The Titanic historical treasure trove discovered in a shoe box after death of last living survivor

Last updated at 10:05 28 March 2008

The moving story of one of the last survivors of the Titanic can be revealed for the first time after touching letters and documents were discovered after her death.

For 94 years Lillian Asplund refused to speak about the tragedy that claimed the lives of her father and three brothers.

Instead, the spinster kept the final moments of her family locked in her memory and the poignant possessions of her father Carl hidden in a shoebox in her bureau.

It was only after her death aged 99 the box was found along with the collection of Titanic-related items that, pieced together, tell the tragic story of the family's demise.

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Lillian Asplund

Poignant reminders: Lillian Asplund refused to speak about the Titanic tragedy for 94 years

The never before seen collection of Titanic survivor Lillian Asplund is coming up for auction

Among them were notes Mr Asplund had copied from a flyer promoting the benefits of living in California, an American dream that enticed the family to set sail for a new life.

An incredibly rare and water-stained ticket for the luxury liner was also found. Only a handful of Titanic tickets are in existance as most of them sunk with the ship.

The paper documents recovered from his body miraculously survived for 12 days after the disaster because Mr Asplund's lifejacket kept his coat's breast pocket out of the water.

His pocket watch which stopped at 19 minutes past two - the exact time the liner sank - was also found on him.

And a heart-rending note written by his grief-stricken mother in which she wrote of how she hoped to see her son again in heaven formed part of the collection.

The stunning archive includes a sad photograph of Lillian, her mother Selma and three-year-old brother Felix, who both survived, at her father's grave in 1912.

The collection has now been made available for sale at auction where it is expected to fetch a combined total of £150,000.

The sale has excited many Titanic experts as Lillian Asplund was the very last survivor with memories of the disaster. She is only outlived by Brit Millvina Dean, who was a baby at the time.

Andrew Aldridge, of auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Sons of Devizes, Wilts, said: "The importance of this archive for any Titanic collector cannot be underestimated.

"Lillian Asplund was the last American survivor and the last survivor with actual memories of it. She was a very private person and hardly ever spoke about the disaster.

"She never married and the tragedy must have left a huge emotional scar on her.

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Lillian Asplund

Treasures: The collection of documents is expected to fetch up to £150,000

"Her family obviously knew she had survived the Titanic but had no idea about this box, let alone what was inside it.

"The box was in an Edwardian oak bureau in the home Lillian used to live in with Felix and Selma. The shoebox wasn't particularly interesting to look at but opening it up was like lifting the lid on arguably some of the most historical artefacts relating to the Titanic.

"The vast majority of the documents have never been seen or published before.

"When you piece them together they tell the story of how this family had hoped to start a new life in America, possibly California, until they boarded Titanic. After that there are these emotional letters and photographs showing what was left of this family in grief."

The Asplund family lived in Alsema in southern Sweden until they decided to emigrate to Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1912.

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Lost and found: Rings found in Lillian Asplund's Titanic shoe box

Carl Asplund, a 40-year-old labourer, bought seven third class tickets for the Titanic's maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.

With him were wife Selma, then aged 38, and five children Filip, 13, Clarence, nine, Carl Edgar, five, Lillian, five, and Felix, three.

When the ship hit an iceberg and started to sink on the night of April 14, the Asplunds made a decision that the family should die together along with the 1,500 who perished.

But, according to an account Selma Asplund later gave, at the last moment Felix and Lillian were thrown into lifeboat 15 by an unknown person. Mr Asplund then pushed his wife forward to go with them.

She was haunted by the memory of the faces of her husband and three sons peering over the rail moments before the ship sank. Her husband's drowned and frozen body was recovered from the Atlantic 12 days later but there was no sign of his three sons.

Found in the pockets of his brown overcoat were his gold watch, two small keys for a safety box on board which stored the family's life savings, and his gold wedding ring.

Also recovered were two pocket books, one of which contained his notes on their new life in California.

It is thought he had copied out a flyer designed to entice people to California to show his wife.

Part of it read: "California wants people like you, now is your time to come here. We have green grass and wild flowers at this time of year and all the facilities you can have.

"An ideal home we can offer you we think. Perhaps you don't believe what we are saying about our climate and city. Come and see it with your own eyes."

Other papers on him included a letter dated February 28, 1912, telling Mr Asplund he had as job waiting for him.

His possessions were handed to Mrs Asplund who also kept a cold and heartless letter from White Star Line dated May 11, 1912.

It told her they were giving her late husband's effects back as they were of "small value".

Mr Aldridge said: "This letter states that the items were of low value which is ironic considering just how much they are worth now."

Mrs Asplund stored the moving letter written by her mother-in-law, Kristina Samuelsson, 16 months after the tragedy, in the box.

In it she states how much her eyes hurt from where she has been in mourning.

She wrote: "My nerves are so weak and my eyes are so poor because I have been crying so much but I hope that my grieving days soon will have an end and I will join the final rest where God has promised to wipe out the tears from all the faces."

Mrs Asplund died aged 91 on April 15 1964 - 52 years to the day of the disaster.

After her death Lillian Asplund put her mother's wedding ring in the box alongside that of her father's gold band.

Felix Asplund died in 1983 aged 73 and Lillian passed away in 2006. The auction takes place on Saturday, April 19.