Hempfield family's Titanic memorabilia includes locket

| Saturday, April 14, 2012, 12:12 a.m.

A Hempfield couple owns what might be called the commoner's "Heart of the Ocean," a locket they believe may have been worn by a Titanic survivor.

Betty and Buz Carbone cherish the locket and the rest of their Titanic collection, which includes original newspapers documenting the ship's tragic demise a century ago.

The round, gold locket is engraved with the letters "AWA" in intricate script on the front. Inside, a worn slip of brown paper scrawled in cursive reads: "Wreck of the Titanic, April 15th, 1912. Loss of life 1645."

They're not sure what the 1645 means -- that figure doesn't match the number of people who died, 1,514 -- when the ship sank, hours after it struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.

Betty Carbone wonders if it stands for a number on the lifeboat the woman boarded.

"It's very worn, almost like maybe she would rub her thumb on the back," Carbone said. "I don't know why that's worn on the back. There's still gold on the back, but the brass is showing through part of it."

The necklace is made of 14-karat gold overlay, not solid 14 karat, Carbone explained. She supposes the woman was from the United States because a European necklace would have been made of 18-karat gold.

"This person was probably in steerage," she said.

Or perhaps, she said, the woman was a maid for a first- or second-class passenger.

"Which would make it more feasible, because if she was a maid, she couldn't afford solid gold jewelry," Carbone said.

The couple's daughter, Elizabeth Evangeliste of Jeannette, is scouring the ship's passenger list to track down whose initials "AWA" -- or perhaps "AMA" -- are engraved on the locket.

"I think it belonged to a passenger. I'm going through the list," said Evangeliste, who's determined to solve the mystery. "I'm just looking for AAs right now and leaving the M and W out of it."

Sometimes, the mystery of an artifact adds to its appeal, said Perry Blatz, an associate professor in Duquesne University's history department. Blatz directs the university's Public History program, which trains graduate students to work in museums, archives and historic sites.

To Blatz, the Carbone family's personal interest and connection to the event is notable.

"Of course, that's connected to actually having this piece of the past, even if they're mysterious like the locket and the piece of paper in it."

Sometimes history is called boring, he said, but the ability to see or hold an artifact enhances events from the past. That factor speaks to the continuing appeal of museums and hands-on exhibits, he said.

The Carbones' son, the late Natale "Nat" Carbone IV, bought the locket from an antiques dealer in New York at least 15 years ago.

Their son, who always took an interest in history, completed a five-volume senior thesis about the Titanic at The Kiski School in the 1970s. He collected the Titanic memorabilia kept in the home of the Carbones, avid collectors of antiques.

"Nat had seen the (Titanic) movie five times, and whenever Leo came up to the main deck, he said, 'Steerage was never permitted to mix with first class,' " Carbone said.

The family owns a small piece of coal scooped up from the Titanic. It sits atop a display reading "RMS Titanic Authentic Anthracite From the 1912 Maiden Voyage."

Betty Carbone bought the coal as a birthday gift for her son.

Evangeliste believes her brother's first piece in the collection was a newspaper.

Original newspapers published during April 1912 document the ship's sinking under headlines "The greatest of all tragedies of the sea" and "The last hour of the Titanic -- and after." The Carbones keep the yellowed front pages in frames.

Headlines on the front page of the April 21, 1912, early edition of the Buffalo Illustrated Express read, "ALL OVER" and "TOO LATE."

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