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Friday, January 1, 2016

Was there someone from Braceville on the Lusitania?

“I was reading Dead Wake, Erik Larson’s book about the Lusitania, and it mentioned that someone on the boat was from Braceville. Can you tell me anything about her?”

A quick internet search told us that Jessie Taft Smith was the Braceville resident in question. She was born into one of Braceville’s original pioneer families in February 1876. In October 1901, she married John Smith (also from a prominent family) at the Methodist Church, and the two moved to Chicago shortly after. John developed an airplane engine that the British Admiralty was interested in, so in 1915, he went to England and Jessie moved back to Braceville. A few months after he’d left, he contacted Jessie, asking her to bring him blueprint plans for one of his engines. We were able to find her passport application (including a photograph) on On the application, she gives “to accompany husband (who is there with passport)” as her reason for visiting Great Britain. John paid for her passage on the Lusitania.

The Lusitania began its journey from New York to Great Britain on May 1. On May 7, it was torpedoed by a U-20 submarine in the Irish Channel. Jessie made it into one of the lifeboats and was rescued by a British ship and reunited with her husband. She survived the sinking, but the stress of it took a toll on her, and she suffered a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. Jessie Taft Smith died in 1928 at the age of fifty-two. She is buried in Braceville Cemetery.

We found our online information at,, and Encyclopedia Titanica. The History of Braceville Township Trumbull County Ohio by Grace R. Sells has a brief section on Jessie Taft Smith. We also have Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, the book that inspired the question. 

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