The mystery of how a postcard sent by a Blackpool teenager aboard the Titanic ended up in the hands of a wealthy American collector has been solved.
Leonard Taylor was 18 when, in 1912, he landed a job as a crew member on the mighty ship, dubbed the unsinkable, which set sail for America in 1912. He sent a letter to his parents back in Blackpool when the Titanic stopped in Ireland, en route to New York.
A few days later, Leonard and 1,500 other passengers and crew perished when the ship hit an iceberg and slid beneath the Atlantic.
As we reported last week, the letter from Leonard – which included the line “I am only writing to let you know I am all right” – was sold at auction in America this week for $19,974.85.
But the auctioneers have no idea how the seller got hold of the letter.
“He is a very well known collector of historical documents here in the United States and I believe he bought it at auction in the 1980s,” said Bobby Livingston, from RR Auction, the company in charge of the auction.
“Where it was before that, or how he got it, I don’t know.”
But now the mystery has been solved.
Among those reading the article in the Gazette was 83-year-old Ken Graham, who, it turns out, was Leonard’s nephew.
Mr Graham was born in 1930, long after his Uncle Leonard had died, but he remembers his mum talking proudly and emotionally about the brother she had lost in the tragedy.
“I remember when I was young she would have people round who had also lost relatives on the Titanic,” said Mr Graham, of Stanley Avenue, Poulton.
“I suppose it was like a support group and they would meet at our house and mum would cry.
“She often got emotional when she was talking about her brother.
“A lot of time had passed by the time I was born but she did still talk about him from time to time and I could tell she missed him.
“She was definitely proud of him.”
Mr Graham’s mother was called Florence and she had two sisters and two brothers, one of whom was Leonard.
The family grew up at 6 Sherbourne Road in the town centre.
“Leonard’s father – my grandad – was the head masseur at the Imperial Hydropathic Hotel, as it was called then in Blackpool,” said Mr Graham.
“It was very posh. They used to have these electric baths which people sat in and they were supposed to cure arthritis and other conditions.”
After finishing his studies at Claremont School, a young Leonard followed his father into the same trade and landed a job on the Titanic when he spotted an advertisement asking for staff.
He was employed as a Turkish baths attendant.
“My mum told me he was over the moon when he got the job. All the family were thrilled for him. This was the greatest ship in the world and it was a huge honour to work on it,” said Mr Graham.
When the Titanic sank, it’s likely Leonard’s parents thought their son had survived, for he had plenty of experience in the water.
“That is the irony of it all – he drowned but he was a champion swimmer,” revealed Mr Graham.
“He had won all sorts of medals for swimming and yet he ended up drowning. But of course it was a freezing cold sea so he probably had no chance.”
One thing Leonard’s family were convinced of was that contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t an iceberg that sank the great ship.
“Although the iceberg put a big hole in it, it would have stayed afloat because the ship had a double-skin and they’d locked off the area that was damaged,” claimed Mr Graham.
“The survivors my mum talked to said there was a huge explosion down below in the ship when the gas ignited. That was what broke the ship and it sank quickly after that.
“I heard these stories as a kid and they’ve stuck with me, so whenever I hear somebody say an iceberg sank the mighty Titanic, I always say I’m not so sure it did – I think it was actually an explosion.”
So what about the letter, written by Leonard and auctioned in the US for big money last week? How did it end up in America?
Mr Graham can explain. “When my mum passed away in the late 1960s, my brother gave me a case of her letters and papers and photographs from the house.
“When I was going through them that I found the letter from the Titanic. I had no idea it was there. I suppose my mum must have inherited it from her parents and quite naturally kept it in memory of her brother.”
At the end of the 80s, and thinking “what good are they to me, somebody else might be able to do something proper with them”, Mr Graham sold the letter from his uncle at auction at Sotheby’s. He received £1,800 and was told it had been bought by a collector in America.
“It seems after keeping hold of it for 30 years, he’s now decided to sell it,” said Mr Graham.
“Am I bitter that he’s got $20,000 for it? Not at all. It’s all relative and £1,800 was a fair amount of money back then.
“I am just very proud that it is still of interest and that this is a link to my family that will go on and on.
“It is my bloodline, Leonard Taylor was my mother’s brother so it is direct family.
“Whenever I mention to someone that I had an uncle on the Titanic they can never believe it, especially as it happened more than 100 years ago.
“I suppose it is something to be proud of.”
No doubt if Leonard had lived longer, he’d have been proud of his nephew too.
Mr Graham served in the medical corp in the Malayan War at the start of the 1950s and has worked as a dental technician at the same surgery in Caunce Street since 1954, still working three days a week now despite being in his 80s.