Saturday, April 14, 2012

Remembering the Titanic

100 years ago today, just before midnight on the evening of April 14th 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. A scant few hours later, she was lying at the bottom of the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The unthinkable had happened, the Titanic, the unsinkable Titanic, had sunk. Between her death spiral and the embrace of the frigid water, some 1500 souls perished. In a misguided attempt to make a record trip across the Atlantic from Southampton to New York, another ghastly record was set instead.

"Remember the Titanic!" People have said over the ensuing 100 years. And, remember her we have. Truly, is there any cognizant person alive today who does not recognize her name and know, at least somewhat, her sad, sad tale?

My personal interest in Titanic began long before Leo DiCaprio infamously shouted "I'm King Of the World!" in the 1997 blockbuster movie "Titanic". It was another movie that started it all for me. I was in 8th grade and it was early in the school year of the brand new Jr/Sr High School in Tierrasanta (near San Diego). For whatever reason, a bunch of us were rounded up and brought into the administrative offices to watch "A Night To Remember", a 1958 black and white film based on Walter Lord's book of the same title. Like the James Cameron's 1997 version, "Night" depicted the events after the ship struck the iceberg and its eventual sinking in pretty much real time. Us tweens watched the movie over the course of several days, though, and by the time we reached the end, most of us were riveted. I know that I was hooked, and have remained so ever since.

Why do people remain fascinated with the Titanic? Everyone has their ideas but I think it's a combination of:

  • People are morbidly interested in tragedy, especially one involving the division between wealth and glamour and servitude and squalor.
  • We can look upon what happened in hindsight and wonder over and over again WHY it had to happen in the first place, coming up with a long list of "if only s"; and this, by the way, continues to be fueled by emerging theories as to what exactly happened (two new ones were just in the paper this week). One of the most obvious blunders, of course, was that most people on board's actions (or inactions) were driven by the belief that the Titanic was unsinkable. A story goes that, a female passenger, uneasy about being on the ship, asked a crew person as she boarded if the Titanic was safe. He replied with something like "Madam, God himself couldn't sink the Titanic". In hindsight, not a wise thing to say.
  • Titanic is still around. Yes, it's at the bottom of the ocean in at least two if not more pieces, but, it's THERE. As long as it is, there will be talk about maybe turning it into a museum. That's unlikely to happen, I think, as there are more people than not who believe it should remain undisturbed but there will likely be ongoing controversy for while yet. Moreover, artifacts continue to be unearthed (unoceaned?) and brought to the surface. Just recently, a few possessions of a key player in the Titanic tragedy, First Office William Murdoch, were discovered.
  • More than few things changed in both ship design and safety regulations because of the Titanic. Thanks to the Titanic, you won't have to worry about not having a seat on a lifeboat if your cruise ship sinks. And, speaking of cruising, who hasn't thought about the Titanic when standing on deck during your muster drill?
  • Sayings, such as "The Tip of the Iceberg" and "Women and Children First" are frequent reminders of the Titanic and what happened to her and her passengers and crew.
  • Since the Cameron film in the late 90s and leading up to this, the 100th anniversary of its sinking, the Titanic has become a fad. Everyone is interested in it now (as I write this, the banner on Google is a picture of the Titanic).
  • Many of us ponder what we would do in a similar circumstance; imagine the heartache of climbing into a lifeboat without our husband while he remains gamely on deck smiling reassuringly at us, all the while knowing he was likely to perish; or, the horror of searching for our missing child, or the panic and confusion and total chaos that ensued once people finally realized the ship really was going to sink.
Over the years, I've read many books about the Titanic, seen all of the movies and was lucky enough to see the traveling Titanic exhibit at a museum in Raleigh in 2003. My love of and interest in the Titanic was the primary reason I wanted to go on The Queen Mary II (in essence a "sister" ship of Titanic) for our honeymoon in 2005; to experience the glamour without any fear of the tragedy (thankfully we did not have that Italian "Chicken of the Sea" captain as ours).

Now that we'll soon be past the 100th anniversary of her sinking, I wonder if the interest will continue? What else will be discovered? What new theories put forth? Will the general public get bored once the landmark day of April 15th, 2012 has passed and no one will likely be around for the Bicentennial?

Somehow, I doubt it. I think she'll always be an object of fascination, and, thus, will continue to be remembered.

Mrs. B

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