She Survived the Titanic


The Brewstation was packed on Aug. 18 with people interested in the story of how Marion Wright Woolcott (who eventually became the wife of a Cottage Grove resident) survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Titanic ‘Lucky Coat’ Fundraiser Held at Brewstation

Last Thursday, on Aug. 18, the Cottage Grove Museum and Coast Fork Brewing collaborated on a fundraiser to bolster public awareness of the museum's legendary “Lucky Coat" exhibit, which Marion Wright Woolcott wore during her harrowing escape from death on board the ill-fated Titanic.

Donated to the Cottage Grove Museum by Marion’s oldest son, John, in 1967, the coat has since received national acclaim and has also gone “on tour” in recent years, stopping at such destinations as the Ronald Reagan Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., in 2018 and the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. in 2019, the latter providing a museum-quality exhibit case as a gift for the loan.

Inspired by Woolcott’s experience and her amazing ordeal aboard the Titanic, “Marion Wright Woolcott: A Titanic Survival Story” was published by the Cottage Grove Museum in 2020. The color booklet features the compelling story of Marion’s journey across the Atlantic, told using personal handwritten letters and ephemera, as passengers aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage were given stationary to write to their friends and family. While Marion’s letters survived, tucked away in her coat pocket, all of the gifts she wrote of bringing onboard the Titanic, for those awaiting her in America and the ship's arrival in New York, were lost. 

Destiny gave Marion the opportunity to meet again with her future husband and fiancé, Cottage Grove resident Arthur Woolcott.

Arthur was a local apple orchard farmer in Cottage Grove who had finished building a house at Silk Creek in November 1911. In their youth, Woolcott and Marion met in England, at school. Although they had not seen each other for years, they stayed in touch through mail and wireless Western Union telegrams called "Marconis," named after the "email" electrical telegraph pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi. 

Arthur Woolcott eventually proposed, and Marion Wright accepted. Arrangements were made for Marion to go to America. She wrote to her father with vivid detail, all of which is documented in the museum's book. She was one of 15 passengers travelling to Oregon on the Titanic, only five of which lived.

The ocean liner, RMS Carpathia, saved a number of people that had drifted away from the wreckage of the Titanic on lifeboats, the people having endured the frigid cold and some wearing nothing more than life jackets, underwear and shoes.

When the ship hit the iceberg, the sound of shattered glass pierced through the air.  In shock and confusion, many on board the Titanic were thrown in their bed while asleep. Marion recovered from the jolt, put on her coat, and walked onto the deck. Many passengers went back to sleep, while others stayed awake, nervously. The ships' engines stopped and the deafening silence worried Marion. She was told to put on a life preserver and board a lifeboat.

A planned exercise to lower the lifeboats into the ocean became a live evacuation drill.

As the ship slowly sank into the sea, the string players performed “Nearer, My God, To Thee,” a 19th-century hymn, while many prayed on the deck of the ship, on their knees. Marion witnessed as the Titanic made its final plunge into the sea, sensing that many more people could have been saved.
Upon arrival in New York, Marion and others who survived the harrowing ordeal were given a hot drink of brandy and water to boost morale after their rescue.

She eventually reunited with Arthur, and they were married in New York on April 20, 1912. The newlyweds then headed home to Cottage Grove.

In her letters describing all that had happened, Marion reported tugboats following the survivors, filled with brazen journalists taking pictures and attempting to get in-depth stories. The unwanted publicity deterred her from speaking to national media services, but she felt comfortable at a reception the following month at the Christian Church in Cottage Grove to share her story. 

Marion's memory of the unforgettable night was reported in great detail by the Cottage Grove Sentinel on May 9, 1912.

At the Aug. 18 fundraiser hosted by Dana Merryday, guest speakers included Tara Sue Hughart, Cathy Bellavita and Becky Venice of the Cottage Grove Museum. Coast Fork Brewing’s Head Brewmaster Stephen Mathys, who produced the “Old Lucky Coat” ale for this fundraising opportunity, also spoke. His recipe and strategy for the creamy North England style ale was to use special 18th-century methods: the use of more expensive, higher strength malt that keeps longer than other brews. 

Sources suggest that besides approximately 15,000 bottles of beer supplied by C.C. Hibbert & Co., there was one draft beer onboard the Titanic, likely made by Wrexham Lager in Wales. On the menu, it was listed as “Iced Draught Munich Lager Beer 3d & 6d” and served to first-class passengers on the evening before the ship sank.

Thursday’s successful event in Cottage Grove helped raise over $500 for the museum in a single evening. This was done by means of a raffle, book sales and proceeds from Mathys’ “Old Lucky Coat” ale. The city has a truly unique artifact from one of history’s tales of devastating loss.

As for Marion Wright Woolcott, who lived to tell the tale, we thank her and her family for this important treasure that will surely be cherished for years to come. 

“She Survived the Titanic," the exhibit of Woolcott’s “Lucky Coat,” can be seen at the Cottage Grove Museum, located at 147 N "H" St. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

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