Scene and Heard

Localizing Titanic history, brewmasters, historians fundraise for Grove museum

Marion Wright wore this heavy, wool coat on her voyage to marry Grove fruit farmer Arthur Woolcot. After she survived the titanic’s famous collision course, this coat was known among friends and family as “The Lucky Coat.”

COTTAGE GROVE – It’s easy to wonder, rummaging through your great-grandmother’s closet, where the thick timeline of history intersects with yours. Lucky for Cottage Grove, the historians at the Cottage Grove Museum have uncovered the storied past of one Grover — Marion Wright Woolcott. 

In 1912, Marion took her lucky wool coat on a whirlwind trip across the North Atlantic to meet her soon-to-be husband — her ship of choice? The Titanic. She was one of only five Oregon bound travelers to survive the wreckage. 

Tonight, the Coast Fork Brewing Company and the Cottage Grove Museum will host a benefit to raise awareness of Cottage Grove resident and Titanic survivor Marion Wright Woolcott and her Lucky Coat, which is on exhibit at the museum. 

Head brewer at Coast Fork, Stephen Mathys, has brewed a limited-release ale, “”Old Lucky Coat Ale,” in honor of the garment that kept Marion warm during her harrowing escape. 

“Our Lucky Coat Ale is a nod to the beer’s Marion would have drank on a cold night in England,” Mathys said. “I brew English ales because it’s cheaper than a plane ticket – and we’ve made this as close as we can to a true, original English brown ale.” 

Mathys worked over a kettle fire, replicating the brew as closely as possible. “Without a time machine,” he said, “we can’t know all the details, but we can get pretty close.” 

During the fundraiser, Mathys will describe the brewing of this delicious draft and the history of “Old” Ales. It is possible some of the 15,000 bottles of ale loaded on to the Titanic were “Old” Ales.

Wright’s letters, now published in a short collection by the Museum, tell the harrowing first-hand account of a young woman — a second class passenger — sailing aboard the Titanic from England to the far away small town of Cottage Grove.  

She was born in Yeovil, England, where she went on to fall in love with farmer Arthur Woolcott. Arthur soon emigrated to Cottage Grove 1907, and Marie was set to follow him to be married.

As a consequence, she set off for America aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage. 

On April 14, four days into the crossing, she hit that fateful iceberg. The collision caused the hull plates to buckle inwards along the starboard side and ripped open five of her sixteen watertight compartments to the sea. 

Passengers and crew members were hurried into lifeboats. Marie boarded lifeboat No 9. One of only 20 lifeboats, set to hold only 1,178 people, despite the over 2,200 people on board.

Marie was saved by the rescue vessel Carpathia. There, she wrote to her father and “all that I love.” Her letter describes the painful reality experienced by the hundreds of women who’d suddenly become widows. She wrote of the, “awful suffering that a great number of the rescued have been and are going through now,” calling it, “heart rending,” and feeling “thankful that I have lost no one.” 

Just five days after her horrific ordeal, Marie married Arthur Woolcott in New York City. In its April 23, 1912 edition of the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, it was reported that Marion had lost her trousseau and wedding gifts, but the Women’s Relief Committee, hearing of the romance, quickly provided her with a fresh trousseau.” She wore the coat on her wedding day, too. 

The pair moved to a farm just five miles west of Cottage Grove, where Arthur was a fruit farmer. Even late into her life, the “Lucky Coat” – a maroon, brass-buttoned wool layer, came to represent her tumultuous trip across the Pacific. 

Their sons, Jon, Robert, and Russell went on to fight in the second World War, and Marion, still in possession of her coat, made the boys bible covers out of its fabric. All three returned home. Lucky indeed. 

Even without its wearer, the coat has been delighting Titanic aficionados across the country, taking prominent status in exhibits housed by the National Geographic headquarters in Washington D.C. and the Reagan Library. 

Today, it’s back home in the Grove.

“People who live in Cottage Grove should be proud of what they have in their community,” said Cathy Bellavita, a volunteer at the Cottage Grove Museum. “No one would suspect such an important artifact to be from such a small town. But it is.”

The fundraiser begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Coast Fork Brewery, where copies of the Museum’s book of Marion’s letters will be available for purchase, as well as hearty pints of Mathys “Lucky Coat Ale.”