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This Light-Up Cane Saved Lives on the Titanic

Ella White's walking stick expected to fetch $500K at auction
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2019 7:56 AM CDT
Titanic survivor Ella White's walking cane with a battery-powered light is seen here.   (Rafael Zegarra/Guernsey's Auction House via AP)

(Newser) – An incredible artifact that helped guide 26 Titanic survivors to safety could be yours, if you have half a million dollars to burn. After injuring an ankle while boarding the ship, per OutSmart, first-class passenger Ella White acquired an impressive, modern cane with a bakelite head that—just 33 years after the invention of the electric light bulb—held a small, battery-powered light. Awoken on April 14, 1912, to a rumbling that felt "as though we went over about a thousand marbles," the wealthy widow of Westchester, NY, used the cane to guide her and a female companion to Lifeboat No. 8, just the second boat to flee the sinking ship, reports Atlas Obscura. Since "the lamp on the boat was absolutely worth nothing," 55-year-old White continued to hold the cane aloft to illuminate the path and signal ships. "That was the only light we had," she said in Senate testimony.

Hoping to nab more survivors, the 23 women and four male dining-room stewards on the lifeboat later turned back in time to watch the Titanic sink. They were eventually rescued by the ship Carpathia. White is said to have left the cane to her companion, a woman with whom she lived for 30 years and perhaps had a romantic relationship. It's believed to have then passed to White's niece, whose relatives—after some bickering—have agreed to an auction sale. "The fact that this cane still exists is extraordinary," says White's great-grandnephew John Hoving, who notes the light emitted only a dim glow by the early 1970s. "This very walking stick was used to save lives," adds Arlan Ettinger of Guernsey's, which will auction the cane on Saturday in Newport, RI, per Fox News. It's expected to fetch up to $500,000. (A letter on Titanic stationery sold for $166,000.)

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