TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic Articles: Biography Of Oscar Arvid Hedman

BY PHILLIP GOWAN

 

OSCAR HEDMANThere was shock on the face of an elderly South Dakota widow when the brief Last Will and Testament of her husband was read. After years of uncompromising loyalty to the small Swedish man, she was grief-stricken to have lost him. She was almost 80 years old and her mental and physical health was ebbing quickly. The blow that now struck her from out of the blue seemed more than she could bear.

Family, friends, and acquaintances held varying opinions of Oscar Hedman. He was the kind and faithful member of the local Presbyterian Church. He was the respected Worshipful Master of the local Masonic Lodge. He was the trusted osteopath and chiropractor that people fondly addressed as "Doc." He was a loving and loyal husband. And he had survived the most famous shipwreck in history.

But Oscar Hedman was also the man who once moved from town to town to avoid citation - and possibly arrest - for never obtaining a license to practice his trade. He was the man who was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labour for holding public office, as it was thought, illegally. He was the man who drove his political opponents wild in their efforts to discredit him.

Most importantly, "Doc" was a winner - a man who always got his way. He stayed one step ahead of the government agencies that hounded him. He embarrassed his adversaries without lifting a finger. He survived disaster. He was loved and hated, ridiculed and honoured, blasphemed and glorified. In his presence one might feel anger, charm, disgust, frustration, loyalty, or love. In his presence one never felt boredom or indifference.

Oscar Hedman was born in Umca, Sweden on July 5, 1884, one of 5 children born to Gustaf and Sarah Sofia (Nelson) Hedman. He came to the United States on May 1, 1905 and lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Beach, North Dakota. He trained as an osteopath and a chiropractor but there is conflicting evidence as to his medical credentials. By 1911 he lived in Bowman, North Dakota and worked at various jobs and became a landowner. Late that year he returned to Sweden to visit relatives and remained until the following year.

Returning to North Dakota in April of 1912, Hedman boarded the Titanic at Southampton, and served as the leader and translator for a group of 17 Swedish immigrants. On the night of the sinking he was preparing to retire when he felt a "slight impact, scarcely noticeable." Later hearing a "commotion" outside his cabin, he decided to investigate and made his way to the boat deck. "Doc" gave a number of conflicting reports about his escape from the foundering ship and embellished his tales further as the years passed. He once claimed that a woman in a lifeboat yelled to him asking him if he could row. In an interview in 1957 he is quoted as having responded "I sure can!" But he added, "I would have said that if I never rowed a stroke in my life." He then supposedly jumped into the water and swam to the lifeboat and was saved. In another interview he claimed he had just waited until the last moment and then jumped into a lifeboat with the thought that if he was shot, he would just die faster. Whatever the true circumstances, it is anything but surprising that Oscar Hedman found a way to save himself.

After surviving Titanic, Mr. Hedman settled back into his normal life and on November 7, 1912 married Julia Mathilda (Tillie) Anderson. In 1918, while a resident of Sentinel Butte, North Dakota, Oscar registered for the WWI draft, stating that he was a farmer, medium height, with blue eyes and blonde hair-partly bald. The childless couple moved to Onida, South Dakota in 1920 and would live the rest of their lives there. Oscar's medical practice flourished until his retirement 40 years later. He and Tillie made one trip to Sweden by ship in 1922 although "Doc" later claimed that their flight to Sweden in 1953 was his only crossing of the Atlantic after Titanic.

OSCAR & TILLIE HEDMAN

In the early 1930's "Doc" was elected to the City Council of Onida. In keeping with his personality, he often found himself at odds with other council members and thwarted them at every turn when his own aspirations were at stake. In exasperation, the City Council hired an attorney to investigate his citizenship as local rumour inferred Hedman was never naturalized. "Doc" himself refused to provide any proof of citizenship fuelling the Council's hope that they could rid themselves of him after a thorough investigation. After months of research and no small expense in attorney's fees, Oscar's naturalization papers were located in Bowman, N.D. He had become a citizen of the U. S. A. on July 12, 1911. When the embarrassed council was forced to admit their mistake, "Doc" sat back in his chair, smiled smugly at the group and said: "I had it (his certificate of citizenship) in the drawer at home all the time."

On July 28, 1961 Oscar Hedman was driving his car on Main Street in Onida. Observers noticed that his car turned slowly toward the curb near the Post Office and struck another vehicle. He was rushed to the hospital but died 45 minutes later, having suffered a massive stroke. Onida turned out en masse for the funeral, whether out of friendship, duty, or curiosity. "Doc" was buried in the Onida Cemetery.

But the good man had one further maddening surprise to spring on his faithful wife. His will, dated September 26, 1960, read as follows:

"In case of death or inability to take care of my property, I appoint R. L. Koenig and Earl E. Kinder both of Onida, S. Dak. To be my administrators, and that property should be equally distributed to me and my wife, and that my share of my property and estate shall go to my brother Robert Hedman, of Vasavagan 9, Lidingo 1, Stockholm, Sweden, or to his children and to nobody else."

Although Tillie Hedman contested the will, it was declared valid, and she found herself in a position of having to sell her home to pay off a brother-in-law she hardly knew. Not long afterward she was judged "incompetent" and confined to a nursing home until she died on April 7, 1965. Her estate, valued at $88,000, passed to her nieces and nephews.

 

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