February 18 2003
Margaret P. (Sheehan) Linehan, an Irishwoman whose dream of immigrating to the United States almost ended in the icy North Atlantic when she tried to book passage on the Titanic, died Tuesday in Portland, Maine, 89 years after the ship went down. She was 110.
In 1912, Mrs. Linehan traveled by train from the family farm in County Cork to Queenstown ( now Cobh) to book passage on the Titanic’s first voyage, only to be told that the ship was already filled. Undaunted, she booked passage on its sister ship, the Mauretania.
Family history does not record where Mrs. Linehan was when she found out the Titanic had struck an iceberg, but according to her daughter, Frances, of Portland, Maine, ”she never looked back.”
Mrs. Linehan, who may have been the oldest living woman in Maine, was born in County Cork in 1892, the year horseless carriages first appeared on dusty streets in America and the Dalton Boys were shot and killed while robbing a bank in Coffeyville, Kan.
Her father raised dairy cows, chickens, geese, and vegetables and Mrs. Linehan and her nine siblings helped out.
”She went out there and worked in the fields with her brothers and sisters until they could hardly stand,” said her daughter.
But Mrs. Linehan dreamed of a better life, of moving to America and becoming a nurse. She didn’t just dream, she made it happen.
”She was a very feisty lady,” said her daughter, ”nothing was going to keep her down on the farm.”
Mrs. Linehan was 19 when she set sail on the Mauretania, at the time the world’s fastest ocean liner. She was accompanied by a girlfriend who was ”in service” to a wealthy family in the United States, who had paid for their servant’s vacation in her homeland. They slept in adjoining bunks in steerage.
Mrs. Linehan lived briefly in Hartford with her brother, Dan, who had entered the country earlier. She then went to work as nanny to the four children of a wealthy Hartford family.
She saved her money and attended Union Hospital School of Nursing in Lynn. She had to withdraw from the school when she contracted a severe case of the flu during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. She returned to school and graduated in 1919.
She then took a memorable transcontinental trip by rail to San Francisco, where her brother Dan was laid up after becoming ill while working overseas for a tea company.
As she nursed her brother on the return trip across the country, they made frequent stops. She often spoke of the Native Americans she encountered selling crafts and trinkets at stations along the way.
While still in nursing school, Mrs. Linehan was introduced by her brother to James H. Linehan, an accountant for Armour Meat Co. in Boston. The couple was strolling arm and arm through a park in Hartford when the city’s bells sounded in celebration of the end of World War I. They were married in 1923.
Mrs. Linehan was later a private duty nurse in Boston, while she and her husband lived on the Fenway.
In 1929, Mr. Linehan went to work for Mobil Oil Co. He was transferred to Portland two years later and Mrs. Linehan became a homemaker.
”She had a big heart and was very much the nurse of the neighborhood,” said her daughter. ”She was always tending to the others, putting in eyedrops, taking temperatures, checking for fevers. Even when she was in her 80s, there was an elderly neighbor she looked in on twice a day.”
But cooking was where she excelled. She had taken Fanny Farmer cooking lessons in Boston. ”Cooking was her life, her hobby, her everything,” said her daughter. Her homemade bread, biscuits, and pies were the prize of the neighborhood.
Mrs. Linehan was an avid reader. She also watched some television. She enjoyed the ”Merv Griffin Show” and almost anything on PBS. ”If she saw something on Channel 10 [the local PBS station] she thought it was gospel, ” said her daughter.
When Mrs Linehan was 100, her daughter sent a photograph of her to Willard Scott, the ”Today Show” weatherman who often congratulates centenarians on air on their birthdays. No luck. She tried again, when Mrs. Linehan turned 101 and 102. Still no luck. But when she was 103, Mrs. Linehan finally had her picture flashed across the nation’s television screens. ”I wrote and told Willard about her attempt to book passage on the Titanic,” said her daughter. ”That got his attention.”
Mrs. Linehan’s husband died in 1962. Besides her daughter, she leaves a son, James, of Portland; four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. today in St. Joseph’s Church in Portland. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, South Portland.
Margaret P Linehan – United States Social Security Death Index
|Social Security Number:||004-64-4175|
|Last Place of Residence:||Portland, Cumberland, Maine|
|Previous Residence Postal Code:||04103|
|Event Date:||18 February 2003|