The Titanic Historical Society

Winnifred (Quick) Van Tongerloo


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As Carpathia loomed out of the darkness and nudged up to the Cunard pier, Fred saw a woman standing at the ship's rail whom he was sure was his wife. Putting two fingers to his mouth he gave a shrill whistle, the same whistle he always used to call to Jane when they were courting in Britain. The woman did not respond and Fred wilted in disappointment.

"No, that isn't she," he told a reporter. "She would know that whistle any place in the world. I have been pretty much of a globe trotter, but if I ever clasp her in my arms again, we will never be separated.... I expect we will go to Detroit tomorrow and live there the rest of our lives."

The crowd was subdued as the first survivors left the rescue ship and made their way down the gangplank to waiting friends and relatives. Fred watched anxiously as survivor after survivor left with still no sign of the family he loved. Soon the majority of the second class passengers had departed and he felt a growing fear clutch at his heart. Ambulances and nurses were arriving at the dock. Raising the chilling possibility that his wife and daughters, though alive, might have suffered a terrible injury.

He hired a sailor to go aboard and search for his family to see if they were safe. A few minutes later the sailor returned and reassured him that his loved ones were alive and well. Then, finally, the faces Fred had been looking for appeared at the railing.

Jane walked slowly down the gangplank wearing a long gray coat and a hat, gifts from one of Carpathia's passengers, followed by two sailors, one of whom carried Winnifred and the other Phyllis. Fred leaned far out over the railing that restrained the waiting crowd. "Jane!" he called. She heard her husband's voice and rushed toward him taking in his appearance as she ran. "Oh, Fred, what a funny hat you have!" she exclaimed as she ran Into his arms. "Oh, Jennie, Jennie, you're here!" Fred Quick cried as he embraced his wife. "Yes, thank God. We are all safe!" she replied. Then the emotion of the moment overtook her and she wept as she clung to the man she had not seen for a year-and-a-half. "Oh. Fred. It was terrible, I never expected to see you again!"

The sailors put the two children down with their parents and Fred embraced all three of his ladies together. Eight-year-old Winnifred was wearing a pair of woman's high button shoes which had been given to her by a kindly lady. The little girl's difficulty walking in these shoes was aggravated by the fact that she also sported a woman's fancy fur boa which insisted on becoming entangled with her feet. Although this elegant attire helped to make her feel grown up, Winnifred was frightened by the huge crowd on the dock and was crying bitterly. Phyllis, on the other hand, seemed cheerful enough. "Dada," she murmured as she patted her father on the cheek.

Before the Quick family left the Cunard dock, the girls were outfitted in warm clothing. Winnifred was given a bright red jacket and matching cap while Phyllis was given warm underwear and several dresses.

As they threaded their way through the crowd to Welcome House on Thirteenth Street (where Fred had apparently planned to spend the night), a newspaper reporter deftly took Mrs. Quick by the arm and walked along beside her. Under the impression it was her husband steering her through the throng, Mrs. Quick unthinkingly walked along. It took a few moments for Fred to realize his wife wasn't at his side and to recapture her from the reporter.

In spite of Fred's initial plans, it appears the family may have spent the night of April 18 as guests of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society.

After sending a cable to Jane's mother in Plymouth assuring her that her daughter and granddaughters were safe, Fred bought tickets on the New York Express to Detroit. The train traveled the direct route through Canada arriving in Detroit on April 20 after a twenty-one hour journey. They were met at the station by Mr. and Mrs. Parker (the family they would be living with) and everyone noted that Jane Quick looked less fatigued than her husband who still showed the strain of waiting to learn his family's fate.

A streetcar carried them on the last leg of their journey; Fred devoted his attention to the children, Phyllis sitting on his lap and Winnifred stood close beside him. They examined a small, tattered flag that had been in the pocket of the light raincoat Mrs. Quick was wearing when she left Titanic. It was described as the ship's official flag and Fred thought his wife purchased it at one of the ship's band concerts or something of the sort. He told a reporter without much fear of contradiction, "I believe this was the only one saved." The flag's rightful owner was keeping a sharp eye on the little pennant, however, and finally called a halt to its examination. "Mine," said Phyllis as she reached for her souvenir.

Mrs. Quick meanwhile, was occupying herself telling Mrs. Parker of various incidents she had observed during the sinking. Suddenly there was a sharp report as an overhead switch was thrown and everyone In the streetcar jumped in surprise. Everyone, that is, except Jane Quick. "Another iceberg," she remarked with a smile, and she continued her conversation without missing a beat.

On April 26, 1912, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society forwarded a money order for $100.00, sent to her by the Women's Relief Committee. She never receive any recompense from her $3190.00 claim against the White Star Line, however, which may have had a bearing on the business transaction she was about to enter. In the weeks following their arrival In Detroit, a vaudeville producer representing King Amusements signed Jane to speak to paying audiences about her experiences. Eight times a day making $7.14 per show, Mrs. Quick and her daughters mounted the stage at the Palace Theater. Standing on a pedestal and wearing the same skirt she wore on board she spoke to rapt listeners eager to hear her story. "The first time I went out there I wanted to run back." Mrs. Quick explained later. "But I couldn't; so I had to stay. The floor seemed to come up to meet me and so did the audience. I wasn't frightened. I was just all a-shiver and a-tremble. My heart thumped and thumped. I don't know what I said or how I said it." After becoming accustomed to public speaking, Mrs. Quick toured Grand Rapids and Battle Creek before finally giving up "show business." "I'm tired of hearing myself talk" was the reason she gave for retiring to private life.

After Winnifred's once-in-a-lifetime experience, everything else was fairly normal. She did not like school and quit at the age of twelve after graduating from the eighth grade. For a time she worked in a candy factory, Kresge's department store and similar firms as a sales clerk.

In 1916 Winnifred's parents presented her with a second baby sister, Vivian, and two years later her third baby sister, Virginia, was welcomed into the Quick household.

When she was fourteen years old, in 1918, Winnifred met a young man at a house party, nineteen-year-old Alois Van Tongerloo, and she liked him very much and let him know her feelings. Al was a levelheaded young man, although he felt attracted too, he told her that he'd see her again in a year or two when she was older. Winnifred held Al to his promise, and they were married In 1923.

Born In 1899, Alois Van Tongerloo came to America in 1912. Like Winnifred's father, Al's father had come ahead of his family to establish himself before he sent for them. When the time came young Al sailed with his mother, two brothers and two sisters on Vaterland. The ocean was apparently none too calm during the crossing as Al recalled standing at the tip of the bow of the ship with his brothers and jumping into the air when the plunging bow dropped from underneath them. A crewman came up and "chastised" the boys roughly because of the danger of accidentally jumping overboard. Al survived the experience. however, and celebrated his twelfth birthday on board the vessel.

His career was a master carpenter and Winifred did not have to work after they were married. She was twenty years old when their first child was born in 1924 and the couple were blessed with three sons and two daughters.

Alois retired in 1966 giving him and Winnifred the chance to travel like they'd always wanted. The two wanderers visited evey state in the Union except Hawaii, even driving to Alaska. 'We traveled everywhere a tent and a station wagon could take us." Winnifred recalled fondly. Her experience on Titanic left no outward marks although she was uneasy around large ships and deep water. She was once asked if she ever made the return trip back to England to visit her relatives. "No!" she replied. "I don't like big boats! I like to go in the water up to my neck but not on top of the water over my head!"

In spite of her fear of deep water, they once made the overnight crossing from Michigan to Wisconsin on the Ludington ferry. Al awakened in their cabin during the night and found Winnifred was gone. He got up to look for her and found her standing silently at the railing looking out into the darkness. Winnifred had awakened and heard an odd, vaguely alarming noise which made her think of Titanic. Not wishing to disturb her husband's sleep, she had slipped quietly out of the cabin to give herself a chance to face and conquer the uneasiness alone.

Phyllis passed away in 1954 and she lost her father Fred in 1959. Winnifred's mother, Jane died in 1965 at the age of 84.

The last couple of years have been especially hard on Winnifred. She suffered the heartbreaking loss of her husband Al and two of her sons, Bob and Jim. She is living a quiet, happy life with her daughter Jeanette.

Despite the difficulties fate has recently placed in her path, Winnifred Quick Van Tongerloo's outlook on life is ever cheerful and her kindness and generosity remain undiminished.

Thanks for her friendship and enduring patience answering the hundreds of questions about her family's experiences. I am also grateful to Winnifred's two daughters, Jeanette Happel and Gloria Tuck for their critique of this article and for contributing their own memories of their grandmother.

...George Behe - Summer, 1993

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