny, Nicolet, put the children to bed before rejoining the other passengers in the saloon. Later in the evening Anna Spafford and Pastor Weiss went up on deck for some fresh air and to admire the stars. The air was clear and invigorating. There was no moon. Anna Spafford admired the view, despite the fact that her enjoyment was somewhat tainted by the absence of her husband whom she missed; this was the first time they had been apart for such a long time. Pastor Weiss and Anna Spafford bid one another goodnight and retired to their cabins.
At about two o'clock in the morning the Ville du Havre was shaken by two thunderous reports followed by loud screams. The engines stopped and the ship came to a standstill. The corridors filled with frightened half-dressed passengers shouting to one another, but their questions remained unanswered. Anna Spafford and Nicolet hurriedly pulled on their dressing gowns and quickly got the children up and into their clothes. With little Tanetta in her arms, Anna Spafford was one of the first to reach the upper deck.
In the water, a few hundred meters from the Ville du Havre lay the cause of the commotion; a large ironclad sailing ship, the British vessel Loch Erne. Like two huge wounded beasts the Ville du Havre and the Loch Erne lay in a sea foaming with the force of the collision. On the deck of the Ville du Havre Captain Surmount was shouting out orders to his crew and to the frightened passengers. On the quarterdeck, officers and sailors struggled to release the lifeboats. In most cases this turned out to be impossible; the handsome looking vessel had just been painted and the lifeboats were stuck to the hull. The same applied to the davits - these too were stuck fast to the ship's railings with paint. The crew shouted out that there was nothing to worry about, that everyone should remain calm, but the passengers were rushing senselessly about on deck in their flimsy attire. Everyone was struggling to climb aboard the few lifeboats they had managed to release. The deck was a bedlam of curses, shouts and hysterical screams. People fell to their knees and began to pray.
Anna Spafford stood with Tanetta in her arms. The eldest daughter, Annie, could see that she was heavy for her and leant her shoulder into her mother to lend some support. The two other children, Maggie and Bessie, pressed themselves to their mother. Nicolet and Willie Culver were there too, and Pastor Lorriaux kept an eye on the little group. Pastor Weiss ran back down to his cabin and returned with coats and shawls for the children.
Anna Spafford and her little group stood alongside one of the released lifeboats, but terrified passengers forced their way past, pushing the little group aside. At that very moment a shudder went through the ship; the screams became more urgent and the confusion increased. Pastor Weiss thought that there were too many people crowded onto their side of the ship and he began to shout that they must quickly make their way over to the other side. At that moment the mainmast snapped and fell, pulling the mizzenmast down with it. The released lifeboat was catapulted overboard, carrying with it all the passengers who had managed to fight their way onto it.
Things now began to happen very quickly. The Ville du Havre tilted sharply to starboard and began to sink. Anna knew that the end was near, but she was not afraid of dying, and thought only that it would be a comfort for her husband to know that she and the children perished together. There was a moment of silence on board as the deck slowly slid down into the sea. Little Maggie held onto Pastor Weiss' hand. She looked up at him. "Pray!" she said. "God help us," replied the priest. Another loud crash was then heard as the bow broke away from the rest of the ship and sank.
Maggie, who up until this moment had been terrified out of her wits, now let go of the pastor's hand and walked calmly over to her mother, who still held little Tanetta in her arms. Annie continued to lend her support, while seven year old Bessie clung, pale and silent, to her knee. Nicolet and two of the French priests were there too. Maggie turned up her dark eyes to look at her mother, saying; "Mother, God will look after us." And Annie said: "Do not be afraid. The sea is His, and He created it."
The sea was now washing over the quarterdeck and, like a chasm, it yawned open up to swallow the crumpled shell of the Ville du Havre. The little group fell together into the water - along with all the others crowded onto the deck. Below deck, inside the ship, there were many who were trapped and unable to do anything to save themselves. All slid into the sea which was several kilometers deep, in a maelstrom, in a rush of fragments of wreckage and human bodies.
Twelve minutes had passed since the Ville du Havre was struck.
As Anna Spafford was dragged down her little girl was ripped out of her arms. She made a grab for her but managed only to grasp a hold of her dress, and then the material was jerked out of her hands once again. When she reached out again her hand only brushed the material of a man's corduroy trousers. Then she lost consciousness.
She awakened to the sound of oars stroking the water. She was lying in a boat, drenched from head to toe and retching from the sea water. Her long hair was thick with salt and her gown was in shreds. Nobody had to tell her that her children were gone.
She had been lying in the water for an hour. She went under and then surfaced again, unconscious. At some point a wooden spar slid in under her and this saved her life. Sailors from the Lochearn managed to recover her from the water while desperately combing the area for survivors. Shortly afterwards they found Captain Surmount, who had been washed overboard from the bridge of his sinking ship. Pastor Weiss was already in the little lifeboat, as were Lorriaux and Blanc, and later they found the fourth minister, Pastor Cook. Nicolet, however, was among those missing.
On board the Loch Erne, Anna Spafford learned that two of her girls, which ones she never learned, had appeared on the surface close to a man whom they had then clung to. Being a good swimmer, he had told them to hold on tightly to his coat. But first the smaller child lost her grip, and then the other child sank, just as he was almost within reach of a boat.
Anna did not give up the hope that she would see her children again. Every time a boat with rescued passengers came up alongside the ship she peered down desperately in the hope that she might catch a glimpse of one of her little girls. Now and then faint cries were heard from the sea, but gradually the voices died away. No one could survive in the cold water for long. A slight, but insistent voice was heard. It came from a little girl who was clinging to a piece of wood. "I don't want to drown," she shouted. They managed to pull her up into a boat. She was the only child to survive the wreck of the Ville du Havre.
By four o'clock in the morning the cries for help had ceased and the sea fell silent. There was only the moaning of the wounded and the weeping of the bereaved to be heard in the clear, starry night. The ocean rose and fell gently. It had claimed 226 lives (including Anna Spafford's three daughters and their nurse, and Willie Culver) and spared only fifty-seven.
"Saved alone - what shall I do - Mrs. Goodwin, children, Willie Culver lost - go with (Pastor) Lorriaux until answer - reply Porclain 64 Rue Aboukir Paris" Note that the telegram is dated December 2nd - the Ville du Havre sank early in the morning of November 23rd, but ship to shore wireless would not be invented until 1880. The ships had no way to convey the horrible news to the world until they reached a port - in this case, Cardiff, Wales.
The family was hoping that Willie's body would eventually wash up on shore, as years later many victims of the Titanic would, but alas, no remains of Willie Culver were ever found. The stone with his name on it at Rosehill is a cenotaph.
And that is the end of the story of young Willie Culver. There is no record of any memorial service taking place for him in Chicago; perhaps without a body his family did not feel it was appropriate, In fact when Willie's father Belden Culver died in 1902, his obituary did not even mention his three sons that predeceased him - only his two unmarried daughters.
May William Barry Culver, and all the victims of the Ville du Havre, rest in peace.