- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Two years ago, a couple from Belfast, Ireland, traveled to Cottage Grove to see a coat that had been worn by a longtime resident who had survived the sinking of the Titanic.

The burgundy-colored wool coat, which was inherited by a relative of Marion Wright Woolcott, its original owner, is displayed at the Cottage Grove Historical Museum, reported The Register-Guard (https://bit.ly/2iIF95D). While it draws some Titanic fanatics - the Irish couple had a relative who had helped build the Titanic - many do not even know it is there, museum volunteers said.

To draw more attention to the historic coat, the museum plans to use a $1,200 grant it recently received from the state to improve the exhibit in which it’s displayed, said volunteer Cathy Bellavita.

“Part of the reason we want to improve this exhibit is so we can raise its visibility a little bit,” Bellavita said. “We want to let people know it’s here.”

Woolcott, who was from Yeovil, England, was on her way to Cottage Grove when she boarded the Titanic, Bellavita said. She planned to meet her fiancé, who was from England also, in New York, where they were going to be married.

“Which they did do, but they had a little problem in the middle,” Bellavita said. “The Titanic sunk.”

Woolcott’s future husband, Arthur, already had traveled to Cottage Grove and purchased a ranch, where they would raise their three sons: Russ, John and Bob. Bob, an elderly man now, still resides in Cottage Grove, Bellavita said.

“There’s really not much of an Oregon connection to the Titanic, so that’s what makes it unique,” she said.

Woolcott’s daughter-in-law, Isabelle Woolcott, who still lives in Cottage Grove, donated the coat to the museum, Bellavita said. The floor-length coat is missing a strip of fabric on its right side, which Woolcott had cut out to make Bible covers for her sons when they served in World War II, Bellavita said.

In the exhibit with the coat are reproductions of letters Woolcott wrote to her father immediately following the sinking of the Titanic. Woolcott had emerged from her room on the ship wearing the coat after hearing a crash that shook the whole vessel, according to an April 16, 1912, letter to her father.

In the same letter, she recalled watching the Titanic sink from a rescue boat:

“It was awful to watch her, but worse still to see the crowds of people on board still. When she broke in two, which she did a few moments before she sunk, going down with a huge explosion. OH! The cries of the people left on board were heart rending.”

A ship called Carpathia picked up Woolcott and other survivors from rescue boats and took them on a three-day journey to New York, according to the letter. In future letters, Woolcott describes the desperation of trying to find Arthur after arriving in America. They married on April 20, 1912.

In a May 1912 letter, Woolcott describes moving to Cottage Grove and settling in a house from which she could see the Cascades. She describes the charity of the townspeople, who gave her and Arthur a public reception, donated money to them to help them recuperate their losses and gifted them dishware.

Also in the exhibit is a lap robe Woolcott wore on the rescue boat as she escaped the Titanic, Bellavita said. There are copies of newspaper articles about the sinking of the Titanic and a copy of a 1962 interview Woolcott gave to The Register-Guard. There are pictures of Woolcott raising her sons in Cottage Grove.

Called a Heritage All-Star grant, the museum received the donation from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Oregon Heritage Commission. It is the third year Cottage Grove has received the grant, which it qualifies for because the city has shown the state it values historic preservation.

“Since this is one of the most important artifacts in this museum, we wanted to put more energy into exhibiting it,” Bellavita said. “That was the impetus for asking for the money.”

The museum board plans to hire a museum exhibit consultant to help them better show the coat and other Titanic memorabilia, Bellavita said. They also are going to improve the glass case and wooden base that stores the coat to help keep the fabric from deteriorating, she said. Additionally, they plan to treat the windows in the museum’s annex to darken them, which will better preserve the Titanic artifacts.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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