The Titanic

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the British ocean liner Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland, Canada, after colliding with an iceberg around midnight.

After seeing a local production of the Broadway musical Titanic, and noting its difference to the extravagant film that has recently been re-released in 3D, I wondered about the ship’s real history.

The live musical boasts that all characters are based on actual passengers and crew. Alas, no love story between the first-class Rose and her lower deck artist actually happened.
Key characters mirrored their real-life counterparts’ experiences. The wealthy Macy’s elder couple – Isador and Ida Straus did go down with the ship – on deck chairs, not in bed. And the ship’s owner, Ismay, really did jump into a lifeboat with women and children.

At the end of the production, a reel of lingering facts assaults the audience, noting how more could have been saved:

  • The lifeboat drill was never practiced with the passengers.
  • Most of the lifeboats were not full: one with a capacity for 65, had only 24 people in it; another lifeboat had only 12 people, despite a capacity for 40.
  • The Californian was the closest ship for rescue, but did not receive the Titanic’s distress call because its wireless operator had gone to bed.

Nick Ochwar of the Los Angeles Times summarizes 10 Titanic Books That Will Fascinate for more information on what really happened. But suggests…

“If you read only one book, however, let it be “Titanic, First Accounts” (Penguin, $16 paper), in which editor Tim Maltin gathers classic inquiries and early testimonies from survivors. It is a stunning record of firsthand stories and early reports. “The ship was gradually turning on her nose — just like a duck does that goes down for a dive,” recalls radio operator Harold S. Bride. “I had only one thing on my mind — to get away from the suction.” The book is full of such accounts, as chilling to read today as the North Atlantic waters were on that fateful night.”