A Fateful Voyage: Aboard the Titanic With Lewis County's 'Hop King'

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Klaber left behind his life and successful business when he boarded the luxury passenger ship, the Olympic, for a business trip to Europe in early 1912.

After stopping at the London office of Klaber, Wolf & Netter, he traveled the European continent drumming up buyers for his hops. After several months, though, he was ready to return home.

The “hop king” wrote to a business partner in Seattle, Ben Moyses of the Independent Brewing Company, shortly before heading home. The Seattle Times on April 21, 1912, published portions of his letter.

“I have determined to leave here for home on the new steamship Titanic. The other day I was sitting in a leading hotel here and noticed a man reading what looked like an American newspaper. I ‘rubbered’ over his shoulder and found that it was a copy of The Seattle Times. My, it looked good to me to see a Seattle newspaper here in London. I introduced myself and found that I was talking to a Seattle business man, W. R. Owens, and we spent five hours together talking about ‘God’s country.’ I hope to be there soon and I shall leave here as soon as I can make arrangements.”

Herbert Edwin Freeman, London manager of Klaber, Wolf & Netter, accompanied Klaber to the offices of the White Star Line, seeing his wealthy boss pay 26 pounds 11 shillings (about $150 at the time) for a first-class ticket on the Titanic. According to his ticket, No. 113028, he would be on the C deck in cabin C-124. Freeman later signed a deposition attesting to the purchase and saying he was with Klaber at London’s Waterloo Station April 10 when the American boarded a special boat train for Titanic passengers leaving from Southampton.

Aboard the 882.5-foot-long luxury ocean liner, Klaber shared a cabin with 40-year-old London stockbroker Austen Partner, who left his two sons at home when he left for Canada on business. Down the hall on the same deck were the cabins of John Jacob Astor, a New York property developer and great-grandson of the famous fur trader who founded Astoria, and his entourage (his wife, a manservant, maid, private nurse, and a pet Airedale). Altogether, the ship carried more than 1,300 passengers and nearly 900 crew members.

Most of the men aboard the Titanic died, but 705 men, women and children survivors on lifeboats told of the tragedy. Many were sleeping at midnight when they heard a grinding, tearing sound as forward motion of the ship traveling 21 knots halted and engines stopped. Men rapped on doors, awakening passengers and encouraging them to dress and climb to the top deck. One crew member told a woman the ship had only busted two pipes, but another advised her to board a lifeboat.

Lifeboat passengers saw men lighting cigarettes and waving goodbye, musicians performing on the deck, and crew members scrambling to load the last lifeboats shortly before 2 a.m. At 2:17 a.m. April 15, the darkened hulk of the “unsinkable” luxury liner slipped into the frigid Atlantic Ocean, taking more than 1,500 people with her.

Recovering From Tragedy

After the rescue of survivors, searchers retrieved as many bodies as they could find to provide family members closure and a burial service. David Netter, a liquor dealer with United Supply Co. of Philadelphia, sent a telegram followed by a letter May 8, 1912, asking about the body of his cousin, Herman Klaber. He described the hop king as six feet tall, with brown hair, a sandy complexion, a high forehead and straight nose, weighing about 190 pounds. He sent a photograph of his cousin, hoping his body could be identified.

“Mr. Klaber’s family has been reconciled to the fact that he has given up his life on the Titanic,” Netter wrote. “Naturally they desire me to use my best efforts as to any information concerning the remains that may be brought to shore.”

His body was never identified among those recovered. He was listed among the wealthiest to perish on the Titanic.

The Portland businessman owned two hop farms in Lewis County — one at Klaber and another 1 1/2 miles southwest of Chehalis — and a half interest in two businesses the largest grocery store in Portland and Klaber, Wolf & Netter, a worldwide hop dealer. He also owned Herman Klaber & Co. of Tacoma and shared interest in Klaber Investment Co. of Tacoma with H.A. Kaufman.

Kaufman served as executor of his brother-in-law’s will, which left most of his $500,000 estate to his wife and daughter, although he provided $25,000 each to his nieces, Dorothy Danhauser and Elsa Kaufman. Tragically, less than two years later, Dorothy was shot and killed by a former suitor, Abraham Pepper, while honeymooning in San Francisco with her husband, piano salesman S.L. Johnson. Elsa later married Seattle lawyer Sam Levinson, according to an April 12, 2001, Tacoma News Tribune story.

Klaber also gave $1,000 each to Freeman, stenographer Nellie Blade, and other employees, as well as to the Beth Israel congregations in Tacoma and San Francisco, with the request that stained glass windows be installed to honor his late parents.

After Herman’s death, his wife Gertrude moved back to Sacramento to live with her parents. She never remarried and died March 17, 1961. Their daughter, Bernice, grew up in California and married Samuel Jacobs of Sacramento, and lived in San Francisco, where she died Feb. 23, 1962, at the age of 52. He died May 1, 1997.

For two decades after the Titanic sank, workers continued harvesting hops at Klaber, but the crop was plagued by a downy mildew fungus and lack of strong leadership. By 1945, the hopyard closed and the community of Klaber faded away.

Today, only a sign erected by the Baw Faw Grange, next to the Boistfort Elementary School, attests to the valley’s former glory as the hop capital of the world.