Titanic Musings

With the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking over, things have quieted down. News wires were jammed with Titanic themed stories, sometimes just repeating what others wrote. There were remembrances galore, Titanic dinners, heartfelt commemorations. And then inevitably come the commentators all trying to write that piece that sums up Titanic. I lit a candle and watched the movie  A Night To Remember based on Walter Lord’s book of the same name. Though we have modern treatments like Cameron’s and a recent BBC miniseries, this movie still resonates.

I recommend the Criterion collection version which has commentary by Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. They provide lots of interesting details, historical and otherwise, to the movie. The movie does a good job of visualizing Lord’s book but does shift around some things and not always historically accurate (like the opening scene which depicts a ceremony christening Titanic which never happened). Captain Smith comes across as more decisive in the movie but in actuality less so. The movie tends to show the crew working better than in reality in lowering lifeboats. On Titanic most of the crew and officers were unfamiliar with the ship and there were no drills. We see also how frightening it was to step into those boats seeing how far down they had to be lowered. We also see two very different reactions to Titanic’s sinking on California and Carpathia.

The depiction of Lord in that movie caused the real Captain Lord to seek a new investigation believing he had been unfairly maligned. Lord came under severe criticism in 1912 for failing to act. Conflicting testimony and Lord’s own statement the ship seemed to steam away gave rise to theories of a third ship, but that has never been proven. What is damning is that neither the officers or him were that interested in that ship to wake-up the wireless operator. Had they done so the SOS would have been heard. Rostron on Carpathia sprung into immediate action once he got the information and immediately set off. It is that standard that Lord, fair or not, is held to. Now had Lord had learned the same information at the same time as Carpathia, the outcome would have been the same. Both would have arrived long after the sinking and most passengers had died. So to blame Lord for Titanic deaths is a stretch and both of those captains heeded the ice warnings and stopped for the night while Captain Smith sped on.

There are many stories associated with Titanic and one notable is about Isidor and Ida Straus. When Isidor declined a seat on a lifeboat insisting that women and younger men be saved before him, Ida declined a seat saying “I will not be separated from my husband.”  As we have lived so will we die together.” It is one of those stories, told by witnesses afterwords, that had a lingering impact on people who learned of it. Such a remarkable show of love and devotion tends to do that. While most people learn that Isidor Strauss owned Macy’s not much else is reported about his life. Wikipedia has a biographical sketch but does not give you a feel for who he really was.

Thankfully an article in Jewish Ideas Daily does. Born in 1845 in Otterberg, Germany, his family immigrated to America in 1854 and settled in Talbotton, Georgia. While his family was Jewish, the family no longer was observant and ate bacon from their own smokehouse. He tried enlisting in the Confederate Army but was too young (16) and spent the war working as a store clerk. After the war the family moved to New York where he and his brother Nathan ran a shop selling family glassware and crockery at Macy’s Department Store. By 1896 both Isidor and Nathan took over ownership after the Macy family decided to sell making Isidor a very wealthy man.

Despite having no Jewish education and a secularist, he supported many Jewish institutions and causes even many he did not agree with. He was ardently anti-Zionist and wrote scathingly of its cause. His brother Nathan though was a supporter after a trip to the Holy Land. Ida was more appreciative of Jewish traditions reminding her grown children to remember Pasach and to eat Matzos. Like many he believed himself no longer Jewish but assimilated. Isidor and Ida’s deaths was mourned. Many Jews had died on Titanic but their story was the most well known. Memorial services were held in many places, a park in their name opened three years later (Straus Park). There is a memorial plaque on the first floor of Macy’s in New York, a public school named after them, and Straus Hall at Harvard (a gift from his three sons).

Walter Lord Still Lives On

Walter Lord’s A Night To Remember  first published in 1955 is enjoying record sales, print and e-versions. According to an AP report, 30,000 downloads of the e-edition were recorded by Open Road Integrated Media–the digital publisher. This is an excellent book. Check your local library to see if they have the old or newer editions of the book. It is worth reading and Lord’s excellent writing style does not disappoint. His book about Dunkirk is also highly praised. Worth a read if you come across it.

The Dark Side of Titanic

Gerry Adams penned an op-ed piece in the Irish Echo about Titanic. Adams, of course, was one of those agitating against the British in Northern Ireland for many years. So it comes as no surprise, despite the peace accords, that he would take a whack at British dominated Ireland in 1912. Harland & Wolff did not hire many Catholics, some were expelled, beaten or even killed. He writes further of the bad conditions Catholics endured and the divisions festered by government and business owners. It is interesting that while Adams praises the promising jobs created by Titanic themed building in Belfast, he wants no one to forget the society that built it. He praises Titanic but rues the society that built it.

Here We Go Again….Titanic II

Right after James Cameron’s movie came out there were people saying they wanted to build Titanic II. Nothing came of them, except lots of chatter on the Internet. Fast forward to 2012 and guess what? Some very rich guy who lives down under wants to build Titanic II. Oh and with Chinese help! It is his money, of course, so he is free to spend it as he wishes. However one wonders if it all just publicity stunt for something else. Whatever. Not holding my breath for tickets available for Titanic II in the near future.

Tacky Titanic:Titanic icecube


Need I say more?

Titanic Musings-Ballard Wishes He Claimed Titanic

Right now the artifacts raised from Titanic are up for auction but only as a single lot. RMS Titanic, Inc. did not like this restriction since it makes hard to find a buyer or group of buyers willing to put up $189 million. However the proposed auction has been delayed and a press release yesterday indicates they are in negotiations with multiple parties. A press conference originally scheduled for 11 April has been put off until further notice. One wonders who these buyers might be considering the huge price tag. It could be a consortium of museums, government entities, or very wealthy business people who want to continue the exhibition.

Robert Ballard, who was part of the expedition that found Titanic in 1985, now regrets disclosing its location. Further he wishes now he could have made a claim on the wreck to prevent salvage. Except of course he could not have done so easily. Likely he would be excluded do his association with Wood’s Hole at the time. Wood’s Hole received government money and worked with the U.S. Navy. And government employees and those who work or affiliated with government are excluded from making salvage claims (which would give them an unfair advantage over private companies). Then there is the fact that Ballard was a reserve naval officer. Ballard knows this making his recent claim on National Public Radio curious. Then again perhaps it was just wistful thinking on his part.

Perhaps even more odd is the United Nations stance in the manner. Some years ago there was an attempt to secure a treaty to protect Titanic from further salvage. The proposed signatories would have been Britain, France, Canada, and the United States. The Titanic Treaty was never formally ratified and thus never came into effect (supposedly because France did not want to sign). But UNESCO apparently has included Titanic as protected under a 2001 convention on underwater cultural heritage. This comes into effect this year according to MSNBC thus any further salvage would allow parties to the convention to seize artifacts and prevent exploration that is “deemed unscientific or unethical.”

The problem is that no one is going to enforce this if the party involved either follows maritime law to salvage or is simply diving down to view the wreck. Simply diving down to view is allowed despite a foolish court action by RMS Titanic, Inc years ago to stop it (they lost, by the way). And UNESCO can do nothing if artifacts are raised and taken to a country that tells them to take a hike (like China or Russia). This sounds like your typical feel good thing that makes one feel good but actually achieves very little in the end.

That leaves Doug Wooley, who claims to own Titanic and wants to raise it, with a problem. Good luck on that Doug, 🙂

Letters To Editor: Captain Smith Was At Fault

Titanic News Channel welcomes Letters To Editor. Please try to keep to 250 words. Please provide your name, location, and email address. Letters are subject to editing for punctuation and brevity.

Captain Smith Was At Fault

The musings ended and the facts finally were and are now accepted as fact. Captain Smith committed an incredibly egregious error in not standing his ground against Ismay and instead of keeping the ship still it moved ahead slowly and just enough to drive in enough water to overwhelm the pumps such that the fire damaged bulkhead gave way and the ocean went into the boiler room like a tsunami of doom. Author David G. Brown (“Last Log of the Titanic) brought this fact to the foreground. It is now accepted universally as a fact of a mistake of the highest order.

Mr. Brown also states that when Smith was last on the bridge the Titanic was already seeing, and steering around bergs. That Smith did not then slow the ship down and order a reassessment of the potential ice field ahead nor, at the very least, post a lookout on the bow (where there was a canvas cover and phone just for such a situation) are errors that make Smith’s ability to make decisive decisions clear. Even his oddly curt and detached chat on the Bridge with Lightoller reads like someone saying as little as possible so as not to give away his impairment.

Smith should have been retired after the Olympics collision with the Hawke. The size of liners and their effect on water and objects near to these giants was clearly lost on him. He was so self aggrandizing that he decided to head out, bow first, with a dash as the ship left Belfast only to be saved by a hair from repeating the Hawke accident with the pulling of the New York within feet of colliding with the Titanic. The hour delay he caused should have caused, a more clear minded C.E.O. than Ismay, to relieve the Captain of his duties right then and there.

Compared to Captain Rostron of the rescue ship Carpathia; Smith’s actions are simply dismissed as his being “overwhelmed”. That mat be true and if so it does nothing to suggest that he should not have been retired after the Olympic accident. That it was one full hour after the collision that the first lifeboat was launched places his image next to the Captain of the Costa Concordia who also launched his boats to late. Forget the sun and moon effect on tides, forget a possible wrong turn by the cagey Lightoller, the buck stops with a ships Captain. Captain Smith had no business as the master of a ship whose size heralded the passing of the time when Smith was relevant or competent to handle such a vessel.

Of all the important people who could not get into a lifeboat, including John Jacob Astor, but that the people who hosted that last nights dinner for Captain Smith; the Wideners did get into a boat is further evidence that the Titanic was a haphazard mess waiting for a disaster. If not that night, then some other night. Smith can be heralded by any who choose to. But they do so against solid evidence against him.

Daniel Conaway

Titanic Musings

Titanic. Put that into a search engine and you get a lot back. Lots of sites to explore devoted to the subject (shameless plug alert for Titanic News Channel) along with sites that incorporate it in some fashion. Of course the entertainment news sites are full of stuff about the stars of that Cameron movie and what they think today about their roles. The movie is still widely popular and many will likely see the 3-D version. It is a visually stunning movie with perhaps the best recreation of what the ship and people looked like in 1912.

The 100th anniversary of the sinking has spurred many an event around the world, so many it is hard to keep track of. Why does Titanic still grab us long after sank in 1912? Recently while viewing an old National Geographic on India’s historic railway, the narrator noted that images linger long after leaving. And that is possibly at play here. Many who learn about Titanic get an image of a grand ship, of the people who worked on it, of the people who sailed on her from the highest to the lowest, and the image of the grand ship sinking on a cold moonless night taking with her 1,500 souls. Some were well known men and women, others just people working the ship to make money or traveling to a new life in the United States. The images linger.

Walter Lord’s  A Night To Remember (and later its sequel The Night Lives On) connected people to what happened in 1912. When it came out in 1955, people rediscovered the story which had lain dormant through two world wars and the Great Depression. It spurred a 1958 movie, A Night To Remember, which became a classic and many consider to be faithful to the actual story. Lord interviewed many Titanic survivors and did considerable research for his book. Both the movie and the book relay images from a time that linger with you. Perhaps it is seeing the Strauss’ deciding to stay aboard or Guggenheim dressed in his Sunday best. Or the people rowing away watching the ship go down. While some survivors reported the ship broke in two, that was discounted at the hearings but verified in 1985 when the wreck was found.

Other images have come into focus as well, such as seeing images of the wreck. The stern section is completely twisted and torn up likely because of trapped air inside as it went down. The front still has the outline of the famous ship but it too shows damage. Many artifacts have been brought up from the debris field, many of which are part of the traveling Titanic Exhibition. People may disagree over whether salvage was right or not, but seeing the artifacts of those who traveled aboard make the story come alive. And the story continues to thrive all over the place such as school kids doing Titanic themed projects or people putting up small displays about Titanic in a retirement home.

The wreck is suffering the ravages of time. Robert Ballard believes submarine excursions to the wreck have caused damage but there is disagreement. Some think that trash dumped by ships nearby is causing more bacteria activity that is eating away at the wreck. One thing is certain: the wreck will not last forever. Some argue the front section could be brought up (Douglas Wooley for instance) and put on display. Many, however, believe that would be an impossible task considering how deeply embedded the ship is in the sand. The images of the wreck remain with us as a haunting reminder of what if. What if this had been done instead of that. There are many things that if had been done differently might have averted the catastrophe and tragedy to come. Sometimes we get a jolt when a ship like Costa Concordia ends up on the rocks reminding all of the perils at sea even in our modern times.

There have been many notable and even worse shipwrecks than Titanic. Yet despite that Titanic lingers in the mind more than those events. The images linger.

Titanic Artifacts Linked To First Officer Murdoch

The Associated Press reports today that certain artifacts recovered from Titanic have been identified as William Murdoch’s. The AP notes: The artifacts — including a shoe brush, straight razor and pipe — are the first to be specifically linked to Murdoch, who gained added notoriety after James Cameron’s polemical portrayal of him in the 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic.”

You can read the full article and see a photo of the artifacts by clicking here.

Source: Associated Press, Titanic Artifacts Linked To Officer, 3 April 2012