Happy New Year

The new year has finally arrived. It was greeted, depending on how you celebrated it, either with a large crowd of people waiting for that moment or a small gathering at home. Traditions vary around the world. Austrians love to dance to the Blue Danube after the last bell has struck. Fireworks are often used to herald in the new year or perhaps the banging of pots like they do in Ireland. For me it was mostly quiet and in bed long before the midnight bell. There were assorted shouts around where I live, firecrackers going off, and clinking of glasses. Sunrise brought a quiet and mildly cold morning.

Of course being 2012 means Titanic is going to be important. It is the centennial of Titanic’s one and only trip. So many events are being planned both large and small. Belfast is using the event to undertake major renovations and building the Titanic Quarter. A place where both past and present will be on display. Titanic exhibitions are being planned and plaques to Titanic heroes and victims are being refurbished or set up for the first time. Special cruises are planned to follow Titanic’s path and are nearly sold out. Of course all kinds of replica items are appearing in catalogs and online offering people something tangible they can have.

The artifacts brought up from it wreck will be soon going up for auction. Premiere Exhibitions (which owns RMS Titanic, Inc) was awarded title and allowed to seek compensation from the court. Buyers must agree to abide by the covenants that will accompany the sale. The artifacts are to be carefully preserved and for public display. So only museums and companies that seek to exhibit artifacts will be bidding for the collection or rather groupings of artifacts. And all sales have to be approved by the court before they can be finalized.

Many are rightly concerned about artifacts being sold. Salvage split the Titanic community into warring camps. On one side you had those, like Robert Ballard, who saw Titanic not unlike the U.S.S. Arizona and argued be a memorial. Titanic was a grave and ought to be treated with respect. The other side of that was that there was a lot to be learned from studying the wreck and bringing up artifacts. There was much we did learn from studying the wreck, such as that Titanic did split in two (due to the massive weight in the forward area) and that there was no long gash. Titanic was pierced to be sure but was by holes caused when the iceberg rubbed up against the hull.

All the artifacts came from the debris field between the forward and crumpled aft section. The crumpled stern was likely caused by air trapped inside as it slowly sank to the bottom. Massive implosions took place as the pressure increased and the air had no place to go. The forward section was mostly filled with water when it went down so nearly all of its air was gone. Not so in the stern leaving it a twisted wreck. When the ship split in two, it allowed all the things tossed into the water–plates, silverware, luggage, shoes, dolls, to name a few–to spill out to the bottom floor where they remained undisturbed for decades. Probably bodies too but there were consumed by the sea a long time ago.

The fiery debate over salvage proved how strongly people felt about Titanic. Unfortunately it created permanent wounds and even ended friendships. The issue, at least legally speaking, is resolved. A U.S. Federal court had extensive hearings over whether RMS Titanic, Inc. (RMSTI) had legal rights was resolved in their favor. The court though kept jurisdiction owing to the historic nature of Titanic to make sure that artifacts brought up were properly conserved and displayed. And for the most part, that has worked out. There was a dispute over whether others could lower submersibles down to view Titanic. RMSTI argued it had exclusive rights to even view the wreck. The claim was rejected in U.S. courts and you are free to take the plunge down providing you have the cash (between $30-60K).

With the centennial this year, many worry a repeat of what happened when Cameron’s Titanic came out. Titanic societies and online discussion forums were deluged with people seeking information often about fictional characters. The key difference is that this is not about the movie, but the real thing. Yes there will lots of merchandise offered on every conceivable detail about Titanic. Some of it very worthy (like new editions of old Titanic historical treatments or a digitally updated versionsof A Night To Remember). Others might be tacky like replicas of a necklace worn in that movie. Or perhaps Titanic cutlery or plates that were used aboard White Star Line ships. For years a certain soap has advertised itself in catalogs as have been used aboard Titanic. Is that tacky? Not quite since the soap is considered quite good. Of course an ice cube mold that shapes ice like Titanic is tacky or perhaps creepy. One wonders why you would want ice shaped like Titanic in your favorite adult beverage other than to get attention.

For many ignoring the hype and focusing on the real story is key. We cannot forget that one of the most remarkable ships of her day sank on her maiden voyage after colliding with an iceberg killing 1,522 men, women, and children. All of their dreams and aspirations were silenced in that so very cold night when there were not enough lifeboats for all. While everyone likes to attack J. Bruce Ismay as the villain of the piece but they forget a complacent government that allowed for so few lifeboats to be required. One can argue endlessly about whether California saw or did not see the rockets Titanic fired but one thing is clear: had California raced to the scene just like Carpathia the outcome would have been the same.

Of the bravery of many, stories abound. And those are what just some of what Titanic is about. Stay tuned for the stories to be told as the year unfolds.