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Wendell: Leader localizes Titanic tragedy of 110 years ago

The cover of the Leader-Observer shortly after the April 15, 1912 disaster of the Titanic that left over 1,500 people dead. The Leader interviewed a resident of nearby Brooklyn who was well-known in this neighborhood and was a lucky survivor of that terrible disaster.

By Ed Wendell

The sinking of the RMS Titanic, the famed passenger ship which sank 110 years ago after striking an iceberg, was front page news around the world. The Leader-Observer was no exception, even finding a local angle on the fate of Margaret Welles Swift of nearby 171 Arlington Avenue in Brooklyn.

Mrs. Swift was well-known to locals in Woodhaven who belonged to the popular Fortnightly Library Club in Brooklyn, of which she was President. In the first issue after the disaster which left over 1,500 passengers dead, friends and relatives of Mrs. Swift were anxiously awaiting word of her fate.

Soon after it was confirmed that Mrs. Swift had survived she gave an exclusive account to the Leader. She began by describing the magnificence of the ship and told how the massive suction caused by its leaving port in Southampton drew the two ships on either side of her from their moorings.

She told how she heard a mighty crash that sounded like broken glass, and how the passenger next door showed her a huge chunk of ice which had burst through the porthole of his stateroom.

“The shock had not been great enough to cause any great alarm,” Mrs. Swift told the Leader. She said that she went on deck, where there didn’t seem to be any sense that they were in trouble. 

“The captain assured those on deck that there was no danger,” she said. However, it was just a few moments later that he ordered the launching of the lifeboats. And that’s when things got serious.

“I was in the second boat lowered,” she told the Leader. “There were twenty women and four men. The boat was provisioned with two barrels of water and some bread.” Mrs. Swift reported that the captain told the rowers to head towards a light, far in the distance. He asked that they return as soon as possible.

She described the heartbreaking scene as the lifeboats left the ship. “Women and children threw kisses to their husbands and fathers, little thinking, as the oarsmen pulled the boats away, that they should never see their loved ones again.”

The Leader asked Mrs. Swift why only 24 people were placed in her lifeboat when reports said they could hold up to 60. “The davits (the crane that held the lifeboats) were only supposed to hold 15 people.” She added that by then, the captain and the officers were concerned about suction from the sinking ship pulling down the lifeboats and wanted to give them time to get as far away as possible.

An hour after she left Titanic, it went down. “First the lights gradually went out, and exactly at twenty minutes after two the Titanic went out of sight. She broke in the middle as she went down and the boilers exploded. It was awful.”

She grabbed the oars on the lifeboat and rowed when one of the men grew tired. She held on to the oars and rowed for nearly 5 hours until they reached the Carpathia, a rescue ship. When she came home, she found that she was a bit of a celebrity for being in the wrong place at the worst possible time.

Woodhaven had two other connections to that great disaster 110 years ago. One of the crew members of the Carpathia was Gottlieb J. Rencher, who later in life would work as a registered psychotherapist at 8551 Forest Parkway. 

Rencher was awarded a medal by the surviving crew members of the Titanic for the aid that he gave the surviving passengers.

And every few years the Leader would run a story on John Parry, of 92-25 91st Avenue, who as a young man served as a merchant seaman on the Mackay-Bennett, the ship known for recovering the most victims of that dreadful night.

Over 364 bodies were found and either buried at sea or brought ashore for burial by Mr. Parry’s ship. The Leader would run his story every few years on the anniversary. The last time Mr. Parry’s tale was told in the Leader was on the Titanic’s 50th anniversary, 60 years ago in 1962.

The tragedy of the RMS Titanic is a story that belongs to the world, having been retold in countless books and several movies, including one of the highest grossing motion pictures of all time. But over the years, the Leader was able to explore some very local angles of this tragedy that brought this story very close to home. 


Richard Rodriguez passed away on Friday, April 22, 2022 at the age of 60. Beloved Husband of Milagros. Devoted Father of Richard Rodriguez Jr. Loving Son of Olivia Rodriguez. Dear Brother of Glaydes Rodriguez-Whiteman, Elsie Russo and Victor Rodriguez. Also survived by 5 grandchildren.  Mr. Rodriguez was a Retired NYPD Officer.  Services were offered at St. Barbara Church on Friday April 29, 2022 at 9:30 AM. Interment in All Faith Cemetery under the direction of Hess-Miller Funeral Home, 64-19 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village NY 11379.


Rosario Russo passed away on Saturday, April 16, 2022 at the age of 82. Beloved Husband of Cecilia Russo. Loving Father of Andrea & the late Ricky Spencer, Christine & Frank Petroski and Sandra & Bobby Olenick. Cherish Grandfather of Ryan, Nicole, Hunter, Jake, Karlie, Kayla and Kasey. Dear Brother of Marianna Russo, Nunzio (Pat) Russo and the late Carmela Asaro and Anthony Russo. Also survived by many loving nieces, nephews and friends. In Lieu of Flowers, memorial donations may be made to: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Funeral Services held at Papavero Funeral Home on Saturday, April 23, 2022 from 9-10:30 AM. Private Cremation followed at Fresh Pond Crematory, Middle Village, NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue, Maspeth NY 11378.


Carmen M. Jimenez passed away on Sunday, April 17, 2022 at the age of 87. Beloved Mother of William Reillo, Harry Reillo, Jose Reillo, Luis Reillo, Luis Cortez and the late Fulgencio Reillo and Edwin Reillo. Loving Grandmother of 8 Grandchildren. Cherished Great-Grandmother of 4 Great-Grandchildren. Mass of Christian Burial offered at St. Sebastian’s Church on Friday, April 22, 2022 9:45 AM. Interment followed at Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue Maspeth NY 11378.


Frank Meagher passed away on Monday, April 18, 2022 at the age of 84. Beloved Father of Michael (Laurie) Meagher and Chris (Julie) Meagher. Loving Pop-Pop of Erika, Anjelica and Natasha. Also survived by many loving nieces, nephews and friends. Mr. Meagher was a United State Navy Veteran who served during the Korean Conflict. Mass of Christian Burial offered at St. Adalbert’s Church on Saturday April 23, 2022 9:30 AM. Interment followed at St. Raymond Cemetery, Bronx, NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue, Maspeth NY 11378.


Reberta Chorney passed away on Monday, April 18, 2022 at the age of 84. Beloved Wife of the late Anthony Chorney. Loving Mother of Karen Russell, Nancy Gallo, Cynthia Cudak, Charlotte Shiger, Christine Virgo, Donna Rios, Joseph Chorney, Deborah Delgado and the late Anthony Chorney. Cherished Grandmother of 19 grandchildren and Great-Grandmother of 5 great-grandchildren. Dear Sister of Carol Samide. Funeral Service held at Papavero Funeral Home on Tuesday April 26, 2022 from 10 AM – 1 PM. Interment followed at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue, Maspeth NY 11378.


Calogero Sambito passed away on Thursday, April 21, 2022 at the age of 77. Beloved Husband of Christina Sambito. Lother Father of Antonio Sambito and Philip Sambito. Dear Brother of Anna LoGuidice and Rosaria LoGiudice. Also survived by many loving nieces, nephews and friends. Private Cremation held on Saturday, April 23, 2022 at Fresh Pond Crematory, Middle Village, NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home 72-27 Grand Avenue,Maspeth NY 11378.


Frederick H. Oldenburg passed away on Saturday April 23, 2022 at the age of 84. Beloved Husband of the late Jean. Devoted father of Susan Conrad, Jeanine, Fred Jr. and Stephen Moore. Grandfather of Justin and Jordan Cruz, Great Grandfather of Ireland Moore. Services will be offered at Our Lady of The Miraculous Medal Church on Saturday April 30th, 2022 9:45 AM. Interment at St. Charles Cemetery under the direction of Hess-Miller Funeral Home, 64-19 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village NY 11379.


Gerard O. Steiner passed away on Sunday April 17, 2022 at Bishop’s Glen Nursing Home, Holly Hill, Florida, just shy of his 97th birthday.  He was born in Berlin, Germany raised by his Grandparents after his mother died, and came to the United States as a 10 year old boy (not speaking a word of English!) to join his father, new stepmother, and 5 year old half-sister, Doris.  After turning 18, Jerry served in the US Army from 1943 to 1946 as an Ambulance Driver with the 596th Ambulance Company, and was stationed in England, France, Germany, Austria, as well as the Philippines.  After returning to civilian life Jerry worked in various fields including banking, US Postal Service, and construction before joining the US Government’s New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn in 1951 as an apprentice electrician, learning his trade.  Jerry was forever grateful for his career choice.  Being an electrician afforded him many different job opportunities and experiences that he was always happy to share and laugh over with family and friends.  He married his love, Olga in 1952 after meeting on a blind date, and had a good life raising their 3 daughters in Glendale, NY. When the Naval Base closed in 1966 Jerry went on to work as an Electrical Contractor with Local Union No. 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  In 1979 he went back to work with the US Government as a Ship Surveyor (Electrician) – Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion & Repair, and was able to pursue his love of travel to all different Naval bases around the world, sometimes taking his wife with him. He retired in 1986 and lived the next chapter of his life happily in Ormond Beach, Florida.  Jerry was always keeping busy, puttering around his gardens, working on home improvement projects, fixing things (especially anything electrical!), and lending a helping hand to his many friends and neighbors over the years.  Jerry was predeceased by his loving wife of 56 years, Olga, his beautiful daughter Elena Steiner, and his half-sister Doris Tomaino.  He is survived by his 2 daughters, Linda Libby (Charles) and Elissa Maier (Thomas), 4 Grandchildren, Jerilyn, Gerard Libby, Jennifer Toscano, and Kristina Maier, and 2 Great-Granddaughters, Aubrey Maier and Emerson Toscano. Jerry will be sorely missed by his family, friends and neighbors. Services held under the direction of Hess-Miller Funeral Home, 64-19 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village NY 11379.

Queens BP Richards endorses Juan Ardila for Queens Assembly seat

Juan Ardila is running for the 37th Assembly District in Queens.

State Assembly candidate Juan Ardila has earned the endorsement of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

The Borough President’s endorsement is the latest for Ardila’s campaign, which also holds the endorsements of State Senator Jessica Ramos, State Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, City Council members Tiffany Caban and Jennifer Gutiérrez, as well as former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Ardila, a progressive running for the 37th Assembly District in Queens, is looking to replace Cathy Nolan, who announced her retirement after 36 years earlier this year.

“Juan Ardila has always been a passionate advocate for the community,” said Borough President Donovan Richards. “He is a leader who understands the need for protecting tenants, expanding healthcare access, and fixing the climate crisis here in Queens. I’m excited to support Juan for Assembly because I know he will be a strong champion for progress in Albany.”

The 37th State Assembly district includes the diverse neighborhoods of Long Island City, Maspeth, Ridgewood, Sunnyside and Woodside

Ardila’s campaign also has the support of the Working Families Party, DC37, New York Immigration Action, Make the Road Action, Open New York, Community Voices Heard (CVH), Churches United For Fair Housing Action (CUFFH) and local Democratic leaders including Emilia Decaudin, Jesse Laymon, and Derek Evers. 

“I’m honored to have the support of a dedicated public servant like Borough President Richards. He works hard every day to help educate our kids, keep our community safe, and he has a plan for addressing climate change,” Ardila said. “It is wonderful to have the backing of the people who understand the needs of our community and the challenges we face.” 

Ardila announced the launch of his campaign earlier this year, as the Maspeth native is looking to garner enough votes in a crowded field of candidates including Johanna Carmona, Jim Magee and Brent O’Leary. Last year, Ardila fell in a tight race against City Council member Robert Holden in the 30th Council District, garnering 45 percent of the vote.

The Democratic primary for the open seat will be held on Tuesday, June 28th.

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