The R.M.S. Empress of Ireland Community
Mementos of Norway were scattered about my grandmother's quaint little house on a hillside in East Liverpool, Ohio: the oil paintings of mountains and fjords with pink and golden sunsets, old phonograph records of music by Grieg, hand-painted wooden plates and bowls on the wall of the tiny kitchen, the framed needlepoint tapestry of a goose girl leading her flock of geese rendered in Norwegian wool by a talented ancestor, and the antique photo panorama of grandmother's island birthplace, Aalesund, a bustling city of canals and fishing boats.
Born Amalie Walderhaug on May 5, 1891, to Ole Andreas Andreasen Walderhaug (a sailor) and Anne Elisabeth Berntine Petersdatter Loset, she was the third of four children. Her older brother Andreas became a wealthy sailor, and her older sister Olufine worked as a waitress on ships sailing between Aalesund and Trondheim. It was Amalie, at the age of nineteen, who chose to leave Norway and the tradition of the sea to join relatives in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She would later become a servant and eventually settled in East Liverpool, Ohio, where in 1912 she married John Baptist Kass, a pottery artist newly-arrived from Bavaria. Her younger sister, Kristofa, joined her in Ohio and also married a young German.
Amalie was called "Amelia" now, and she and John lived a happy life. John became an importer of German products such as musical instruments and porcelain dolls and owned a shoe store which must have been a help in raising their five children: a son, John, and daughters, Kristine, Oline (Mary), Wallburg (Wallie), my mother Ruth, and June. The shoe store business failed in 1933, however; and John returned to his trade in 1935, acquiring equipment from a failed pottery and building his own successful factory on the hillside by their home. The entire family participated in the thriving business.
John died in 1946 leaving the pottery to Amelia and their son. Amelia lived on to know her eight grandchildren and the first of her eight great-grandchildren. She died in East Liverpool, Ohio, on October 2, 1970, having returned to Aalesund only once in 1948. A letter written by Dorothy Hansen in January 1949, was found among her belongings, translated, and sent to my mother as a memento in the 1970's. The letter was tucked away in the pages of a bible.
My cousin, Barbara Jackson Paddock, the daughter of Amelia's youngest child, June, fell into possession of the original letter written by Dorothy Hansen. In 1993, during a holiday visit, she presented me with copies of genealogical research including a copy of the original letter written in a mixture of Norwegian, Danish and English. The few English words scatterd in the letter included Empress of Ireland and from that I was able to recognize it as the original letter of the translation I had saved twenty-five years ago.
Dorothy had written:
"...We traveled from Norway in August 1910 but I cannot remember what boat we took over the North Sea but we came to New Castle and took the train to Liverpool, England. From there we sailed on the "Empress of Ireland" to Quebec, Canada. We took the train together til we come to Sault Ste. Marie. There we separated. I took a train to St. Paul, Minnesota, and you took a train which probably went to Chicago for you traveled to Council Bluffs, Iowa..."
Today, we don't think of those third-class passengers as being literate as were Amalie and Dorothy. They wrote, albeit in Norwegian, but they did write; and if not for that fact I might never have known of my own grandmother's connection to the "Empress of Ireland." In her memory and that of her friend and traveling companion in 1910, Dorothy Hansen, I dedicate this story.