Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last few weeks, you probably know it was 100 years ago today--on August 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m.--that the British luxury passenger liner Titanic struck an iceberg while sailing west across the North Atlantic. “She brushed the berg so gently,” wrote Walter Lord in The Light Lives On, his 1986 sequel to the classic A Night to Remember, “that many on board didn’t notice it, but so lethally that she was instantly doomed.” Within three hours, on the morning of April 15, that mammoth pride of the White Star Line disappeared beneath the frigid waters, causing the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew, and settling on the seabed 2.5 miles below.
I’ve been commemorating that disaster all week on the Web:
• My wrap-up of what I think are high-quality Titanic history books was posted on the Kirkus Reviews site.
• For January Magazine, I did an interview with Hugh Brewster, the author of one of those books, Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers and Their World.
• Also in January, you’ll find my rundown of half a dozen novels that use the Titanic tragedy as their setting or jumping-off point.
Part of my plan for concluding this commemorative week is to watch tonight’s introduction of Titanic, a four-hour miniseries written by Julian Fellowes, who is also the man behind the successful series Downton Abbey. When this new costume drama was broadcast recently in Britain, it ran in one-hour segments over four different nights. However, ABC-TV has repackaged Titanic for American audiences. The first three hours will be shown this evening, beginning at 8 p.m., with the concluding episode to start tomorrow at 9 p.m. Even though there have been a few negative reviews of the show (see here, for instance), I look forward to burying myself in the whole sad saga once more, a century after the real disaster took place. A behind-the-scenes video about the ship set used in Fellowes’ Titanic is embedded at left.
But even beyond this weekend, I’ll undoubtedly have lots of Titanicana to catch up on. For if you’ve been browsing around the Web lately, you will have spotted abundant stories memorializing that famous shipwreck, the Titanic’s builders, and its passengers and crew. I cannot say that I’ve found all the interesting material available, but here are some links to sites and stories that I--and perhaps you, too--should investigate further:
• Check out these wonderful graphic presentations of the ship’s construction, its North Atlantic route, and its failure to survive the collision with an iceberg.
• The National Geographic Channel’s Titanic page, which includes artist Ken Marschall’s unique cutaways of the ship’s interiors.
• Demographics of the Titanic passengers: deaths, survivals, and lifeboat occupancy.
• Writer-videographer re-examines that immortal question, “Did the White Star Line really claim the ship was unsinkable?”
• Although the ship was headed for New York City when it sank, Washington, D.C., boasts not one, but two memorials to its abbreviated maiden voyage.
• The National Geographic Museum in D.C. is hosting what’s supposed to be a meritorious exhibit, “Titanic: 100 Year Obsession,” through July 8.
• And before we depart the environs of the U.S. capital, a blog called Ghosts of D.C. has put together a fine recollection of Major Archibald Butt, a military aide to presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who “went down with the ship and [whose] body was never recovered.”
• Did you know there was only one black family on the Titanic?
• The vessel’s hull may provide clues to its quick and deadly plunge.
• Was the Titanic’s doom foretold in an 1898 novella?
• One of the first people to employ the Titanic calamity as a metaphor, writer Henry James--who’d booked passage on that vessel’s never-taken return voyage--worried that the Republican Party’s prospects in 1912 were as doomed as the liner itself.
• Remembering the dozen dogs aboard the ship.
• The New York Times reports, “two new studies argue that rare states of nature played major roles in the [Titanic] catastrophe.”
• What part might Earth’s moon have played in the ship’s sinking?
• Outstanding analysis of the ship’s design, construction, and failure to survive its encounter with an iceberg.
• Halifax, Nova Scotia, where “150 of the Titanic’s dead are buried in three cemeteries,” plays its essential role in this centennial.
• Newfoundland, too, observes its Titanic connections: “On that fateful night [of April 15, 1912], only 11 years after [Guglielmo] Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal in Newfoundland, one of his stations there was instrumental in passing on the distress signal from the ill-fated RMS Titanic.”
• The story of Jesuit priest and amateur photographer Frank Browne, who “captured some of the most enduring and iconic images of the ship, images upon which our modern-day knowledge of the interior of Titanic and the atmosphere on board are based.” Had Browne not disembarked in Ireland, those photos, like so many others, would have been lost forever.
• The Denver Post offers a collection of Titanic photographs.
• Steve Powell of The Venetian Vase blog looks back at “the remarkable life and mysterious heritage of Jacques Futrelle,” the American mystery-fictionist who perished with so many others on that “night to remember.”
• The Baltimore Sun’s
• Janet Rudolph reviews the last dinner served on the Titanic, which included chocolate éclairs with French vanilla ice cream.
• An account of the cultural and culinary items that went down with the Titanic, including four cases of opium, one Renault 35-horsepower automobile, and three extremely rare books.
• PC Magazine looks at how the Titanic disaster changed telecommunications.
• Some second (and favorable) thoughts about filmmaker James Cameron’s romantic historical blockbuster, Titanic, 15 years after its theatrical debut: here and here.
• Oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, “who in 1985 found the luxury liner’s dismembered corpse strewn across acres of the North Atlantic’s floor,”. The Titanic, he says, deserves better than to “becom[e] a scrap yard picked over by scavengers. ‘You don't go to Gettysburg with a shovel,’ Ballard said. ‘You don’t come into the cemetery and dig and take the jewelry off the bodies.’”
• Meanwhile, he has approached the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with his plan to use submersible robots to clean and paint the Titanic’s hull, which is beset by metal-eating life-forms. That project would help preserve the wreck in its current state.
• Finally, Ballard talks with National Public Radio about why, a full 100 years later, the Titanic still captivates.• Titanic’s “hallowed ground” may win new protections.