Gunnar Isidor Tenglin c.1972
Mr Gunnar Isidor Tenglin, 25, was born on March 2, 1887, in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of Gustav and Hilda Blom Tenglin.
Tenglin moved to the USA from Sweden in 1903, settling initially in Shoquoquon, IA. He recalled later that it contained "three thousand Swedes and four Swedish churches - five if you count West Burlington." Later moving to Burlington, IA he worked with crews cutting ice from the Mississippi River because he could speak no English. Later he gained employment at the Horace Patterson farm and it was there that he learnt to speak English. After five years in America Tenglin decided to return to Sweden. But in 1912 he determined to return to Burlington and to settle there. He boarded the Titanic at Southampton, his cabin-mate was fellow Swede August Edvard Wennerström.
Tenglin said that third class on the Titanic was as good as first class on most other steamers. On the night of the disaster, Tenglin retired to his berth about 8 o'clock and was awakened by the shock of striking the iceberg. He and Wennerström were rescued in Collapsible A.
He would recount the events of that night to a Burlington reporter a few days later:
"It was not a hard shock," said Tenglin, "but my friend and myself, finding the engines stopped, thought, we would go up and investigate. I put on all my clothes but my shoes and we went to the forward deck. The deck was covered with particles of ice. We I asked an officer if there was any danger and he said 'No; go back to your berths and go to sleep.'"
"We did not go back, however, but walked to the rear deck. There a scene of panic prevailed. The English, Swedish, Irish and German passengers were the most composed, but the Italians were greatly excited. They were swarming up on deck, in all stages of undress, carrying baggage of every description. They were crying, praying and wringing their hands. As we were perfectly sure the boat would not sink, their antics seemed amusing to us. In fact we stood around about an hour or more watching them, enjoying what we considered their unnecessary fright." "Seeing that everybody was donning life belts, we thought we would go to our stateroom and procure one. We descended to the gangway, but were met with a rush of water that compelled us to retreat to the upper deck again. We could feel the boat gradually sinking and as they had commenced to launch the lifeboats, we set about thinking of our own safety. We walked along from one lifeboat to another, but officers and crew were keeping the men back and loading the women and children. I noticed a number of boats that had been loaded on the upper deck stop at the second deck to take on women there. In many of these boats were men, but the officers made them get out and give place to the women."
"The lifeboats all gone, it looked to us as if we were doomed to perish with the ship, when a collapsible lifeboat was discovered. This boat would hold about fifty people and we had considerable trouble getting it loose from its fastenings. The boat was on the second deck and the ship settled the question of its launching as the water suddenly came up over the deck and the boat floated."
"There must have been fully 150 people swimming around or clinging to the boat and we feared it would capsize or sink. We had no oars, or anything else to handle the boat with and were at the mercy of the waves, but the sea was calm. There was no way to sit down in the boat and we stood up in knee deep in ice cold water, while those on the edges pushed the frantic people in the water back to their fates, it being feared they would doom us all."
"The shock of the cold water and the fright caused many to succumb. I do not know how many died on that lifeboat. One big Swede named Johnson was kept busy throwing the corpses overboard as we desired to make the boat as light as possible to increase its buoyancy. One woman was stark crazy, her mania taking the form of embracing the men. There were three men insane, but they made no attempt to jump overboard. It seemed to us as if we had been standing up in that boat for a week, when it was in reality only about six hours. I was number with the cold. I had no feeling in my hands or feet, as you will remember I did not put on my shoes when I left my stateroom, although I had on my overcoat. It could not have been over twenty minutes after we launched our life raft from the deck of the Titanic that the big liner sank."
"When we were picked up by the Carpathia, there were only twelve of us left. The lifeboats got pretty well separated during the night, as some left from the port side and some from the starboard side of the ship, pulling away in different directions. After we boarded the Carpathia, I saw two of our lifeboats turned bottom side up."
"The Carpathia remained on the scene for about two hours, picking up the lifeboats and moving slowly about among the wreckage and the ice. It appeared to us as if the ocean was carpeted with dead. There were corpses floating everywhere." "While we were right among the icebergs, some of them pretty high, there was one in particular that looked as if it had been turned over. There was a big gash in the ice, which was supposed to be where it had been struck by the Titanic. At any rate, it was of most peculiar formation. The Carpathia skirted along a field of ice or an iceberg for about 150 miles, I was told, but did not go fast."
"Aside from the panic among the Italians when the boat first struck, I did not notice much other panic. There was no shooting on our side of the boat, but we heard the sound of shots from the other side. I saw Captain Smith only once during the voyage and that was the day before the accident. He came into the third cabin quarters and told some of the crew who had been loafing there, to keep out and threatened to impose a fine of $5 on each member of crew who was found among the passengers. I did not see the captain on the bridge, as stated. Neither did I hear the band playing. I may have seen Colonel Astor and the rest, but would not know them."
"When the ship went down there was a tremendous shrieking and groaning. It was awful and continued for some time, but we were having our own troubles on our boat and did not pay much attention."
"While I was still on the ship I saw two Swede girls who were in a lifeboat jump overboard, when they observed some of their friends who had been left behind. One old man named Lindahl, when he became convinced the boat was sure to sink, said: 'It's no use, trying to get away. I'm an old man and I will not be missed. I will go down to my berth and wait the end.' I guess he did as he disappeared in the direction of the sleeping apartments. One big fellow, also a Swede, became literally paralyzed with fright. He stood with one arm extended like a statue, unable to move a muscle. I know of one Swedish woman who, with her four children, was lost. Another woman lost her husband, brother, son and uncle. These folks were all steerage passengers. I think there were more of the crew saved than the steerage people." "We in the steerage did not know anything about being among icebergs until the Titanic hit one. I lost everything I had. I had about $30 in a suitcase, concealed well, as there had been several robberies among passengers the day before the accident. When we got to New York we got $25 from some relief committee, $5 from a man who was giving away money right and left and $10 from the Salvation Army. We were also fitted out with clothing. I got a suit of clothes, overcoat and other attire and a first-class ticket to Burlington, which had been my destination, my ticket having been lost with my other effects."
"It was a terrible experience and when I look back at it, I can scarcely believe my good luck in getting away, there were so many chances against me. I think every woman and child on the boat could have been saved if they had forced them in the boats."
Leaving his friend Wennerström in New York, Tenglin made his way to Burlington where he arrived on April 24, 1912. He initially lodged at the home of John Moberg, 623 South Marshall Street.
Tenglin soon settled in to work and family life. On April 6, 1913, in Burlington, he married Anna Amelia Anderson of that city.
He later became a plant engineer and worked at the old Showers Bros. Plant. At one time he was a gas-maker in the utilities plant that supplied Burlingtonians with gas. He also worked for a time at the Burlington Railroad shops.
In 1937 he was the first man to be hired by the firm of J I Case, when the firm came to the city and for whom he worked as a millwright. After 22 years, in 1959, he retired.
Tenglin lived out his retirement with his wife at 1321 Burlington. Mrs Tenglin died March 11, 1968.
After 60 years apart, in 1972, Tenglin was visited by his brother Einar (79) and his great nephew Rune (Ron) (32) who acted as interpreter between the two men, Gunnar's English apparently by now better than his Swedish!
Tenglin died at 6 p.m. Wednesday, February 6 1974 in Burlington Memorial Hospital aged 86. A protestant, Tenglin was buried at Aspen Grove cemetery on Saturday February 9, 1974 following a service at Prugh's Chapel conducted by Rev. Donald Turkleson. He was survived by his son Gunnar S. Tenglin; three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
April 25, 1912 The Burlington Daily Gazette
June 5, 1972 The Burlington Hawkeye
February 7, 1974 The Burlington Hawkeye
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