Ada Perine

Ada (Balls) Perine was a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, and spent her final years at the Bonnie Blink retirement community of the Maryland Masonic Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley. (Photo from Baltimore Sun archives / 1959 / April 14, 2012)

To this day the hymn, "Nearer My God to Thee," is banned from the chapel at the Bonnie Blink retirement community at the Maryland Masonic Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley.

For Ada (Balls) Perine, who lived there from 1953 to her death in 1967, the song was simply too painful.

"Every time that particular hymn was played, she cried," said Edward Heimiller, curator of the library and museum on the Maryland Masonic Grand Lodge campus.

After many occasions witnessing Ada break down, the chaplain asked her why the song bothered her so.


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She told him — and he ordered it never to be played again.

One hundred years ago this weekend, "Nearer My God to Thee" was the last song Ada heard from the band that was playing on the deck of the RMS Titanic after she boarded a lifeboat and was lowered to the waters below.

On her way to America to start a new life, Ada was caught in the tragedy marking its centennial anniversary this weekend, and found herself that night bidding farewell forever to her brother-in-law on the Titanic deck.

"We're all in God's hands now, honey," he told her just before they were separated.

She never saw him again.

The story of Ada Balls is one of two tales being recalled in a rare weekend exhibit, Saturday and Sunday, April 14-15, at the Stephen J. Ponzillo Jr. Memorial Library and Museum at the Grand Lodge of Masons in Maryland, 304 International Circle, Hunt Valley.

The other story depicted in the exhibit is that of Oscar Woody, a Virginia freemason who served as postal clerk on the Titanic, and who died in the disaster. His body was recovered a week later on April 22.

Woody was 44 years old ... barely.

His birthday was April 15.

'I'll never forget that awful sight'

Ada Balls (some references note her last name as Ball) had already experienced tragedy in her life when the events of April 14 and 15, 1912, added another load.

Born Ada E. Hall in 1875, in Bromley, Kent, England, she was married to Martin Luther Balls at the age of 21, in London in 1896.

The couple had two sons. Then Martin Luther died. At least one resource, the online "encyclopedia titanica," notes that Ada was listed in a 1901 census as "widow, a laundry washer."

Ada decided to emigrate to the United States to be near her sister, Emily, and brother-in-law, the Rev. Robert Bateman, and to help the two of them set up a mission in Jacksonville, Fla.

At age 36, she boarded the Titanic at Southampton on April 10, 1912, with a second-class ticket, accompanied by the Rev. Bateman.

Being on, as she called it, the "biggest vessel afloat" was no doubt exciting. In a 1963 transcript of an interview Ada gave at Bonnie Blink — Heimiller does not know where, or even if, it was published — she recalled that on the evening of April 14, just hours before the disaster, "I felt so happy."