RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania

Belle Saunders and Theodore Naish married in 1911, and four years later took a belated honeymoon trip to Theodore’s native England.  Sadly, it became an ill-fated trip:  they had booked passage on RMS Lusitania.

Theodore was born January 21, 1856 in Birmingham, England, and educated as an engineer.  Just before 1900 he traveled to the United States and settled in Kansas City, where he was employed as a civil engineer and a draftsman.  He was given to taking long walks, often leaving the city on a Sunday morning and walking into Wyandotte County near Edwardsville, where he eventually bought land.

He married Belle Saunders, a retired school teacher from Detroit, Michigan.  She was born at Charlotte, Michigan on October 22, 1865.  The two of them frequently spent time on the land near Edwardsville.

Theodore had always hoped to return to England to visit family, and that opportunity finally came in the Spring of 1915.   They had discussed whether it was safe to travel on a British liner.  A 1935 Kansas City Star interview with Belle indicated they were “convinced that the Germans would  not sink an unarmed passenger liner loaded with neutrals and so many women and children.”  Diana Preston writes that the Naishes read the German warning only after they had boarded Lusitania and the ship was headed out to sea.  Theodore believed that if the warning were official, American passengers would have received it before boarding the ship.

They did have concerns about the ship not being protected by the Royal Navy.  Theodore has some other concerns; he was seasick most of the trip and spent the time in their cabin.

On May 7th, the Naishes acted bravely.  They calmly helped others into their life jackets, and were separated, as Belle recalled, when a second blast tossed them into the air.  Belle was rescued.  Theodore was not known to have been found.

Belle returned to Kansas City, devoting herself to Red Cross work.  The land near Edwardsville was donated to the Boy Scouts and is still used as Camp Theodore Naish.  On September 21, 1941, a cenotaph was dedicated to Theodore’s memory in the Edwardsville Cemetery.  Belle would be buried there following her death on August 25, 1950.

Their marker at the Edwardsville Cemetery can be seen here:  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Naish&GSfn=Theodore&GSby=1856&GSbyrel=in&GSdy=1915&GSdyrel=in&GSst=18&GScnty=988&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=13954953&df=all&

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.