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2 from Holley perished

A Titanic legacy 2 men from Holley perished in Titanic sinking

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Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2012 1:15 am | Updated: 2:51 pm, Sun Apr 15, 2012.

A month ago sisters Becky Rath and Robin DeBrita were sorting through a box of photos from their late grandmother. For the first time in their lives they saw a photograph of their great-great grandfather, William Joseph Douton of Holley.

A stone-cutter by trade, Douton is wearing formal clothes in the photo. He is handsome, with his hair parted in the middle. He has a full mustache.

The sisters looked deeper into the box and found letters from Douton to his daughter, written in neat cursive during the winter of 1911. Douton had returned to England for the first time in 25 years. He went home to visit friends and family in the Isle of Guernsey in England.

He ends one letter, "I remain yours." In a November letter to "Wilma," Douton signs the note, "With love to you, your father."

He remarks about the "very bad" weather with frequent rain in a January 1912 letter to daughter Wilhelmia. He reports he has been staying with her Aunt Mary and visiting relatives -- "I did not know I had so many nieces and nephews," he writes.

He had planned to return home on the Olympic vessel, but was delayed and instead boarded the Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912.

He had traveled to Guernsey with a group of friends and family from Western New York, including a close friend and fellow quarryman, Peter MacKain who had recently moved from Holley to Rochester. Douton's god-daughter, 19-year-old Lillian Bentham of Holley, had also made the trip to Guernsey.

Douton, MacKain and Bentham were second-class passengers on the Titanic. The men had tickets numbered 28403 while Bentham's was number 28404.

Douton and MacKain did not survive the ship's sinking on April 15. Douton was 55 and MacKain, 46. Of the ship's 2,224 passengers and crew, more than two thirds died at sea. Bentham was among the 710 survivors.

Douton's wife Emily didn't make the trip to England. After the Carpathia vessel picked up survivors from Titanic, a list of the rescued was released to the media. Douton wasn't included but his wife held out hope he was alive and aboard the Carpathia.

She traveled to New York City, longing to reunite with her husband. She was among a crowd of 40,000 people waiting by Pier 54 when the boat docked on April 18.

Bentham had to give her the grim news.

"The first person I saw on the dock was my godmother, Mrs. Douton; and her first words were, 'Where's William?'" Bentham told The Times-Union of Rochester on the 50th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking. "And the chill strikes me today that struck me that midnight, when I had to reply, 'He's gone.'"

The Holley community mourned the loss of Douton and MacKain. The St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Holley had a memorial service for the two and the other "brave men of the Titanic who stood aside so the women and children could be saved," according to a program from the service.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows erected a monument in Douton's and MacKain's honor at Hillside Cemetery. For years DeBrita, Douton's great-great granddaughter, would drive his daughter, Wilma Epke, to visit the cemetery and the memorial.

DeBrita now lives near Binghamton. She and Rath, her sister from Albion, knew about the family's connection to the Titanic, but it wasn't until looking through boxes of their grandmother's belongings that they saw Douton's photograph.

Marsha DeFilipps, the Holley-Murray historian, told the Rath family previously she wanted a picture of Douton if the family ever found one. DeFilipps, the historian since 1979, has been trying to for decades to piece together information about Bentham, Douton and MacKain. She said she is asked more about those three than anyone else in Holley's history.

About two weeks ago, Rath and DeBrita decided to share two photos of Douton and his letters with DeFilipps. She has created a display about Douton and the Titanic's local ties. It's available at the Community Free Library in Holley.

"My great-grandmother always felt connected to Holley," DeBrita said in a phone interview. She wanted Holley to have the family photos of Douton.

"That was his community and his home," she said. "At the time that was the community that rallied to support him and his family. Those were the people that shared in the tragedy as it happened."

Bentham narrowly escaped from the Titanic. She was on the last life boat, number 12. She would marry John Black and live in Rochester until her death at age 85 on Dec. 15, 1977. She is buried in Holley's Hillside Cemetery.

DeFilipps has her photograph and copies of interviews she gave after the Titanic's sinking.

DeFilipps still wonders about MacKain, who wasn't married and didn't have children. She knows he was from Highland Vale in Guernsey before coming to Holley. She would like to know his story and to see his face. "I'm been gathering clues for years," she said. "It's a topic that is forever coming up."

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