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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 4:04 am 
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As I posted on a very different thread, I'm one of the people who has fallen prey to the post-sinking romanticism of Titanic. For me, it was not a result of the Titanic movie released in 1997; I had already fallen in love with the ship. Still, I've read enough to know the dangers of overromanticizing something so fundamentally human, so I wrote this spur-of-the-moment tonight, in memory of Titanic on this, the 93rd anniversary of her death. (and it's still overly romantic. sorry)

Note 1: Sorry if some of you have read slightly different figures. I know that every source seems to vary slightly. (assuming anyone cares, which most won't - the people who care about Titanic are fewer than those who care about Tolkien beyond the movies - and there aren't even too many of the latter ;)) But, my facts are wrong, call me on it - I haven't read seriously on Titanic since early college (5-6 years ago).

Note 2: If Symposium isn't the right place, let me know where this should be. It seemed a little too serious in tone for the Turf. I don't really have a specific discussion in mind, but if anyone has thoughts on what I've written, on Titanic, on that time, on that culture - or any experiences during your life that are tied to Titanic, movie or ship, it would be interesting to hear :)

******

April 15.

To many people, at least in America, it's a day to think of the Internal Revenue Service. For some of us, though, it's a time to remember a historic moment, a legendary ship.

Ninety-three years ago today, April 15, the RMS Titanic foundered in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, vanishing at 2:20 AM that morning. Just five days previous, on April 10, she had departed Southampton to begin her maiden voyage. Her setting sail was a dream come to fruition, a fulfillment of the vision that Harland & Wolff and the White Star Line had conceived five years earlier. At 882 feet long, she was the largest ship in existence at the time of her christening. She was grand, luxurious, and patently unsinkable, as four of her sixteen watertight compartments could sustain complete flooding without sinking - prompting the now infamous quote, "God Himself could not sink this ship."

Titanic was a ship of Dreams. For the wealthy traveling in First Class, she offered the ultimate in splendor and comfort, providing previously unseen extravagance for maritime travel. For the working classes traveling in Second and Third Class, she offered the path to a new life, a new world, a place where the streets were reputedly paved with gold. For all, she offered the experience of a historical voyage on a ship of breathtaking proportions.

Titanic was a ship of Nightmares. It reflected much that was wrong with Western European society of the time. For the wealthy traveling in First Class, she offered strictly enforced gender roles and prescribed behaviors, preventing some from pursuing their ambitions and preferred living styles - preventing some from making the choice to live. For the working classes traveling in Second and Third class, she offered second-class status, inferior accommodation - and ultimately, a decreased valuation of life.

At her heart, Titanic offers us a glimpse at humanity, showcasing simultaneously the best within us and the worst.

At 11:39 PM on April 14, 1912, the events that are the reason we remember Titanic were set in play. The ship's lookouts, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee, saw gleaming, jagged ice ahead, and rang the warning bell and telephoned the ship's bridge with the now infamous words, "Iceberg, right ahead!" And so, the real life nightmare began to unfold. Why did it happen? Why did the "omission" which left the lookouts' binoculars on-shore occur? Why were iceberg warnings from numerous ships, including the Caronia, Noordam, Baltic, Amerika, Californian, and Mesaba ignored, scoffed at, and in some cases, not even passed to the Captain? Why, in the face of so many warnings from sister ships, did the Titanic increase her speed? Was it arrogance? Carelessness? Thoughtlessness? Stupidity? As some have suggested, was Captain E.J. Smith too experienced to handle Titanic? Having sailed for thirty years on smaller ships, did he overestimate the ease with which a ship of Titanic's size could be steered through ice? In 2005, with only three survivors of the voyage remaining (the oldest of whom was five that night), these questions will remain unanswered.

Whatever the reason, the tragedy unfolded. Thirty-seven seconds after the warning to the bridge, at 11:40 PM, the Titanic struck an iceberg looming over sixty feet above sea level. The reality quickly became apparent; Titanic could not stay afloat with five of her watertight compartments flooded. Within hours, Titanic would be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The signals "CQD-MGY" and "SOS" were sent out, but the Carpathia, Olympic, and Frankfurt were all hours too far away. Rockets were sent up, but there was no one to see. No one to see who would respond, that is - a specter of a ship hovering tantalizingly in the distance, that was later established as the Californian, ignored or did not receive all pleas for help from the doomed vessel.

For the first time, the ramifications of having lifeboat accommodations for 1178 with 2200 people aboard dawned on the ship's crew, as they gave the orders for "women and children" to be allowed to board the lifeboats at 12:25 AM.

Again, Titanic allowed humanity to showcase itself. Our worst impulses quickly displayed themselves. As the lifeboats were released into the Atlantic between 12:55 and 2:20 AM, First Class women, children, and some men crowded onto the boats with no thought for anyone but themselves - in some cases, with no thought for anything but their own comfort. It was of no consequence that they were leaving others behind to die - particularly those of a lower class and different ethnicity. Inefficiency and prejudice kept the crew from filling the lifeboats to capacity; of nineteen ships released from the sinking Titanic, only two were filled to or over their capacity of sixty-five. Men and lower-class people of all ages were kept from boarding, many times at gunpoint, resulting in an additional, avoidable loss of hundreds of lives. Some crewmembers took advantage of their positions of authority to sneak away on the ships, rather than helping passengers. Most stunningly, the Californian -- the only ship within distance of the Titanic -- entirely ignored cries for help for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained.

So, too, did humanity's best impulses emerge. Men and women decided to remain behind, realizing that to do so was likely death, yielding their lifeboat spots to others whom they felt were needed more by family and dependents. Musicians emerged on deck and put their hearts into playing, in an effort to calm passengers, until they could no longer stand on the ship's rapidly increasing incline. Religious leaders emerged to give emotional strength to people now minutes away from a death by drowning or hypothermia in the Atlantic Ocean. Wireless Operators Phillips and Bride refused to heed the Captain's 2:05 AM admonishment, "You can do no more. Now it's every man for himself," and continued to send distress calls until they could no longer - until three minutes before the death of Titanic. Others kept working to provide electricity to the ship, so that terrified people would not have to wait in utter darkness for the ship to sink. Loyal crew members assisted passengers in escaping the ship. The Carpathia, several hours away, immediately turned and came rushing to Titanic's aid.

Still, it was not enough, not nearly enough. When Titanic disappeared at 2:20 AM, fifteen hundred and twenty-three lives were lost that night -- and lost selectively. Ninety-four percent of first class women and children were saved, and sixty percent of first-class passengers overall, but only twenty-five percent of third-class passengers survived. Where 53.4% that could technically have survived the ship's sinking via lifeboats, only 31.6% actually did.

During the hours after the Titanic's demise, while its shivering survivors waited in the North Atlantic for the Carpathia, Titanic gave humanity one last chance to demonstrate itself. And it did, as for hours, the nineteen lifeboats waited, without lifting a finger, as the screams, cries, and pleas for help of former passengers now drowning to death slowly diminished. As the 1997 movie has now made famous, only one boat went back - hours later. One boat, where seventeen were not filled to capacity.

When the Carpathia arrived in the early morning hours of April 15, she pulled 705 people from the ocean - the remainder of the 2200 were gone. And again, the best of humanity emerged, with the Carpathia's passengers offering the beleaguered survivors comfort, their clothing, and even their own beds and living space.

When I think of Titanic, I think of everything it means to be human. I think of class divisions and prejudice, of compassion and charity, of gender-prescribed roles, of defiance of those roles, of seeking a better life, of selfishness and inward thinking, of innovating, of arrogance, of humility, of pushing technology to its limits, of enjoying the finest things in life, of suffering and hardship, of contending with nature, of bigotry, of people making the ultimate sacrifice, of people displaying the ultimate selfishness, of people yielding to their best impulses, and people yielding to their worst. I think of people just living their normal lives, who find themselves stuck in a moment that called on them to be great, and I think of their varied responses to this challenge.

Somewhere out there right now, more than thirteen thousand feet under the North Atlantic Ocean, the ruins of a once-great ship bear witness, now and for all time.

April 15, 2005. 93 years. Rest in peace, Titanic.


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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 5:15 am 
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Excellent post, tolkienpurist.

When we were in Newfoundland last September we saw the Titanic exhibit at the Johnson GeoCentre in St. John's.

It was an absolutely rivetingly interesting exhibit, particularly in the way it explained the social and cultural milieu that Titanic existed in.

The tragedy exerts a strange fascination, even after all this time.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 7:16 am 
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It is a day for tragedy indeed.

Lincoln was also assassinated, the American's bobmed Lybia, Hillsborough stadium saw Liverpool football fans crushed to death, Pol Pot died (see not totally bad as a day) and I was born.

Odd day for me.

As for Titanic, I think that was one ofthe first historic events I was aware of (I have some nasty sisters sometimes). I am never totally sure about the story though, the self sacrifice. It does not fit with the time and the place, and a significant number of people who did survive fall into the group that should have stayed behind singing if it had been true :scratch

Still, the film was pretty.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 10:49 am 
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Beautiful post TP. Thanks for the reminder.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 12:02 pm 
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I went to the Titanic exhibition at the Science Museum in London in September 2003.

I just couldn't believe I was looking at stuff from the ship which had been salvaged from that colossal depth. A whole segment of the ship's hull, for example. :Q It seemed unreal. I felt a real sense of awe.

The wealth and luxury on board gave me a glimpse into other lives, other worlds. Music sheets in leather wallets (yes, they had survived being in salt water for 90 years, protected by the wallets): ladies' gloves: gentlemans' hats: even perfume.

Then there were the Third Class passengers: their hopes, dreams and aspirations. A farming family from Devon, England, setting out for a new life in America. Every single one of them lost their lives. :(

It wasn't drowning which killed people. It was the deadly cold of the icy Atlantic. People froze to death in less than 30 minutes.

The abiding image of the Exhibition haunts me still: dozens of exquisite little dinner plates, creamy white china. The wooden cases had rotted away decades ago on the ocean floor. The salvagers found them stacked up neatly on the ocean bed. Without one crack.

Such a dreadful waste of precious human lives. But these dainty little dinner plates had survived. Stacked up like eerie little dominoes on the ocean floor.

Lovely post, TP.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 12:04 pm 
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I went to the Titanic exhibition at the Science Museum in London in September 2003.

I just couldn't believe I was looking at stuff from the ship which had been salvaged from that colossal depth. A whole segment of the ship's hull, for example. :Q It seemed unreal. I felt a real sense of awe.

The wealth and luxury on board gave me a glimpse into other lives, other worlds. Music sheets in leather wallets (yes, they had survived being in salt water for 90 years, protected by the wallets): ladies' gloves: gentlemans' hats: even perfume.

Then there were the Third Class passengers: their hopes, dreams and aspirations. A farming family from Devon, England, setting out for a new life in America. Every single one of them lost their lives. :(

It wasn't drowning which killed people. It was the deadly cold of the icy Atlantic. People froze to death in less than 30 minutes.

The abiding image of the Exhibition haunts me still: dozens of exquisite little dinner plates, creamy white china. The wooden cases had rotted away decades ago on the ocean floor. The salvagers found them stacked up neatly on the ocean bed. Without one crack.

Such a dreadful waste of precious human lives. But these dainty little dinner plates had survived. Stacked up like eerie little dominoes on the ocean floor.

Lovely post, TP.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 12:10 pm 
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The Titanic will forever - or let's say for the time until something similarily significant occurs - a symbol for human ignorance and haughtiness over nature with ensuing catastrophe.

Bigger ships sunk, more people died in drownings. But the Titanic carried the hautevolee of the western world and therefore gained better press coverage.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 2:05 pm 
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A thought-provoking post, TP. While I wouldn’t mind discussing your assessment of some of the facts at some point, I think that's going to have to wait for another time.

To me, the sinking of the Titanic has always symbolised the last moments of the old world, before it fell into the darkness of World War and emerged changed beyond recognition. In and of itself the Titanic’s sinking changed the world very little (except prompting amendments to maritime safety requirements). However it occurred in that last long summer leading up to chaos, turmoil, and political and social revolution.

No doubt, and as we’ve seen in more recent natural – and unnatural – disasters, the best and worst of humanity was evident. Many lives were lost. The confusion, fear and panic must have been horrifying. And the ripples went out and on, having an effect for many years to come. As Di said, whole families died. Whole villages or towns were affected. In Southhampton, where most of the crew was engaged, there were streets and streets of families left without fathers, brothers, sons - without breadwinners.

So it is good to take a moment to remember events from that April, long ago.


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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 3:39 pm 
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Those crew members who survived? They were not paid beyond the moment the ship sank. Can you believe it?

So many intersections of so many tragedies and horrors. A badly designed and badly built ship, just for starters.

Many people hold it up as a failure of technology. In some ways it was, but in fact it was a failure of integrity. The Titanic was a vast show with little substance, and thousands of people trusted their lives to it.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 3:53 pm 
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I've also read (though I haven't been able to confirm it from other sources) that the White Star Line sent bills to the widows of the musicians for the loss of the uniforms.

As I said, I only read it from one source, but if true: :x :x :x


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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 4:15 pm 
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I am not so sure the ship was designed badly, I think it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not many ships are built to with stand massive ice bergs. I think the sinking of the Titanic was simple human error, navagation error, lack of communication error, lack of planning error. Or maybe it was simply fate.

I would think that it did help in the beginning of ship lane monitoring.

It is sad that so many poorer passangers died, that so many could have been saved.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 4:48 pm 
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vison wrote:
Those crew members who survived? They were not paid beyond the moment the ship sank. Can you believe it?


Sounds like an "Accenture" idea to me.

vison wrote:
So many intersections of so many tragedies and horrors. A badly designed and badly built ship, just for starters.


It was built and designed splendidly, but had one crucial and substantial fault. It could have crossed the ocean for decades and even survived torpedo hits (to the main section). It was bad luck in its pure form.



With quakes and blasts happening every year I don't regard the sinking of the Titanic as a "huge catastrophe", specially when some years later a few minutes of machine-gun fire killed equal and bigger numbers in the trenches of World War 1. The real monstrosities, it turns out, are man-made, not just coincidential.

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PostPosted: Fri 15 Apr , 2005 7:43 pm 
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In fact, Titanic was NOT well designed. It was, literally, tragically flawed in that the famous "watertight bulkheads" were NOT watertight. The designer KNEW that, and tried to point it out to the owners of the shipping line. They ignored him. The myth that it was "unsinkable" was known to be untrue BEFORE the ship was launched.

There were many other flaws and shortcomings, but of course the worst was the failure to provide lifeboats for all the people on board.

There was intense pressure on the Captain to set a speed record on the maiden voyage and he gave it his best shot.

The tragedy of the Titanic does not lie in the number of dead. It is, instead, the classic example of hubris in modern times. Titanic was built and launched at the apogee of Edwardian splendour, when the techology of the time provided wonder upon wonder, when people had a ferocious optimism and certainty that human existence was becoming better, richer, and more perfect due to technological advances. At the same time, events were marching inexorably to the First World War. The sinking of Titanic was the first harbinger of the horrors to come, not because of the number of dead, not because of how they died, but because it was the blind folly of those in command who simply failed in their duty.

That blind folly was horribly demonstrated in the politics that led to the Great War, and to much of the actual conduct of the War to End All Wars.

The Titanic exhibit in St. John's is fascinating, in that it is more devoted to the actual construction of the ship than to displaying artifacts. Titanic was doomed from the drawing board stage, with the involvement of such men as J. P. Morgan and the rest, who wanted a fast, luxurious record breaker to rescue a faltering shipping line.

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PostPosted: Tue 15 Apr , 2008 3:39 am 
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It's that time again - (almost) the anniversary of April 15, 1912, the day the Titanic sank.

The NYT has an article on the safety of the ship's rivets - 96 years later, and we're still intrigued...

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/scien ... ic.html?hp


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PostPosted: Thu 16 Oct , 2008 3:26 pm 
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Titanic survivor auctions relics

Millvina Dean, at 96 the last remaining survivor of the Titanic, is auctioning some mementoes to pay her nursing home bills.

She was hoping to be in the home for only two weeks after breaking her hip, but she developed an infection and has now been there for two years.

I find it really sad that some people have to sell off their life's memories just to meet nursing home bills. :(

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PostPosted: Thu 16 Oct , 2008 3:34 pm 
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:( That is sad.


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PostPosted: Wed 15 Apr , 2009 1:43 pm 
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Another interview with Millvina Dean - one year later

Folks, it was 97 years ago as of this morning...

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PostPosted: Wed 15 Apr , 2009 3:30 pm 
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Thanks for the reminder.

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PostPosted: Wed 15 Apr , 2009 4:53 pm 
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Wow, it's been four years since I wrote that. Thanks for bumping.

Am I remembering right that only one survivor is alive today?


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PostPosted: Wed 15 Apr , 2009 5:30 pm 
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I think so.

That reminds me that I read a book awhile ago, probably prompted by someone here or this thread, called Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs of a Stewardess, the story of Violet Jessop. She survived the Brittanic, too! It was a very interesting read, if anyone is intrigued. Her life was just fascinating, really, and her first-hand accounts of these two tragedies (as well as life on several other ships) is compelling.

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