Sunday, April 15, 2012


A teacup. A pocketwatch. A five dollar bill. A deck of cards. . . . Nearly 5,000 objects have been recovered from the wreckage of the great British steamship, the RMS Titanic.  You have to wonder. Did an elegant lady in evening attire sip tea that night as the ship sped toward disaster? Was a man losing badly at poker when someone noticed their feet were getting wet? Did an officer check his watch to guage how fast the ship was sinking? Each person on-board was lost in his own story, her own problems, until they were suddenly thrown together into one story, the story of the Titanic.

The Titanic

A crowd gathered to watch the Titanic depart from Southampton, England, just after noon on April 10, 1912. There had never been a ship like this — nearly as long as three football fields and as tall as an 11-story building. It was bound for New York City. 

Titanic was fully loaded —  stained-glass windows, carved paneling, fancy chandeliers. It had an elegant dining room where food prepared by French chefs was served on fine china. It had a beauty salon, a barber shop, a library, a Turkish bath, a squash court, a gymnasium and a swimming pool. It had everything — or so it seemed

Grand staircase of Titanic's sister ship, The RMS Olympic
Fast forward to April 14th. It was a calm, starry night, as Titanic plowed through the icy waters of the north Atlantic.  Frederick Fleet kept watch in the crow’s nest. With all the incredible luxuries of Titanic, someone had misplaced the one thing they really needed that night — binoculars for the look-out. Shortly before midnight, Fleet picked up his phone and called the First Officer, William Murdoch: “Iceberg ahead!”

Immediately, Murdock ordered the ship to turn sharply and put the engines in reverse.

Too late. 

The next sound Murdock heard was a soft thud of the ship hitting the iceberg. Such a soft sound — barely audible. Surely whatever caused it couldn’t have done much damage. But Captain Smith soon discovered that the iceberg had made a 200-foot gash along one side, and water was rushing in to 5 compartments. 

Only 20 minutes after impact, the captain knew the worst. He commanded the lifeboats to be filled with “women and children first.” But there weren’t enough lifeboats, and in all the uproar, some boats were launched half full. 

By the time the crew decided to call for help, the California, 10 miles away, had shut down their radio for the night. Another ship, the Carpathia, heard the distress call and came to the rescue — but they were 58 miles away. By the time they arrived, the ship had already disappeared into the ocean. The Carpathia could only rescue the survivors from their lifeboats. 

Titanic survivors in a lifeboat

It took only three  hours for the ship to sink. One survivor described how at the end, the lights went out, and then “slowly and almost majestically” the ship rose straight up in the water. And then, “She slid beneath the water of the cold Atlantic.”

More than 1500 people perished that night. After this disaster, new laws were passed. All ships were required to have enough life boats for everyone on board, and to have radio service around the clock.

April 15, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The wreckage — discovered in 1985—is slowly dissolving into the ocean where it came to rest. Soon, nothing will remain but a teacup, a pocketwatch and the other objects that were recovered. 

But the legend — and hopefully, the lessons learned — will last for a very long time.

Memorial to the Titanic Engineers - Southampton

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