Rural North Dakota cemetery home to Titanic couple's monument

What started off as simple stop at a country cemetery turned into a big history moment for a Fargo man.

Chaffey cemetery stone at Amenia Cemetery.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

AMENIA, N.D. — Just north of Casselton, outside of Amenia, is a small cemetery with a large monument in the middle. It honors the memory of one of this region's biggest Bonanza farm couple who just happened to be on board the Titanic 110 years ago.

Bookended by the quiet Rush River and a freshly planted soybean field, the Amenia Cemetery sits nestled in a grove of trees. But unless you know what you are searching for, you would never know the history behind this Chaffee family monument.

"It's a beautiful little cemetery," Shaun Schipper, of Fargo, said.

Schipper was out scouting for a place to record a song when he stopped at this cemetery.

"Walking through this cemetery — it's like you're drawn to this big headstone," he said. "I came over here and read the names of the Chaffees, of when they were born and died here."


What Schipper didn't notice was the writing on the back of the stone, but that changed as he continued his walk.

"'Herbert Fuller Chaffee. Born in Sharon, Connecticut, Nov. 20, 1865. Lost at sea with S.S. Titanic April 15, 1912,'" Schipper read. "That about blew my mind, to find this out here, just at random. It's on the backside, so a lot of people wouldn't see it."

H.F. Chaffee died on the Titanic. He and his wife, Carrie, lived in Amenia and were wealthy Bonanza farm and land owners here. They were part of the Amenia-Sharon Land Company.

The Chaffees were in Europe on vacation when they got news they were expecting a grandchild, so they wanted to get back to the states, and they got on the first ship headed back: the Titanic.

Herbert would not survive the sinking of the Titanic, but Carrie got in a lifeboat. She told a newspaper her husband, "pushed her through the narrow space between the rail and the boat" and told her they would be reunited soon. They never were.

"It was totally amazing, one of the coolest finds I have ever come across," Schipper said. "Out of the hundreds of millions of headstones in the United States, (...) and I come across this one in Amenia, North Dakota, in the country, in this tiny little cemetery with, I think, less than 75 headstones."

North Dakota State University Archives received the complete collection from the Chaffee family documents, including the Titanic passenger list of survivors and those who died. H.F. Chaffee's body was never found. Carrie returned to the mansion in Amenia, North Dakota.

"The house that they had, it sounds like she didn't want to live there anymore, and they ended up tearing it down. There were just too many memories," said John Hallberg, an NDSU Archivist.


Approximately 1,500 people died in the sinking of the Titanic. Another North Dakota passenger survived the tragedy. The Norwegian immigrant, Olaus Abelseth, returned to America and lived in Hettinger.

For Schipper, that quick trip to a country cemetery turned out to be a fascinating history lesson. One of the world's biggest tragedies at sea has an incredible connection to a Cass County prairie.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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