A piece of history has officially hit the market in Palmyra. A property at 521 Leconey Ave., listed for $204,900 on real estate brokerage website Redfin, is described as “a magnificent Victorian home with 9-foot ceilings, crown and ceiling moldings.”
What the listing fails to mention is the property was once owned by August Henry Weikman, a survivor and the sole American crew member of the RMS Titanic.
According to Will Valentino, trustee of the Palmyra Historical and Cultural Society, the home’s historical significance to Palmyra goes back even further than Weikman’s time as its owner.
Before Weikman moved to Palmyra in the 1890s, the home was built by Rebecca Lore, the daughter of Isaiah Toy, a local politician and landowner who gave Palmyra its name in 1849.
Fast forward to 1912, Weikman returns to his hometown after the sinking of the Titanic a local hero. Wheelchair-bound after suffering severe frostbite to his legs, he had to be wheeled from the train station where he was met with crowds of people eagerly awaiting the return of one of the 706 people to survive the Titanic disaster.
Given his newfound status as a local celebrity, Weikman began giving talks at local institutions and organizations.
In an article he penned about Weikman for Philly.com, Valentino recounted Weikman’s grandson, Theophile M. D’Autrechy’s telling of his grandfather’s survival story.
According to D’Autrechy, after being pulled from the freezing water, his grandfather passed out on the rescue ship Carpathia following a shot of brandy. With his weakened pulse, he was mistaken for dead and sewn into a body bag in steerage. He was freed from the bag after women in the cabin next to him heard his screams as he struggled to extricate himself.
After word reached home of the loss of the Titanic, Weikman’s family assumed they would never see him again, until his wife received a marconigram (message sent via radio) from the rescue ship that read “Safe and well…Gus”.
Valentino says Weikman’s personal account of the events leading to the actual sinking of the Titanic is not without its skeptics.
“His testimony was controversial in that it contradicted other testimonies in favor of his boss, Bruce Ismay. Weikman was a White Star Company (owners of the Titanic) man and his loyalty was to the shipping line,” said Valentino.
Weikman died in 1924 and is buried in Morgan Cemetery in Cinnaminson.
When he was recently offered a chance to tour the house, Valentino jumped at the opportunity.
“The house is in very good condition with many original details to the period intact, which is rare, but not unusual for a house like this. I don’t doubt the previous owners had been aware of the house’s history because on the kitchen counter was a framed article with a picture of Weikman, so it was something they were proud of.”
Valentino was glad to see so much of the original house’s design still intact and hopes that whoever ends up buying the property shows a similar respect for its history.
“Palmyra has no protections in place for a home like this and our concern is the house will hopefully find a proper curator who understands its history,” said Valentino. “It would be a sad day for Palmyra if this house was renovated and not respected for its history. It would make a great local history museum for the Palmyra Historical Society, but that cannot happen without a large gift or donation to the organization.”
Despite his concerns, Valentino believes there is great local interest in the property, especially since its recent listing, that will hopefully prevent its colorful past from being erased.
“Ignore your history and it will go away. I think we can do better in Palmyra. Fifteen thousand people have viewed the Palmyra Historical Society’s Facebook post about the house. The buzz is out. People are interested,” said Valentino.