”…I can still smell the fresh paint. The china had never been used. The sheets had never been slept in. Titanic was called the Ship of Dreams, and it was. It really was.”
You say ship. I say iceberg. We both say Titanic.
You know her name. You know her story. But do you know why?
Sunday April 15th at 2:20 am ship’s time (1:30am EST) will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of one of the most famous ships in recorded history. She has not been forgotten. In fact it would seem that this week the world has Titanic on its mind. Newspapers have been printing articles, museums have been drawing in crowds to get up-close with salvaged artifacts from the wreckage, James Cameron has re-released in theatres his Oscar winning film Titanic now in 3D, and even the National Geographic Magazine’s April Issue is about Titanic as well as dedicating its channel this week to all things Titanic.
Needless to say that despite the fact that she rests at the bottom of the North Atlantic Titanic is very much alive in 2012. A hundred years later the ship still sails on in our dreams. Dozens of films and documentaries have been made about the events that surround the sinking of the great ship. Books by the hundreds have been published from the time that Titanic sank up until the present day. The Greatest Ship Ever Built continues to dominate coffee-side conversations as people reiterate facts, rumours, half-truths, conspiracy theories, and fated prophecies. How many of us have taken a moment to wonder why it is that we continue to obsess over an event that took place decades before any of us were ever born? What is it about this ship that has people fascinated beyond a doubt?
The answer is very simple and not a pleasant one.
“The sounds of people drowning are something that I can not describe to you, and neither can anyone else. Its the most dreadful sound and there is a terrible silence that follows it.” - Eva Hart, Titanic Survivor
Titanic’s story is the Oedipus Rex of naval history. It has everything that is required of a timeless Greek tragedy. The romance that still surrounds the ill-fated vessel, the time period in which the event took place, the grand setting aboard the Unsinkable floating titan, the multitude of people on board (from the wealthiest Captain of Industry in the world to the poorest immigrant in steerage), the heroic efforts of the officers and crew who struggled to the very end, and the aftermath of the ship’s final plunge that left over a thousand people freezing to death in the frigid black waters of the Atlantic on a moonless night while lifeboats bobbed just out of reach.
Titanic is the ultimate bestselling tragedy and hers is a true story. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in a series of unfortunate events that lead up to the disaster. There was no moon that night. Warnings had gone unheeded. The water was too still. The lookouts did not have binoculars. She struck an iceberg. She sank in less than three hours. There were not enough lifeboats. The water was below freezing. Over half of the passengers on board perished. Titanic, a towering tribute to human ingenuity and creative perseverance, maintained full speed even though all odds were stacked against her.
If you Google “How long did it…” Titanic comes up second only to the Great Wall of China.
After all these years the legacy that surrounds the ship has not dampened or wavered in the slightest. Ask anyone of what comes to mind when the Titanic is mentioned and this is what might be said.
The ship went down by the bow and still the band played on. Nearer My God To Thee was reported to be their final piece. It was the last song to ever be played on those grand decks. The last song most of the passengers would ever hear.
Captain E.J Smith who went down with his ship. Thomas Andrews her designer who knew he was powerless to alter the fate of his masterpiece once she hit. Ida and Isidor Straus who died as they lived, together. John Jacob Astor, the richest man on the ship, whose vast fortune would never be enough to buy-off death. Marconi operator Jack Philips who kept sending out distress signals for as long as possible and was one of the first to use the S.O.S. call for help. The men who were not permitted to enter the life boats thus remained aboard the ship to die with honour and dignity. All the women and children who were unable to make it to the lifeboats in time before the last one was lowered away. The countless number of third class passengers who were stuck below as the ship went down, lost in the labyrinth of unending corridors and stairwells because they did not know the way to the Upper Decks. The stokers, electricians, and other crew who were trapped in the bowels of the naval behemoth and knew full well that their lives were soon to be cut short. Still they kept their posts and fought valiantly to keep the lights on so that the passengers on board would not be left to die in utter darkness.
Those that survived the sinking are also held in high regard in public memory. Margaret “Molly” Brown who helped load the life boats and garnered funds and public attention toward helping Titanic survivors. Radio operator Harold Bride who maintained his position on the wireless with Philips until the captain told them to abandon ship. Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia who raced to Titanic’s aide midst the treacherous ice field that could have very well have jeopardize the safety of his own ship.
The men who spent the remainder of that seemingly endless night and well into the morning standing calf-deep in the freezing water on top of upturned Collapsible Boat B. They were lucky to be alive thanks to the enduring leadership of Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller who kept them all huddled together for warmth and moving in unison in order to distribute the weight and keep their sinking island of refuge floating for as long as possible before they were picked up by nearby lifeboats.
These are but a few of the many who continue to be remembered in film and literature. Titanic, a four-part miniseries recently aired, recreated the short-lived maiden voyage in such detail that it is impossible to not feel a part of those final moments. Historic figures were brought to life once more to share their stories without the aide of unrealistic subplots. If interested in learning more about the events that took place on that fateful night and the people who lived to share their experiences or those that died fighting to survive then look no further. The Vaughan Public Libraries on-line catalogue has a vast collection of materials for all ages, interests, and ideals. Take a look, grab a book, and make the journey back to when it all began.
After a century April 14th is still A Night to Remember.
Titanic will never be forgotten.