April 15th was the 100th year anniversary of the Titanic accident. I was planning to make a post on that day, but I never found the time, but here it is four days late.
The story about the Titanic has always fascinated me – ever since I was a little kid. My granddad, who was a fisherman all his life and loved to tell stories, told me the story about the Titanic as he knew it. I also remember reading a book based on eye-witness accounts, probably when I was about 10, telling the details of the events that took place. The book came out around when the wreck was discovered, so I can’t have been much older. I even remember correcting my teacher in class when he got some of the facts wrong. I could probably be a very annoying child.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but the Titanic has popped up every now and then throughout my life. Several times in school, in my granddad’s many stories and I was still a teenager, barely, when the story hit the silver screen again in 1997. The story certainly does have a place in my heart. So, naturally, I have been anticipating the anniversary for a long time. It got a lot less attention than I expected though, but it still seems to fascinate people a 100 years later.
One interesting thing about the story is how it has been infused with myths after the event itself. Titanic was never a significant ship, although arguably very large. Most of the attention went to its sister ship the Olympic. Neither is there any evidence that it was claimed to be unsinkable. As the builder says in the 1997 film: “She’s made of iron, I assure you she can sink”. 1912 engineers would have been fully aware of this property of iron I should think. Another myth is the one about the musicians playing “Nearer to Thee My God” at the end. The people who survived weren’t there at that point. There is however eye-witness accounts of the band playing on deck when the ship was sinking, so there is a basis for this myth at least. There is an interesting article from the BBC from a few weeks ago discussing some of these myths: Five Titanic myths spread by film.
In 8th grade, I think it was, my history and geography teacher, who was a brilliant story-teller with a super-human memory, spent most of the year telling us a story that he had made himself. The purpose of this story was to incorporate historical events and geographic details in a way that we would remember – and it worked very well. The two children in his story were travelling with the Titanic on their journey around the world – introducing us to the events of it’s sinking.
The story about the Titanic has of course also been depicted in films several times. Most notably in the aforementioned James Cameron’s version from 1997, incidentally one of the most profitable films made to date, only beaten (if I recall correctly) by his film Avatar from 2009. I for one was more impressed with his work on the second film in the Alien quadrilogy, but that’s just me. I also have the 1953 film titled Titanic laying around, but have yet to watch it. There are a few more still. You’ll find them listed in the BBC article I linked above.
I have to admit I do enjoy Cameron’s rendition of the story. I also very much enjoy the attention to detail that went into making it (I watched the “making of”-documentary at some point). As much as I dislike the pompous upper class characters, I do love their dresses and their décor, and I was fascinated by Kate Winslet’s character Rose and her beauty – and of course the story itself. Not the love story in particular, although it’s romantic and all, but the story of the ship, her luxury and the events that led to her sinking.
It is also worth mentioning the rediscovery of the wreck in 1985 by Dr Robert Ballard. The story surrounding this was a feature article in my English textbook in 7th grade, and I remember I was delighted to discover that when I first opened the book. Unfortunately it was also the reading text for my oral exam, which didn’t go all that well. Anyway, the rediscovery is in itself an interesting story and the photos of the wreck are stunning.
I think the story abut the Titanic will remain one for myths and films and story telling in the future. It has some sort of magic to it that is hard to pin down. Not just because it was a tragic disaster although that is a part of it, but there are plenty of those. What also seem to fascinate people is the luxury, the arrogance of her builders, her captain and her owner – whether accurate or not – and the perfect setting to spin romantic stories with tragic endings.
… and at the end of the post, a little entertainment from Man Boobz: New research sinks the “women and children first” myth.