AMENIA, ND – Just north of Casselton, outside of Amenia, is a small cemetery with a large monument in the middle. It honors the memory of one of the greatest Bonanza farm couples in this region who were on board the Titanic 110 years ago.
Surrounded by the peaceful River Rush and a freshly planted field of soybeans, Amenia Cemetery is nestled in a grove of trees. But unless you know what you’re looking for, you’d never know the story behind this Chaffee family monument.
“It’s a nice little cemetery,” said Shaun Schipper, of Fargo.
Schipper was looking for a place to record a song when he stopped at this cemetery.
“Walking through this cemetery, it’s like you’re drawn to this big headstone,” he said. “I came here and read the names of the Chaffees, when they were born and died here.”
What Schipper didn’t notice was the writing on the back of the stone, but that changed as he continued walking.
“‘Herbert Fuller Chaffee. Born in Sharon, Connecticut, November 20, 1865. Lost at sea with SS Titanic April 15, 1912,'” Schipper read. “It pretty much blew my mind, to find this out here, just by chance. It’s on the back, so a lot of people wouldn’t see it.”
HF Chaffee died on the Titanic. He and his wife, Carrie, lived in Amenia and were wealthy owners of farms and Bonanza land here. They were part of the Amenia-Sharon Land Company.
The Chaffees were vacationing in Europe when they learned they were expecting a grandchild, so they wanted to return to the United States and they boarded the first returning ship: the Titanic.
Herbert would not survive the sinking of the Titanic, but Carrie got into a lifeboat. She told a newspaper that her husband had “pushed her through the narrow gap between the rail and the boat” and told her they would be reunited soon. They never were.
“It was totally amazing, one of the coolest finds I’ve ever come across,” Schipper said. “Of the hundreds of millions of headstones in the United States, (…) and I come across this one in Amenia, North Dakota, across the country, in this tiny little cemetery with, I think, less of 75 headstones.”
The North Dakota State University Archives received the complete collection of Chaffee family documents, including the Titanic passenger list of survivors and those who died. HF Chaffee’s body was never found. Carrie returned to the mansion in Amenia, North Dakota.
“The house they had, it looked like she didn’t want to live in it anymore, and they ended up tearing it down. There were just too many memories,” said John Hallberg, an NDSU archivist.
About 1,500 people died in the sinking of the Titanic. Another passenger from North Dakota survived the tragedy. The Norwegian immigrant, Olaus Abelseth, returned to America and lived in Hettinger.
For Schipper, this quick trip to a countryside cemetery turned out to be a fascinating history lesson. One of the world’s greatest tragedies at sea has an incredible connection to a Cass County prairie.