As you may or may not have heard, today is Titanic Remembrance Day, 2021. For those of you new here, I’ve mentioned that I’m a history buff a time or two here on the blog. Today, I feel like there’s no better time than to devote this “Can we talk?” to the Titanic.
For those of you who may not be familiar, the Titanic was part of the Olympic-class ocean liners under the White Star Line shipping company, since acquired by Cunard. The other two were the RMS Olympic, and the HMHS Britannic.
The Powers that Be at the White star Line placed the order for what was to become the Titanic in 1908 for the builders at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. The workers at Harland and Wolff laid the keel down in 1909, on track for the launch in 1911, completion in April 1912, with the maiden voyage on April 10th.
Captain E.J. Smith steered the ship from its’ berth in Southampton, bound for Cherbourg, and then Cobh (formerly known as Queenstown). After they departed Cobh, the ship sailed from the dock and into history mere days later.
The ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic shortly before midnight, using ship time, knocking holes along the watertight compartments, causing the hull to buckle inward, thereby exposing five of the 16 watertight compartments. They only went as high as E Deck, and in some areas, D Deck.
The Olympic was retrofitted for watertight compartments to B Deck when the White Star Line pulled it from service in the aftermath of its’ sister ship sinking, along with more lifeboats and davits, and additional watertight compartments.
Titanic sunk at 2:20 AM, with 1500 of its’ passengers and crew. There were very few survivors when one of the lifeboats returned to the wreckage to find anyone still alive in the sub-freezing North Atlantic waters.
The RMS Carpathia responded to the distress signals sent out by Jack Phillips and Harold Bride before the ship sunk, and hauled ass to their location two hours after the sinking. They took on the 710 survivors in the lifeboats, and made it to New York days later.
The White Star Line used the ship Mackay-Bennett to recover passenger remains. They were the first ship on the scene, and it didn’t take long for them to use up all the supplies they had on board for handling human remains. To cut back on use, they prioritized those identified as having been first-class passengers, and rationalized that judgment call on account of potential estate disputes with their surviving relatives.
That meant that a lot of the crewmembers, second- and third-class passengers got a burial at sea. It’s a sad commentary on the cultural norms of the time, which unfortunately placed so much clout on someone’s station in life that it dictated the way they were treated in death.
In the years that followed, the Olympic underwent a retrofitting based on lessons learned from what happened to the Titanic, served as a troop ship during World War I, and the Britannic served as a hospital ship after its’ completion in 1915.
The Britannic sunk in 1916 after it struck a mine in the Aegean Sea.
In 1985, Robert Ballard and his team found the Titanic’s wreckage, split in two pieces when it sunk, contrary to the belief many had that it sunk all in one piece.
Since then, other expeditions have sought out the wreckage to explore, including James Cameron himself for what essentially became a bit of a franchise on its’ own, namely with his blockbuster we’ve all come to either know and love, or know and hate in 1997, and his documentary Ghosts of the Abyss in 2003.
Yes, I’m a fan of both the 1997 movie and the real-life story behind it. So much so, that I embarked on a little project of my own to read what I could get my hands on during college about it. Some of the books I’ve read were so rare that the only way I could get them is through interlibrary loan, since what few copies are out there cost a fortune.
For example, the biography of Charles Lightoller by Patrick Stenson was such a fun read, however, it’s a super-rare book that’s nearly impossible to get a hold of outside of an interlibrary loan. (Fun fact: he came up with the idea to sell the poop from his chicken farming venture as a fertilizer!) I swear, it almost read like something I’d have seen on the Military Channel, or what used to be the Military Channel years ago.
Lightoller’s autobiography, Titanic and Other Ships, came out before World War II, where he played a key role in the Dunkirk evacuation with his yacht, the Sundowner.
Over the years, the remaining survivors of the Titanic sinking died, and the last one was Millvina Dean, who was only a baby at the time. She died in 2009, leaving the story of that fateful night in 1912 to the history books.
Many of the artifacts donated from survivors and their families, or recovered from the wreckage are now on display in museums. One of them is the Titanic museum in Branson, MO, and the one set up by the Titanic Historical Society in Massachusetts. I’d love to visit these places sometime, maybe make a road trip out of it with someone, btw.
Northern Ireland has Titanic Belfast, which opened to the public in 2012, 100 years to the day the Titanic’s keel was laid at Harland and Wolff. If I ever get the chance to travel over to Northern Ireland, that’ll definitely be a stop on my list.
Over to you, readers. Have you visited any of the Titanic museums? Which books have you read about the Titanic, be it nonfiction or fiction? Which of the myriad of movies about it have you seen? Drop ’em all like they’re hot below, and let’s talk.