Rockdale’s ‘Titanic’ souvenir
One hundred years ago a Rockdale father sent his son a photo, taken with his own hands, of the most famous iceberg of all time.
In the late morning of April 15, 1912, Anton Wolf, stood on the freezing, icy deck of the German steamship Frankfurt and snapped a photo of the iceberg which sent the Titanic, and 1,517 passengers and crew, to a watery grave.
Wolf and w ife Elizabeth were on the way back to their native Austria for a visit after a long and, apparently quite happy, life running a hotel in Rockdale.
LETTER—How do we know this? On May 16, 1912, Reporter Publisher John Esten Cooke wrote:
“Edmund Wolf is in receipt of a Kodak picture, made by his father, A. Wolf, from the steamship Frankfurt, and shows the iceberg which wrecked the Titanic on the 14th of April.
“Mr. and Mrs. Wolf were passegers on the Frankfurt, which was the first ship to catch the Titanic’s wireless call for help but, on account of the distance, arrived too late for service.
“Mr. and Mrs. Wolf have written several letters home since their arrival in the old country and report a most enjoyable trip in every respect.”
(Sort of “aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” one would imagine.)
‘CQD’—Capt. Hermann Hattorff of the Frankfurt said he received the first wireless message from Titanic at 12:10 a.m. April 15, asking that he reply with Frankfurt’s position, which he did.
The Frankfurt changed course and headed for the site of what would become one of the world’s most famous disasters, but it was more than 140 nautical miles away and Hattorff told Smith he couldn’t arrive until around 11.
At 12:14 a.m. Hattorff received the universal morse code signal CQD—A French acronym meaning “all stations, distress!”—from Titanic.
At 1:03 a.m., the Titanic wireless told Frankfurt her passengers were being put into lifeboats.
But at 1:15 a.m. Titanic’s communications w ith Frankf urt ceased. Hattorff later told the committee of inquiry that’s when he believed Titanic sank.
HORROR, PHOTO—Frankfurt steamed at its top speed to the scene but didn’t arrive for nine more hours.
By that time it was all over. Titanic had been on the bottom of the North Atlantic for hours.
Several ships, which had been closer to the disaster scene, were already there, including the British liner Carpathia, which picked up the survivors.
Frankf urt, Carpathia, the Russian steamer Birma, and the American liner Virginia cruised among a field of icebergs looking for survivors but there were no more.
Capt. Hattorff told the inquiry his ship passed three huge icebergs and 22 smaller ones, in an ice field 30 miles long and 10 miles wide.
He said the largest was 120 feet high and 900 feet long.
Hattorff pointed out one particular berg to his passengers, obviously including Anton Wolf, who were gathered on deck watching the sad spectacle.
“It had a darkly colored patch and was badly splintered,” the captain said. “I believe that’s the one which sank the Titanic.”
That’s the one in Anton’s photo.
FOUNDER—The Wolfs were prominent Rockdale residents in the late 1800s-early 1900’s.
Anton Wolf was from Vienna and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jatel from Brauowitz, Austria.
Anton’s first wife—Edmund’s mother—had died and Anton and Lizzie were married in 1875. On Jan 8, 1880, they stepped off the train in the six-year-old town of Rockdale.
They were soon busy w ith two projects, the Hotel Wolf and the formation of Rockdale’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
The hotel was Rockdale’s finest. A number of photographs remain of the structure, which was on the site of today’s Wolf Park. It had a restaurant and saloon and did a bustling business in the frontier town.
Anton Wolf and Leo Strelsky were responsible for bringing priests from St. Edward’s University, Austin, to Rockdale to hold masses for a growing Catholic population.
In 1880, a small wooden church was built and dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker.
When the long-time St. Joseph’s Church—still standing after being moved to the corner of Belton and Crockett in 1967—was built, also in 1912, Edmund Wolf was one of the contractors and Anton was on the building committee.
LOVE STORY—Anton and Edmund operated the hotel until Anton retired in 1912. That’s when the Wolfs decided to revisit the “old country” one last time before settling down at their home on Cameron Avenue next to City Hall.
Fate directed t hem to t he Frankfurt. Their departure was duly reported in The Reporter’s society column.
They returned after the monthlong trip and lived the rest of their lives at that home.
Anton died in 1924, Lizzie in 1935. A friend recalled the Wolfs “spent their later years in reading and meditation”. adding “they could not stand to be separated from each other for any length of time.”
They are buried—side by side, of course—in Rockdale’s old city cemetery, their graves adorned by two iron crosses, rusted and reddened by time.
What a story they must have had to tell their grandchildren!