by Manfred Wewers

For the past week, the story of the Titanic has been in the newspapers, on television and in the movies. What is not usually mentioned is that the harmonica also had a small role to play on that fateful day.

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic sank, taking with it the life of Alma Paulson, a Swedish woman. In the article “DNA Tests Will Try to Identify Three Victims of Titanic Disaster,” Kelly Toughill reported, “According to Titanic lore, when Paulson realized all the lifeboats were gone, she pulled a harmonica from her pocket and soothed her children with song as the boat went down” (Toronto Star 5.17.2001: A1+). Unfortunately, we will never know what songs she played. By the way, Alma is buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Although the highly successful 1997 James Cameron version of the Titanic's story does not feature a harmonica, the 1953 version of the movie does. Two of its stars, Robert Wagner and Audrey Dalton, dance to “Oh, That Navajo Rag” while another passenger accompanies them on a chromatic harmonica: