The much-touted Titanic embarked on its maiden voyage April 10, 1912 with 2,223 people on board, including the crew. Four days into its voyage, Titanic hit an iceberg. It was 11:40pm on April 14. Less than three hours later, at 2:20am on April 15, Titanic sank. Only 706 people survived.*
(Read more Titanic facts here.)
Why does the wreck of the Titanic continue to fascinate us? Perhaps because in hindsight, it shows us the spectrum of human nature, both the best and the worst. It is easy to armchair quarterback this one from a hundred years' distance. Some things seem obvious now: there should have been enough life boats for the number of people on board, and it was wrong to lock people in steerage and not let them make it to the deck. However, I think we should tread lightly in judging some of the actions of those who were caught in a disastrous moment. One wealthy woman survivor is quoted as lamenting the loss of her possessions as the ship went down.. It sounds inappropriate at best, but who hasn't said something stupid under duress? Who knows what kind of shock she was in at the time? Being adrift in a lifeboat in the dark and cold may not have been the ideal conditions for incredible insight.
The last lifeboat to leave the ship, holding 22 passengers.
I think the most fascinating thing about the Titanic is not the ship and its construction and opulence, but rather the stories of the people. Someone on that ship paralleled each one of us in age, circumstances, or hopes and dreams. They were awakened in the night, and had to make life or death decisions rather quickly. Would you be a hero? If you saw an empty seat on a lifeboat that was being lowered, would you make a leap for it? What if you were a man, and were supposed to leave that seat for women and children? Would you leave the seat empty and watch the boat leave? J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star line who built Titanic, chose to take the seat, and although that action saved his life, it set him up for a great deal of ostracism and criticism throughout his life.
Many people made sacrifices to save others, knowing and accepting their own fate. Who would you be under these circumstances? I think exploring the stories from Titanic lets us explore the possibilities in our own natures from a safe distance. That is the fascination:: mentally putting ourselves in that situation and thinking about what we might do, without really having to go through it.
Bow of the Titanic
How will you mark the hundredth anniversary? You could watch the James Cameron film again. Or read stories of Titanic's survivors. Rosa Abbott, for instance, was the only woman survivor pulled from the water.
In honor of the anniversary, here are some other things you might find interesting:
Ancestry.com has digitized several records related to the Titanic, and has made them available for free for a limited time. It is interesting to scroll through the records and see what you can learn. For example, did you know that employees on the ship were terminated on April 15, the day the ship was lost? Those who were rescued were now unemployed and left to their own devices when they reached shore in North America. One page I looked at showed corrections to a list of crew members given to American authorities. It read: "Wright W was entered as lost instead of saved." Mr. William Wright, age 40, survived the Titanic. He worked on the ship as a steward, made it onto lifeboat 13, and was rescued by the Carpathia. Can you imagine the emotional roller coaster of Mr. Wright's family? Lost, and then saved. What a story in a simple handwritten line on an old piece of paper!
RMS Titanic gives information about the ship, stories, and exhibits and commemorative events surrounding the 100th anniversary. If you get a chance to go to one of these Titanic exhibits, they are well worth it. We visited one in Idaho Falls a few years ago. When you arrive, you are given the description of a passenger on the ship to take through the exhibit with you. You know if they were a first, second, or third class passenger, their name, age, and a few other details. As you go through the exhibit, you view artifacts in amazing condition. One I remember was a perfume bottle that still emitted a delicate scent after all these years. Also inside is a huge wall of ice, to give you an idea of what an iceberg is like. How long can you hold your hand on it? Long enough to melt an indentation? This ice block helps you appreciate the intense cold of that fateful April night. By the time you complete the exhibit, you are anxious to find out whether the passenger you were given survived or not. Just like on the Titanic, many did not survive. Some of my family members were sad to see their "passenger" did not make it. I was moved to see that the female passenger I had been given was one of the survivors.
Here is another website that is interesting to navigate. It has a Titanic Tribute section that includes photographs and stories of passengers and crew. Very informative and makes the people come alive.
Lastly, the comprehensive site at encyclopedia-titanica.org is also worth your time and has details about the ship, passengers, survivors, and more.
*The number of passengers and survivors varies slightly depending on your source, from 2,222 to 2,228 passengers and from 705 to 706 survivors.