Almost 100 years ago and in the early hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank into the history books. Out of approximately 2,227 passengers plus crew, approximately 700 people survived. After the disaster, some 320 bodies were recovered for burial at Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, including a J. Dawson, the unanticipated hero of James Cameron’s movie, Titanic. The remaining 1,500 became an unwitting part of one of the most fascinating cemetery memorials of all time.
The story is well known.
A glorious passenger ship surpassing the scale of all those previously built. The RMS Titanic was a floating palace that included swimming pools, squash courts, elevators and steam baths. The First Class lounge was in the Louis XV style while the Smoking Room had mahogany paneling highlighted with mother-of-pearl. A verandah, complete with flower-packed trellises, allowed for post-prandial relaxation while the formal Reception Area anticipated the evening’s fine dining. However, the type of food served certainly differed according to class.
Life was very good. At least until the iceberg showed up.
While the iceberg remains the principal cause of the Titanic disaster, hindsight argues a number of other possible items conspiring to the eventual sinking. These range from the innocuous to the heartbreaking to the downright bizarre.
• The missing binoculars from the crow’s nest restricting the lookout to eyesight-only during a very dark night;
• Sixteen lifeboats (and four collapsible rafts) for almost 3,000 people;
• Lack of action taken by the captain on six iceberg warnings sent by other passenger ships traveling in the same steamship lanes;
• An unforeseen metallurgical weakness of the ship’s steel hull made brittle by the icy, Arctic water;
• Cost overruns in build-out, causing the purchase of slag-riddled rivets for the ship’s bow, the area receiving the greatest impact from the iceberg;
• The Titanic curse, instigated by the vengeful Princess Amen-Ra.
In uncomplicated terms, the large loss of life was caused by outdated British Board of Trade regulations which allowed Titanic to go to sea with insufficient lifeboat accommodation.
Regulations required vessels of 10,000 tons or over to carry a minimum of 16 lifeboats with a capacity of 5,500 cubic feet with rafts and floats equal to 75 percent of the lifeboats’ capacity. Titanic could carry a total of 3,511 passengers and crew but regulations meant the Company was required to provide space for only 962. White Star, in fact, provided Titanic with four extra collapsible type boats increasing the capacity to 1,178.
Finding the Titanic’s wreckage site did not occur until almost 75 years later but even then, discovery yielded its own set of preservation and vandalism challenges.
When Dr. Robert Ballard’s expedition found the wreck on September 1, 1985 he decided to leave the area in peace, [simply] recording the discovery with photographic images. In 1986, he returned and placed a bronze memorial plaque on her stern for the Titanic Historical Society honoring those who died. He kept his promise, but since then the wreck site, considered by most a mass grave, has been stripped and several exhibitions staged in Europe and the United States have displayed an odd assortment of twisted, torn and broken objects; even personal items and clothing.
What is the correct approach here?
After all, not many of us have the financial wherewithal to rent a submersible for our own personal visit like James Cameron. Visiting an exhibition is as close to the wreck site as we can get. And since the ship sank in international waters, why shouldn’t owner, RMST, Inc., be allowed to extract the findings for museums or personal collectors? Or should the RMS Titanic be considered a mass grave, similar to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor?
Who is right?
Other Interesting Sources:
The RMS Titanic’s Passenger Manifest
The RMS Titanic’s Cargo Manifest
The 1912 US Navy Report
The New York Times Headline Article
Floor Plans for the Titanic – overview