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It’s the Bees Knees: Collection from the Titanic

Many people in New Britain may have heard about William Sloper, but how many have actually seen items that were in the Titanic?

Windham Mayor Ernie Eldridge will be among those in attendance May 17 for “It’s the Bees Knees: 260 Years of New Britain’s History in the Hive” which takes place downtown. With him will be several artifacts including an original deck chair that came out of the Titanic and rope from Lifeboat Number 7.

Lifeboat Number 7 is particularly important to New Britain as that is the boat Sloper was saved in.

William Thompson Sloper was born Dec. 13 1883. He was the son of Andrew Jackson Sloper, former president of New Britain National Bank, and Ella Thomson Sloper.

Sloper, a stock broker and estate manager, was returning from a three-month vacation in Europe. On his tour he had met the family of Mark Fortune. Sloper apparently became so fond of Alice Fortune that he cancelled his passage on the Mauretania and booked instead on the Titanic which he boarded at Southampton as a first class passenger.

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, Sloper was playing bridge with some friends. Sloper was rescued in lifeboat 7.

But this is where the story gets kind of confusing. Only women and children were being allowed on the lifeboats.

“Reports say Sloper dressed up as a woman to get in the boat,” said Eldridge. “He said he put a shawl over his head to keep warm.”

No one knows for sure how Sloper got on the boat, but once back in New Britain he built a 10 foot stockade fence around his home and lived like a recluse.

“That adds validity to the story,” said Eldridge.

Eldridge said that is only one of the stories he plans to talk with residents in New Britain about on May 17.

“My wife (Anita) and I were at the expedition in 1996 when they tried to raise the Titanic,” he said. “We met five survivors who were alive at that time.”

Eldridge has also done re-enactments of everything that happened that night. He and his wife plan to dress in costume as Violet Jessup and a Captain aboard the ship.

He will bring the chair which is only 1 of 8 documented chairs from the Titanic. His washed ashore in Nova Scotia. The rope he has, held up the oars from Lifeboat Number Seven and was cut when it was released. Someone took home the ropes upon leaving the lifeboat.

He will also bring memorabilia from the Titanic movie such as the original Chinaware. There will also be books and postcards.

“We have collected titanic items for over 25 years,” said Eldridge. “We will make a nice display.”

A large model of the Titanic will also be on display.

The Bees’ Knees will take place in downtown New Britain on May 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will feature 260 Years of New Britain’s History in the Hive! It is a free Heritage Day event for residents to participate in or attend, to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of New Britain.

The group is accepting sponsorships from any individuals or organizations. This may include, for example, monetary contributions, proceeds from sales, or donations of items for auction. A notable contribution is a print by Dr. John M. Fitzsimmons, which will be auctioned during the Heritage Day event.

The event is sponsored by the New Britain City Journal, Max Pizza II, Capitol Lunch and Miss Washington Diner.

For more information contact the New Britain Historical Society at newbriainhistsoc@att.net or call 860-249-3314.