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A Rivet of Love

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2012

Read Part 1: A Silk Gown and a Kiss?

Letter #1

Dear Arlene,

I got your uncle’s address from your parents. Did you make it there yet? I have been thinking about you since the moment you left. I miss you so much already. I hope and pray that you made it there safely. Please let me know as soon as you can.

Do you know what a rivet is? I doubt that you do. Don’t worry—I’m not going to give you a long lecture about shipbuilding and the sort—you’ll see that rivets relate to us! Rivets are metal pins that are used for passing through holes in two or more plates or pieces to hold them together. Rivets have a head at one end and the other end is hammered into a head after insertion. We are using over 3 million rivets on the ship that I’m working on. I’m including a photo of the ship—which is nearly complete—and you can see the rivets on it.

I kind of think of our love as the rivets of our relationship. You know I’m not good about sharing my feelings, but I know that we can make it through this separation. We have a bond that just can’t be broken. I am a good riveter for the ship and I want to be a good riveter in our marriage, too.

The ship really is amazing. Can you believe it has a swimming pool on board?? It also has cafes and squash courts, Turkish baths and barbershops… Not to mention the three libraries! I can’t wait until I’m on board and headed straight to you.

Yours (thank you for being mine),


Letter #2

Dear Sean,

After traveling on a cramped, smelly ship I landed in America. I ran into my uncle’s arms when we finally docked. I know that you will have a much more comfortable sea voyage than I did—especially with the Turkish baths and everything!

We took a train that brought us right to the center of the town of Emmitsburg in the state of Maryland. It’s not as close to the water as Belfast, but I think we will eventually like it here. Right now I just miss you and my family. I liked hearing about the rivets and you comparing our love to them. You’re already being a good riveter in our marriage and I know we can both be even better.

I overheard one of the locals singing a song about the town and caught part of the lyrics:

"Emmitsburg's a pretty place, not far from the mountain,

Most of it's along one street, and in the Square's a fountain…"

That’s pretty accurate. The town has a great mountain backdrop and miles and miles of beautiful fields. Can we climb the mountain and watch the sunrise together? Can we build our house so that we overlook the green fields and the mountain in the same view from our bedroom window?

The Spangler Hotel, Annan’s Bank and General Store, and the Annan Brother’s twin houses surround the town’s fountain. The real center of town, though, is Peter Burket’s Store, where all the gossip is shared. A couple of the men in town whistled when I first walked up to the store. I made sure to hold my hand (with my ring on my finger) up as I walked around. I heard some of them saying that they think my husband left me when I arrived in America… or you’re a prominent doctor who stopped to visit patients on the way… I’ll let them keep guessing!

I’m already starting to forget the long days that I would spend in the factory in Belfast. My uncle has arranged for me to take classes at St. Joseph’s College and do some sewing work on the side. The townspeople seem to be separate from the college people… but I hope that I can be a part of both groups. There’s a college here for men too—Mount St. Mary’s—perhaps you would like to attend some classes? I know that we will want to get our house built and start farming but this place is a great opportunity to receive a higher education!

Much love (Of course I’m yours),


Letter #3

Dear Arlene,

I was so happy to get your letter! Emmitsburg sounds really great. The people must be nice if they welcomed you into school in the middle of the semester and if they are already supplying you with sewing work.

I wish I were already there. If you can remember back to the days when you were exhausted after factory work, that’s the way I’ve been feeling after being at the ship-yard. I don’t want to frighten you but I’m not feeling the best… I’m actually not feeling well at all.

I’ve had to take a break from my riveting work. I can’t get out of bed all day. I need to try again soon, though. You know we spent most of our money on your trip. The only way I will be able to get on a ship anytime soon is if I finish my work on this ship. Remember I made a deal with the foreman that I’d get a ride on the ship if I did a certain amount of riveting work? I still need to do a lot more if he’s going to let me on…

The riveting work is really taxing on my body because you have to heat the rivets to the perfect temperature and hammer them in—they can be pretty tricky. My riveting crew is also really suffering without me there, since there are few guys who really know how to do riveting. I’ve been telling the crew that we should use the highest quality rivets because that would make the ship more sound (and our work easier) but we are only using the No. 4 steel rivets for the ship’s central hull. They’re sticking with lower quality No. 3 iron rivets for the stern and bow. I know that doesn’t make sense to you, but I just can’t understand what they are cutting corners on such an important items when they are spending so much on making the interior so lavish.

As I lay in bed, I think about what a sensible and beautiful girl you are. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that. There are a lot of things I haven’t told you. I loved you that day when you came to the ship-yard and you tripped and fell and smiled as water poured over you. You’re always getting the boys to whistle at you. I yelled at the guy who whistled at you at the ship-yard to back off of my girl after you left. You were so radiant when you asked me to marry you. What a clever girl to rely on an old folklore to get a husband! I was going to ask you soon anyway.

Arlene, you should read Chapter 6 of the Book of Tobit in the Bible. It is a good story about how to approach a relationship without fear. I’m fearful right now because I don’t know when I’ll ever see you again, but God gave Tobias the ability to get rid of his fear.

Take care, my love. Yours,


Letter #4

My dear Sean!

I’ve been so upset thinking about you sick back in Belfast! I should have stayed with you. I know that you must be really bad if you’re not going to work. This is miserable wondering about you all day and not being able to do anything.

I sure hope that our friends are looking after you. Please ask people to help you and don’t do everything on your own. I’ve actually been sick here too. I feel queasy in the mornings and I have had to take lighter work loads.

I did read the Book of Tobit—I know everything will work out somehow. I really hope that you can make it on the ship you’re helping build. Did they name it yet? I feel desperate here without you but if it doesn’t work we will earn money and find another way. "The course of true love never did run smooth…" (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream).



Letter #5


I have to write this note quickly. There is not much time. I have been working on my ship again, but still not that much. They decided to name her the Titanic! Titans were powerful gods in Greek mythology and the Titanic is the largest ship in the world!

Now for the big surprise: I was awarded a spot on the Titanic as part of the crew to repair anything that might go wrong on her maiden voyage to America. I worry about the rivets, but they claim she is unsinkable.

It’s almost time to see you, we sail in 7 days, so by the time you get this note I will be on my way. I can’t wait to see you, America, and Emmitsburg, the community we will call home until we are old and gray.



Arlene pushed back her dark brown hair and a couple tears dripped from her eyes onto the last note from Sean. Her husband was coming! He must have gotten better! And oh, how she would love to hug whatever man enabled her husband to go aboard as a worker! Now she had to get ready for him. No, she would do more than that, she determined. She would go meet him in New York City and surprise him on the pier when the giant ship Titanic pulled into port!

Read Part 3: Pier 54

Read other articles by Kelly Conroy