Personal research leads to discovery of Titanic connection
DULUTH - Greg Isola couldn't help but drift toward the Titanic story as he did personal family research on Minnesota's Finnish immigrants.
"It all seemed so unbelievable," the 1983 Duluth Central graduate said of tripping onto stories as a teenager about Finns who were on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, many who didn't make it.
When he found out that one set of his grandparents and a great-grandparent knew one of the couples that perished, Isola was astounded.
"They weren't related, but they were connected," he said.
Those ties fueled what has become an intense fascination with the Titanic that culminates in a presentation this weekend that he has planned for years as the 100-year anniversary of the sinking loomed.
Isola now lives in Minneapolis. When he's not digging into Finnish history, he does independent computer work after graduating in math from the University of Minnesota.
Isola has done Titanic presentations on the Iron Range and in Duluth during the 2008 Finn Fest.
For this year, he decided to go all in with one of the most tragic Minnesota stories related to the ill-fated ship.
Isola is making two presentations Saturday with the Cokato Historical Society about William and Anna Lahtinen, who had gone back to Europe for a visit before making a move to Minneapolis from Cokato. William Lahtinen was a minister in the small town about an hour west of Minneapolis and was well-known among Finns in Minnesota.
Isolat's presentations will also include 20 years of general research on the Titanic and its legacy.
"It's dramatic," Isola said of the Lahtinen story, which involves cruel twists of fate.
The trip back to Finland was a chance to see family, assist a friend who wanted to come to America and do some ministerial work.
Isola said that during the visit, the Lahtinens' 4-year-old child took ill with "brain fever," probably meningitis. She died on March 10, 1912, and was buried in Finland. Because of the tragedy, the return trip to Minnesota was delayed.
There were more delays because of a coal strike in England, and soon the only option back was aboard the Titanic.
After the Titanic hit an iceberg the night of April 14, Anna and the family friend, Lyyli Silven, were put into Lifeboat 16. When Anna found out her husband wouldn't be allowed in the boat, she got back on the Titanic to stay by his side. They both died in the sinking.
"It's a tragic story," Isola said. "It's touching, and that's why I'm telling it."
For many people in Finland, the story has gained interest, especially since a local historian wrote about the Lahtinens in the 1990s. Isola has made a presentation there before.
"The memory hasn't completely faded," he said.
In the biography he provides at his presentations, Isola writes about his thoughts when family research turned to the Titanic.
"My initial reaction was 'Come on,'" he writes. "I was supposed to believe that some Finns who (my) people knew about happened to be on the most famous ship in the most famous shipping disaster of all time?"