Titanic - A Ship of Destiny?
On April 14, 1912 the greatest ship yet built in the world struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM, and began her descent into the cold oblivion of the North Atlantic. At 2:20 AM the next morning, April 15, she foundered and slipped beneath the surface and disappeared for all time. Never again would anyone walk her stately decks and ascend her majestic staircase. At least, not the original one. In Branson, Missouri there is a tourist attraction that one can visit and at least gain a small measure of her beauty. I will speak of that in a bit, but first I would like to explore some of the history.
I am fascinated by history, by the facts and by the people who created those facts. One which has long held my attention is the Titanic and her story. Are you aware of the novella Futility, or The Wreck Of The Titan? It was written in 1898 by Morgan Robertson. His ship, the Titan, was the largest ever built, was unsinkable, and sank in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. Sound familiar? Let's go on, shall we? The Titan carried only 24 lifeboats for her complement of 3,000 passengers and crew. The Titanic carried 16 lifeboats plus 4 Englehardt folding lifeboats. Both shops struck an iceberg on the starboard side about 400 miles from Newfoundland. Eerie, isn't it? One has to wonder at the arrogance, or ignorance of the Titanic's builders to build a ship so similar to the ill fated fictional ship Titan and then to name it so closely. The book was published only 10 years or so before they began to lay in the hull of the Titanic, so they had to be aware of the book, one would think.
There have been a number of books and movies created regarding the Titanic. One of my favorite's is Walter Lord's A Night To Remember. In this book are the chillingly accurate minute by minute accounts of one who was there. To read this is to be transplanted back a hundred years to the deck of the doomed ship. You walk in their shoes, feel their fear, then experience the feeling of the ship slipping from beneath their feet. If you read this and are unaffected, you cannot be human.
Another book I enjoyed, although it is not totally factual and is considered to science fiction is Arthur C. Clarke's The Ghost From The Grand Banks. Clarke spins a tale of the raising the Titanic on the 100th anniversary of her sinking. A pair of rival groups use differing methods to raise her up. One chooses to use glass balls pushed into a section to cause her to float up; the other creates an iceberg around another section of the ship to float it up. One finds it rather ironic to use what caused her demise to raise her up.
In the movie genre, there are any number of films on the subject including 1958's film A Night To Remember based on the book of the same name published three years prior. This film is generally considered to be the most accurate in historical terms; perhaps it is because Titanic fourth officer Joseph Boxhall and former Cunard (later White Star Line) Commodore Harry Grattidge served as technical advisers. Titanic survivor Elizabeth Dowdell attended the New York premier of the film.
James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster film Titanic carried the story to millions of people worldwide. Perhaps no other single incident has been captured by a film and has caused so many to become infatuated by it. Cameron is a true fanatic of the Titanic, having been the man to descend on the wreck and film the interior using Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV's) named Jake and Elwood to produce the 2003 documentary Ghosts of the Abyss. When viewing this amazing footage, one cannot help but be moved by the simplest of things shown within the wreck.Things such as the leaded glass windows of the first class dining room which remain intact, and a bowler hat shown among the wreckage and the fact that they can name the person it once belonged to. I was astounded.
Now, on to the modern day "tourist" attraction in Branson, Missouri. My wife and I have been there twice and both times come away in awe. First, upon entering you are handed a passport featuring an actual passenger and details about this person. One needs to hang on to this as at the end of the tour you can view a wall to see if you were a survivor, or perished. To hold in your hand a story of a person who walked these decks and either lived or died there can shake one to the core. You only need a modicum of imagination to place yourself in their shoes.
You enter the attraction and have the opportunity of laying your hand upon a man made iceberg. You can close your eyes and feel the bone chilling cold flowing through your hand. Moving on you can view a number of exhibits ranging from a replica of one of the propellers to a series of lifeboats to a recreation of the ship's deck at varying stages of tilt, showing you just how hard it would have been to maintain your footing while the ship was changing attitude upon the water's surface. Another fascinating exhibit is the basin of water one can insert their hand into and hold it for as long as you can. The water is supercooled to about 28 degrees F and at one time there was a timer you started as you placed your hand within. The target time was three minutes. My personal best was 1 minute 28 seconds. I did observe a young girl of about 8 years old who was able to hold her hand in that water for nearly 5 minutes before my wife politely "requested" the girl remove her hand. She told us it didn't hurt, although she could neither move her fingers or feel them. We walked her over to her mother and suggested they massage her fingers to get the circulation back into them. Our last visit had the water somewhat warmer, slightly above freezing and no timer which would cause a person to challenge themselves to hold their hand in the water for an extended period of time.
Two of my favorite exhibits are the room containing the artifacts and the recreated bridge. The room with the artifacts is humbling in that you are viewing actual items that once were on the ship itself. Deck chairs, eating utensils, and even life jackets are assembled for your viewing pleasure. The bridge is recreated in detail and allows you to stand on the spot where those many years ago the Captain might have stood. Lights twinkle outside as you look through the glass at the world outside. Again, one need only allow their imagination to take hold of them and they are transported back in time and space to that fateful night.
But by far the most spectacular sight is the Grand Staircase. Exactingly recreated for your amazement, you have the choice of walking up and down it, or taking an elevator to the second floor. To stand at the base of this magnificent staircase and gaze up at the clock at the top and think that over 100 years before John Jacob Astor and the Unsinkable Molly Brown might have stood in such a location and looked at the clock is humbling to say the least.
Time has a way of diminishing things once held as great, but the Titanic has held its power over our imagination throughout the years. She is as awe inspiring today as she was those many years ago, and she waits for us to discover her today. Through film, print, internet, or tourist attraction, one can immerse themselves in her history. I personally wonder if she was destined to fail, either as a way for the fates to knock man down due to his rising too far above his station, or through man flaunting his scientific prowess in the face of God. If they had respected the book regarding the Titan, would she have still sank on the cold April night? Or would she sail blithely on, safe and secure in her delivery of those passengers. Who knows what the future would have been like with the titans of their age, real estate magnate Astor and industrialist Guggenheim and Macy's founder and House of Representative Isador Straus living and walking the face of the world?
One can only wonder.