The White Star ocean liner RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg. Though the ship had been touted as "unsinkable," more than 1,500 lives were lost in the disaster. Every man, woman and child in the U.S. and U.K. probably knows this story.
The story has been told and retold in so many formats that it is almost impossible to ignore. And you are no doubt aware of all the re-telling underway for this centennial observance. Soon we will all be watching (or enduring) another Julian Fellowes creation, much hyped after the success of his Downtown Abbey series.
a photo of an old book just like the one my grandmother owned
I first learned about the Titanic from a book published in 1912 that I found on Mimi's (my grandmother) bookshelf. She remembered hearing about the disaster as a young married woman and gave the book to me when she eventually moved into a care center. I read every word over and over, studied the pictures and imagined what happened on the doomed ship. Nevertheless, I am an enthusiastic boater, sailor, cruiser and all things aquatic. Who'da thunk it?
I loved the pictures especially, black and white artists' renderings of the interior of the vessel as well as the lifeboats, the icy waters and the ship slipping below the surface while the orchestra played Nearer My God to Thee. It stirred the heart of a little girl -- and still stirs the heart of a considerably older and more experienced me!
Grand Staircase in First Class
The movie set, 1997
Probably all of us remember the movie Titanic, staring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, in 1997. A version in 3-D is in movie theatres now -- or will be soon.
But it did not make anything like the impression on me that the film A Night to Remember (1958) made. I think I lost sleep for weeks. Maybe it had something to do with my age -- then and now!!
Ceremonies are already underway in Belfast where the ship was built. And there will be many other observances on the anniversary.
The Memorial in Belfast
Since soon after the wreck was discovered, exhibitions of materials from the ship have been traveling around the world. I admit to having seen it twice and will probably go again someday. When we entered, they gave us cards with the names of passengers. At the conclusion of the exhibition we learned whether "we" survived or were among the lost. The first time, I survived, but not the second time I visited.
One of the most compelling stories for me as a child was the fate of the skipper, Captain Edward J. Smith, who, in the naval tradition, went down with his ship. He was one of the 1,500+ who died that night; his remains were never recovered.
RMS Titanic Captain E. J. Smith
I suppose I will not be able to resist watching the new Titanic mini-series when it is shown in the U.S. But given my disappointment with the cliched characters and trite plot of Downton Abbey, I predict similar disappointment -- the early reviews use terms such as "hectic" to describe it.
However, I will continue to treasure the vision I have of the doomed ship -- acquired so long ago they are indelible! Many thanks to Mimi for giving me the book!!