Recently, on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the tragedy of the steamer America in the early morning of December 24, 1871 in the Río de la Plata, we published a comment recalling the episode, the heroism of Luis Viale and some other details. Our friend, Deputy Director Guillermo Belcore, was impressed by this mention: “Ramón Artagaveytía who was saved in this shipwreck to die years later on the Titanic.” And he proposed to rescue his story.
The Artagaveytía are an old family settled in Montevideo, whose founder Ramón was born in 1796 in Santurzi, in Vizcaya, son of Manuel and María de Urioste. He arrived in Montevideo in 1813 and opened a business, then dedicated himself to the maritime transport business, an activity that he carried out seriously, which soon gave him great prestige. A friend of General Manuel Oribe, he identified with his cause, organized a battalion of Volunteers that he commanded and that he maintained with his fortune during the Great War. He died in Montevideo in 1856.
He had married on November 25, 1826 in the Matriz church with María Josefa Gómez Calvo, daughter of a wealthy merchant, a native of Galicia, installed in Montevideo and María Rita Calvo. The marriage procreated nine children, some of whom left numerous and recognized offspring on both banks of the Plata.
Ramón Fermín Artagaveytía, the sixth of the children, was born in July 1840, had an excellent education and acquired experience in business, surely after the death of his father when he and his older brothers took charge of its administration. He was the owner of several agricultural establishments: the Mara in Bernasconi, today the province of La Pampa; and in partnership with Otamendi from another in Castilla and with his brother Manuel from the San Ramón and Pincen fields in Puan in the province of Buenos, according to the 1912 Rural Guide. Some shearing records have been saved from some of these farms.
Adolfo Artagaveytía talented plastic artist, drew a countryman with his horse that bears the family brand.
In 1871, Don Ramón had embarked from Buenos Aires to Montevideo on the steamer América, as stated. Alejo Arocena was also traveling on that ship in the company of his nephews Ramón and Pelayo, whom he tried to make forget the death of his father in the yellow fever epidemic that year. Ramón Arocena, one of Alejo’s brothers, was Artagaveytia’s brother-in-law, since he was married to his sister Matilde.
In the fire the Arocena brothers died burned or drowned, and disappeared; while Artagaveytía, who was a great swimmer, dived from the top of the rail, after having given his life preserver to two women; When he came out to the surface, he discovered that another castaway had clung to his leg in danger of sinking him into his despair.
Among those who discussed the issue of America are Jimena Sáenz, Clara Nougues de Monsegur, who have also highlighted the degree of anguish it caused in the passengers and the trauma experienced by those who could be saved.
On February 9, 1912, Ramón wrote to his cousin Enrique Artagaveytía: “At last I will be able to travel and, above all, I will be able to sleep peacefully. The sinking of the “mérica was terrible!” The nightmares continue to haunt me. Even on the quietest trips, I wake up in the middle of the night with terrible nightmares and always hear the same fateful word: Fire! Fire! Fire! I’ve even gotten to the point where I imagine myself standing on deck with my lifebelt on.”
“You can’t imagine, Enrique, the security that the telegraph provides. When the América sank, off Montevideo, no one responded to the lights asking for help. Those who saw us from the Villa del Salto ship did not respond to our light signals. Now With a telegraph on board, that won’t happen again. We can instantly communicate with the whole world.”
MEDICINE IN PARIS
With the value of family tradition, Juan José Artagaveytía remembers that his grandfather Mario obtained his medical degree in 1910. His uncle Ramón “told him that in 1911 he was going to pay for his training in medicine in Paris, Montio (Ramón’s nickname) was single and a considerable fortune and he could do it. My grandfather was celebrating René Ussher Conde, descendant of Irish, when he found out that he was going to Paris for a year, she told him: “You are going to forget about me.” He replied: “As a Basque and verbally and I promise you that on March 24, 1912 we will be together here in Montevideo”. Once received, being in Paris, Montio tells him: “As a prize we will go to New York in first class on the Titanic” and Then you continue your trip to Montevideo”. My grandfather, on the trip on the ship of dreams, answered him: “Last night I dreamed that not even my girlfriend was crying”, later he learned that his sister had died that day and he dreamed of her crying; and he replied to Montio: “I gave him my word that I was going to be in Montevideo with her in March and if I go with you I will take another month and a half to see her and he canceled his trip.”
Almost a quarter of a century ago, a movie recalling the catastrophe of the ocean liner on its maiden voyage was a box office success, in which a romantic plot was told. This brief portrait of Ramón Fermín Artagaveytía, the man who had been saved from America and found his death 40 years later on the Titanic, would also be the subject of a documentary about those almost forgotten stories.
* Historian and vice president of the Academy of Communication Arts and Sciences.
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Artagaveytía: survived the sinking of the “America” and died on the “Titanic”