Fact Check

Abandoned Castle 'Frozen in Time' After Owner Died on Titanic?

The claim stems from an urban explorer on TikTok.

Published May 13, 2024

 (Tiktok / Pimpmycamel)
Image courtesy of Tiktok / Pimpmycamel
Claim:
Photos and videos show a French castle abandoned after its owner Engelhart Cornelius ?stby, a Norwegian businessman, died in the Titanic sinking.
Context

The castle was "abandoned" around 2017. The furniture shown in photos was put there in the 2000s. No evidence suggests ?stby ever set foot on the property.

Beginning around 2020, rumors of a "secret," abandoned castle in France inspired many so-called "urban explorers" ("urbex," for short) to find its location, break in, and photograph its abandoned contents. The property is known as the Chataeu de la Chasseigne, and it has a long history that dates back to the 1500s.?

One person inspired to travel there, in 2022, was urbex TikToker Ramy Awad. On that trip, he created a video, titled "Exploring a castle that was owned by passengers on the Titanic," that went viral, thanks in part to coverage in outlets like the New York Post and Newsweek. Speaking to the Post, Awad claimed that?

[The] property was once home to Norwegian businessman, Engelhart Cornelius Ostby, who died in the maritime tragedy, on April 14, 1912. [...] Awad claimed he came across paperwork inside the castle linking the Norwegian with the castle.

He shared essentially the same video again in May 2024, bringing claims of a Titanic link further virality.

Via TikTok, Snopes contacted Awad to ask what documentation led him to conclude that ?stby was connected to the property. Citing our coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, he responded that he "had no words for" Snopes and blocked this reporter's account.?

Snopes can find no evidence to substantiate the claim that ?stby inhabited this residence, but we can find ample evidence against the notion.?

Who Was Engelhart Cornelius ?stby?

?stby was born in Norway in 1847. He moved to the United States in 1869 and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. There, he made a name for himself as a jeweler and, later, a bank executive. A widower at the time of his death, he had five children, including one daughter, Helen, who traveled alongside him during frequent trips to France and other countries for business.?

During a vacation to France with Helen, according to the Encyclopedia Titanica, the two decided to buy tickets back home via the inaugural voyage of the Titanic:?

In the middle of January 1912 Engelhart traveled again to Europe, he needed a vacation, and again Helen accompanied him. They traveled around Southern Europe and Egypt and while at Nice, France they first heard about the possibility of returning to America on the Titanic. They journeyed on to Paris where they met Frank and Anna Warren whom they had previously met in Egypt. The Warrens already had their ticket for the Titanic.

Engelhart paid ?62 for their tickets, according to White Star their last address was c/o Brown Shipley, Pall Mall, London SW, so perhaps they had also visited England. However, it was at the French port of Cherbourg that they boarded the Titanic in first class, Engelhart occupying cabin B-30 and Helen B-36. Engelhart carried with him his old doctor's bag he always used when traveling. In it he had gems, precious stones and other valuables that he had bought in Paris.

Helen made it to a life raft and survived. Engelhart was not as lucky. His body was found the next day by another boat, the Mackay-Bennett. ?stby's body was transported to Rhode Island for his funeral, according to a Boston Globe report:

E. C. OSTBY BURIED.?

Manufacturing Jeweler of Providence, Was Drowned When the Titanic Went Down.?

PROVIDENCE. R I. May 4 -The funeral of Englehart C. Ostby, the manufacturing jeweler who was drowned when the Titanic went down, was buried at his late residence in this city this afternoon. The services were private. The body was recovered by the steamer Mackay-Bennett, and arrived here from Halifax yesterday.

What Happened to the Chateau de la Chasseigne?

Awad's video of the Chateau is overlaid with text that makes these claims:

The family that lived in this castle went on the Titanic and never returned. On April 10, 1912, the Ostby family boarded the Titanic en route to New York City.?

The Titanic would sink in the North Atlantic Ocean, claiming the lives of 1,503 people. Their bodies were never recovered from the ocean. Located in France, this castle remains abandoned [and] frozen in time.?

Knowing what little we do about ?stby is enough to recognize several factual deficiencies in this text. Only two members of the ?stby family were on the Titanic, and one of them survived. Engelman ?stby's body was, in fact, recovered, and sent back to his home. That home was in Rhode Island, not France.?

More to the point: At the time of the Titanic's sinking, a French family tied to ancient nobility owned Chasseinge. This family was responsible for building up the structure that is presently in decay, beginning in the 1860s, according to the French urbex website Souterrain-Lyon. The family held on to it for four generations:

First owned by a lord, it was bought by a Count whose father was a king's musketeer and his mother came from one of the oldest families of the French nobility. It was he who undertook these transformations. [...] We know that the castle [remained] in his family for around a century. It was undoubtedly his great-great-grandson who put it up for sale at the end of the 20th century.?

This leaves no room for the ?stby family to have come into ownership of the castle.

Further, several videos or posts on social media and blogs suggest or strongly imply that the property was "frozen in time" following its owner's death on the Titanic. In reality, almost nothing pictured in the property stems from its historic owners.?

In 2005, an Italian couple reportedly purchased the property as a vacation home, and they added many of the items visible in the pictures and videos. According to Souterrain-Lyon, the items include second-hand material sourced from a French charity, Emmaüs, that is similar to the Salvation Army.?

In 2017, according to a non-profit dedicated to protecting the property from vandalism and structural decline, an Indonesian couple purchased the property and never returned. The nonprofit group created a petition in August 2021 for the government to seize the property from those owners, who allegedly have not paid any taxes on the property, as reported by local French press (translated by Google):

In order to influence the future of the site, interested people (a dozen, including these four young people) formed an association (Les Amis de la Chasseigne). The members of the association are trying to contact the owners (an Indonesian couple who came there only once during the signing of the deed of sale). They acquired other castles in France and abroad.?

We reached out to the non-profit group Friends of Chateau de la Chasseigne via its petition page to ask if it had heard anything about a possible link to the Titanic. The group did not immediately return our request for comment.

Because the source of the claim that asserted Chateau de la Chasseigne was abandoned by a drowned Titanic passenger has not provided any evidence to support that notion, because the pictures show the home as it was abandoned around 2017, not 1912, and because the ?stby family lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and not France, we rate this claim as "False."?

Sources

Ch?teau Secret - Découvrez l'histoire du ch?teau abandonné. 5 Feb. 2020, https://www.souterrain-lyon.com/chateau-secret-urbex/.

"E. C. Ostby Buried." The Boston Globe, 4 May 1912, p. 2. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/article/the-boston-globe-e-c-ostby-buried/146911940/.

"Engelhart Cornelius ?stby." Encyclopedia Titanica, https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victim/engelhart-cornelius-ostby.html.

"I Found A Historic Abandoned Castle In France With Everything Left Behind (17 Pics)." Bored Panda, 1 Sept. 2022, https://www.boredpanda.com/i-found-a-historic-abandoned-castle-in-france-with-everything-left-behind-bryan-sansivero/.

"Initiative - Des Jeunes Veulent Sauver Le Ch?teau de La Chasseigne à Saint-Parize-Le-Ch?tel." Le Journal Du Centre, 27 Dec. 2020, https://www.lejdc.fr/saint-parize-le-chatel-58490/loisirs/des-jeunes-veulent-sauver-le-chateau-de-la-chasseigne-a-saint-parize-le-chatel_13893018/.

"Inside an 'Abandoned' 19th Century French Castle Still Full of Furniture." Newsweek, 30 July 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/inside-abandoned-19th-century-french-castle-full-furniture-ramy-awad-1729251.

Inside an Abandoned Castle Once Owned by Titanic Victims. 27 July 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/07/27/inside-an-abandoned-castle-once-owned-by-titanic-victims/.

"Sign the Petition." Change.Org, https://www.change.org/p/tout-le-monde-sauvetage-du-ch%C3%A2teau-de-la-chasseigne. Accessed 9 May 2024.
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Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.