At 11:40 PM ship’s time 100 years ago today, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic ocean. By 2:20 AM on April 15, 1912 the beautiful, gigantic, and formerly unsinkable ship disappeared beneath the frigid waters. Over 1,500 people died that night out of the total of 2,224 souls aboard that maiden voyage.
Even today, we are stricken by the immensity of the tragedy, and wonder how and why this happened. Some years ago, I toured the Titanic Exhibit at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. The organizers made sure that the air was positively chilly while you walked through the exhibits.
On display were actual pieces of china from the ship’s dinner service. I distinctly remember a serving jacket a steward would have worn, and how small the people had to have been. The ship’s bell was on display. Even without the lower temperatures in the hall, the effects of seeing all these artifacts was, indeed, chilling.
In the gift shop, I ignored all the books, cups, and other paraphernalia when I spotted a shelf full of little plastic pyramids embeded with tiny lumps of coal from the Titanic. Now, I wish I would have bought one or two of the books showing pictures of the artifacts, but I had an austerity attack that day.
I paid $15 for that tiny lump of coal that was brought up from the Titanic wreck location. It means more to me than almost anything else about the event to possess an item that was on that great ship.
Television coverage of the Titanic anniversary has been extensive. There have been a couple of shows that have brought out new facts, or possibilities of things responsible for the tragedy.
In one interesting show a maritime expert asks the question, “Why did the Titanic crew not see the iceberg until it was too late to take action to avoid disaster?” The research was very interesting.
It was a distinct possibility that the Titanic lookouts were deceived by a super mirage, a well-known effect in an area where cold currents meet warmer air. That was precisely where the Titanic was as it entered the colder Labrador current from the warmer Gulf Stream waters.
The same phenomenon applied to the closest rescue ship, the Californian, which was within sight of the Titanic part of the time. The lookouts on the Californian claimed that they say a much smaller ship than the Titanic, but they never saw the Titanic. They could have been deceived by the same kind of super mirage, making the Titanic look much smaller. Even so, the Californian’s officers ignored the emergency distress rockets fired from the Titanic, even though they were clearly seen by the Californian’s crew.
An interesting line of research into the ship’s design revealed that the construction of the Titanic and its sister ship, the Britannica were slightly different. The expansion joint design had been modified significantly. The design of the joints on the Titanic probably contributed to its sinking so quickly.
With a different design of the expansion joints, the ship would not have split in two, and would have stayed afloat longer. This would have allowed the rescue of all the passengers, not just the 710 that the Carpathian gathered later that morning from the life boats.
What wonderful hindsight technology gives us.
The 1,514 people who died that night were part of history. I know I will never forget them.