Tag Archives: Smithsonian

“What A Watch Tells Us About The Titanic Final Hours”

RMS Titanic pictured in Queenstown, Ireland 11 April 1912
Source:Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh Ireland/Wikimedia Commons

The Smithsonian magazine has an interesting story about the Titanic watch that belonged John Starr March, of New Jersey. In 1912 he was aboard Titanic as a mail clerk for the U.S. Postal Service. He was 48 years old at the time and had two daughters. His wife had passed away in 1911 and had worked on ocean liners before. During that time, he had experienced at least eight emergencies which worried his daughters. They wanted him to stay on dry land but the lure of being aboard Titanic was too good to pass up, so he went aboard to run the mailroom.

Being a mail clerk back then was an important job-whether or land or sea. You had to pass examinations and show you could handle the job of correctly sorting out mail so that it could be easily processed when it arrived for delivery in the United States. Mail clerks were initially bunked in the third-class passenger area and ate there as well. They were moved to different quarters later and ate in a private dining room after the clerks protested the arrangements.

On that fateful night, the March and the other mail clerks worked hard to save as much mail as they could. They were seem frantically trying to save mail and bought sacks up to the deck in the hopes of eventual rescue. Sadly, none of the mail clerks survived the sinking. March’s body was found and was buried in New Jersey. His engraved watch, which stopped at 1:27 am, was given to his two daughters. It now resides in the National Postal Museum. We know of many great people who were lost when it sank, and of the band that played, and stories of heroism as well. It is easy to overlook though, those who toiled to make sure that letters and packages were properly sorted for arrival in New York. And sadly, perished trying to make sure some letters were saved from the icy waters.


What a Watch Tells Us About the Titanic’s Final Hours (Smithsonian,  Aug 2021)

Titanic News For April Fool’s Day 2014

film reel1. Those who use the Netflix streaming service will be happy to learn that Cameron’s Titanic will be available. Also coming via streaming are A League Of Their Own, Fox Network’s House, and B0b’s Burgers(season 3), see Lindsay Lohan before she became a hot mess in Mean Girls, those wanting a Scottish adventure will have Braveheart to watch. Saturday Night Live fans may recall the Coneheads movie and Robin Williams made everyone wary of boardgames in Jumanji. If you have been hankering to see the Rocky movies, fear no more as Rocky 1-5 are now streaming. For those who like horror gag movies, Scary Movie 3 is on. And just in time for Easter, The Bible: The Epic Miniseries is available.
Source: From House to Titanic: A Viewer’s Guide to the New Additions to Netflix(31 Mar 2014,E! Online)

2. Have you wondered about dogs on Titanic and what happened to them? The Smithsonian has compiled a guide about those 12 dogs. In The Definitive Guide to the Dogs on the Titanic , small dogs survived while the bigger ones perished. They were kept in kennels on F Deck and looked after by the ship’s carpenter. They got exercise, food, and a bathroom break. And there was a dog show planned but that never occurred. The dogs were let out at some point and were seen running about as the ship sank. There was no truth to oft-told tale that First Officer Murdoch’s dog was on a lifeboat and alerted Carpathia to the lifeboats by barking.
Source:The Definitive Guide to the Dogs on the Titanic(31 Mar 2014, Smithsonianmag.com)

3. Although doubts have been raised about a new Titanic being built by Clive Palmer, there are hopeful signs it may yet come to pass. There was a little noticed passage in a Asia Times about discussions to construct a cruise ship based on a historic, well known ship. No name was mentioned but some speculate it might be Titanic. Considering the source was within the Chinese government, speculation is that perhaps they will want to help fund this new ship to demonstrate how world class China has become in the 21st century.
Source: Chinese Government Considering Cruise Ship Business(1 April 2014, Asia Times)

Warning! Titanic Cliche Ahead
Warning! Titanic Cliche Ahead

4. Titanic Cliche Alert:Reshuffling Cabinet=Rearranging Deck Chairs on Titanic
In the wake of losing power in local elections, French President Francois Hollande has named a new prime minister and now says (after supporting higher taxes) he wants to lower taxes and worker contributions. Rainbow Murray,associate professor at Queen Mary University of London, says “I think it’s really rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Until they sort the economy out, nothing else is going to fix the major reason why the French are so unhappy with the government.” And if you have to fall back on this old tired cliché to make a point about French politics, you need to re-read Shakespeare for tips on how to better use wit to make your point.
Source: Hollande confirms Valls as PM, stands by pro-business pact(31 Mar 2014, CNBC/Reuters)



Item#3 above is the fake story. April Fools!

Titanic Sunk By Optical Illusion! No, It Was A Rare Celestial Alignment! Competing Claims Hit Titanic Community As Centennial Of Sinking Draws Closer

Titanic Trials
Photo courtesy George Behe

Over the years there have been many theories as to why Titanic sank in 1912. Some are outlandish, such as a submarine or White Star switching Titanic for Olympic. The wreck weakened several beliefs, such as Titanic going down in one piece or that there was 300 foot gash. We have had theories about brittle steel contributing to its demise. Now competing theories appearing in The Smithsonian magazine and National Geographic once again take us into the world of speculative theorizing.

British historian Tim Maltin, after reviewing evidence gathered from weather records, survivor accounts, and previous studies believes “super refraction” prevented not only seeing Titanic in time but prevented the nearby California from really seeing clearly a ship in distress. The atmospheric conditions with air cooling from the bottom with warm air above creates a light inversion and a mirage making objects appear higher (and nearer) than they really are resulting in a false horizon. And the area between the real and false horizon would have haze. The result was that on a moonless night Titanic sighted the iceberg when it was too close. On the California, Titanic appeared too small and too near to be an ocean liner–an effect created by this unique super refraction. This would explain why California did not see the Morse lamp due to the distortion and later Titanic’s rockets. Titanic fired distress rockets 600 feet into the air but the distortion made them appear lower than the ship.

On the other hand, National Geographic has astronomer Donald Olson of Texas State University-San Marcos proposing that the large amount of icebergs in 1912 was a rare alignment of Earth-Moon-Sun intensifying the gravitational pull on the planet. The result are very low tides and very high tides (called a spring tide). Since icebergs do not travel fast, older icebergs were affected by the high tide and sent southward into Titanic’s path. And of course the rest is history.

Maltin’s claim provides more to California than Titanic. We already know Titanic was moving at night with no moon and in an area with lots of icebergs. Lookouts had no binoculars and did not see the iceberg until they were nearly upon it. Murdoch tried to port around the berg but doing so took precious time and ended up inflicting fatal damage to Titanic. Under this theory, Captain Lord appears vindicated. He claimed to not know it was Titanic, that distress rockets were not seen, and that the ship appeared to be too small. Speculation of a third ship between the two has never been proven. The theory of super refraction is fascinating. And it is possible under the right conditions but was it that way that night? The only answer is maybe since we have no conclusive evidence it did happen. Possibly experiments using those conditions might lead to answers.

As to the “supermoon” theory as some call it, that has less plausibility if for nothing else other astronomers argue back that the effect was not that great and likely did not contribute to large numbers of icebergs in the North Atlantic that year. Some speculate it was warmer water currents that may have been the cause.

It is not surprising these theories suddenly come out just before Titanic’s centennial takes place. With many people focused on Titanic, many will be drawn to them. Maltin has a book coming out about his theory and Smithsonian has a documentary called “Titanic’s Final Mystery” being televised on 15 April. So the news about this theory is more public relations than anything else. Olson has co-authored a report on this theory so again we have public relations drumming up interest.

Neither theory really gets into or changes the underlying facts. Whether you believe there was a super refraction or an unusual celestial alignment that created higher tides does little to change what happened that night. Nor does it excuse errors in judgment made by White Star, Captain Smith, or Captain Lord on Carpathia. It is speculative theorizing that sounds fascinating, possibly plausible, but in the end adds nothing to the story and 1,522 lives lost that fateful night.


1)Maltin’s Theory
Did The Titanic Sink Because Of An Optical Illusion?, Smithsonian, March 2012

2)Olson’s Theory
Titanic Sunk by “Supermoon” and Celestial Alignment?, National Geographic, March 2012