15 April 2012 by Published in: General musings, General News 7 comments

2012 is a memorable year for the commemoration of historical events. The sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues. The bicentennial of the war of 1812 is celebrated this year. And today marks the centennial of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Given my lifelong fascination with the sinking of the Titanic, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention it here, off topic as it may be.

I’ve long been fascinated by shipwrecks. Perhaps it stems from the fact that the anchor of the U.S.S. Maine rests in my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, and I went on a childhood search to learn the story of that big anchor in the park. I have a small shelf full of books on the sinking of the Titanic, and we made a special trip to Chicago to see the traveling museum exhibit of artifacts from the sunken liner. The arson fire that destroyed the Morro Castle in 1934 has long fascinated me. I have several books on the sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1959. Even the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald intrigues me. I have read several books on its tragic ending. I’m sure that when the books begin to appear on the wreck of the Costa Concordia, I will invest in them too.

None, however, hold sway over the public’s imagination like the Titanic. Certainly, James Cameron’s movie stirred another generation’s fascination. Personally, I could have done without the distracting love story, but the footage of the shipwreck and Cameron’s slavishly and eerily accurate recreation of the ship made the mawkish story of Jack and Rose tolerable. The scene at the beginning of the movie where the image transitions from the shipwreck to the promenade deck of the recreated ocean liner alone was worth the price of admission.

I’ve read a bunch of books about the tragic ship and her only voyage, and I find myself just as drawn to it today as I did the first time I ever read A Night to Remember as a boy. The story of the bravery of the musicians, as one example, as they continued to play even as they knew they were doomed, has always been very moving to me. The courage, bravery and dignity of the male first-class passengers, such as John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest men alive, as they stepped aside to allow women and children to board the lifeboats awes me. The quiet dignity of these men changing into their finest clothes so that they could die like gentlemen inspires me. The story of Isadore and Ida Strauss choosing to die together even though Ida could have taken a spot in a lifeboat has always moved me too. The story of the cowardice of Bruce Ismay, who refused to do the honorable thing and go down with his ship equally repels me. The human toll is what I find most fascinating. And being a dog lover, the story of the dogs of the Titanic is equally compelling. I have always wanted to visit the cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where so many of the victims of the disaster were buried, and it’s on my bucket list of places to go.

Often overlooked in the tragedy of the Titanic is the eerily similar fate of her sister ship, the R.M.S. Britannic. Britannic was the largest of the three sister ships, and she also sank. She was launched just before the outbreak of World War I, and was used as a hospital ship during the Great War. In that role she struck a mine off the Greek island of Kea, in the Kea Channel on November 21, 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives. Only the R.M.S. Olympic, the third sister ship, managed to avoid the fate of her sisters.

Let’s not forget the 1,514 souls that departed this earth one hundred years ago today when the Titanic sank.

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  1. Chris Evans
    Sun 15th Apr 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Excellent post.

    Mentioning ‘A Night to Remember’ reminds me how many historical events Walter Lord brought back to life. Now only if they would make movies out of his other great history books like they did ‘A Night to Remember’.


  2. Susan Sweet
    Sun 15th Apr 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Eric, good story. When the movie came out my first grade gift kids were so into the Titanic I was at the bookstore buying every kids book on the ship I could find. One of the kids would read one of the books during silent reading . Only thing is everytime he learned a new interesting fact , he would yell across the room , Miss Sweet did you know ? and then tell me what he just learned. Like the women going on the lifeboats first.
    I have always been interested in shunken ships also . I know it started when the Andrea Doria went down. I remember it well. I was glued to the tv as the new reported the passengers arriving in New York. Later the pictures in Life Magazine really got my interest .
    The one I have found interesting lately is the Brother Jonathan off the Coast of California in 1865 killing almost everyone on board. I have been to the cemetery in Cresent City where some of the bodies are buried and where you can look out to sea where the ship hit the roacks.
    Keep the good postings coming .

  3. Tue 17th Apr 2012 at 11:08 am

    Many of us caught the Titanic bug from reading Walter Lord’s (still) magnificent A Night to Remember. But if you haven’t read it, his sequel, <i.The Night Lives On, is in many ways more valuable. In that book, written soon after the discovery of the wreck and with the hindsight of thrity years’ worth of other Titanic-related publication, Lord looks at specific, lingering questions about the disaster. What music did the band play? Was the ship really touted as being unsinkable? Did an officer commit suicide? Why were the Third Class casualties so great, even among English-speakers? It’s really a great great read.

  4. Thu 19th Apr 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Eric, are you familiar with the SS United States? Fastest ocean liner, broke two speed records crossing the Atlantic. It’s sitting at a pier in Philadelphia and a Conservancy group is working very hard to repurpose it. I’m hoping they do it!

    Andy, I read A Night to Remember but haven’t read the sequel. I need to seek it out!

  5. Tue 24th Apr 2012 at 9:58 am

    Beth, there’s another famous ship at Philadelphia desperately in need of saving, as well — U.S.S. Olympia, Dewey’s flagship at Manila in 1898, is also under serious threat. <i.Olympia is, I believe, the last protected cruiser anywhere, and the only surviving U.S. naval vessel from that period.

  6. Phil Gibbons
    Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 11:54 am

    The S.S. United States is looking pretty rough. I had traveled to Philly for a convention and decided I needed a famous Steak and Cheese from downtown. There in the background she stood. I could not believe just how poorly she looked.

  7. tom clemens
    Fri 04th May 2012 at 12:52 am

    My mother, as a young girl, went to see the Morro Castle washed up on the Jersey shore. She remembered the lines of shoes by the rail where people had left them when they went overboard to swim for their lives. Very sad.

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