One hundred years ago today, the RMS Titanic -- a luxury ship unlike any other -- sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg on April 14 at 11:40 p.m.. We have all seen the James Cameron account of the tragedy with the fictional Rose and Jack fighting for survival on the ship. But few of us know much about the real ship.
Disturbingly, it seems some did not even know the ship was real and that more than 1,500 people perished on it. No, it is not just a James Cameron movie.
The real story was full of very real tragedies and stories that the movie did not tell. Here are 6 things I learned his week about the sinking of the Titanic while obsessively reading/watching everything to do with the tragedy:
- People were uncharacteristically calm: Though many on board knew they would die, the passengers did not panic. They stayed orderly to the bitter end and helped women and children onto the lifeboats. When the Lusitania went down a few years later, it was mass chaos and panic.
- The chef seen at the end of the movie was a real person: While the fictional Rose and Jack are headed into the water while holding to the stern of the ship, there is a man in a white cooks outfit with them. He takes a swig of drink. He is supposed to be Baker Charles Joughin. He was standing on the stern as the ship went down, and paddled in the water without even being sucked down. He found Collapsible B (the overturned lifeboat) where he waited for rescue.
- There was a ship near by: The Californian was the closest ship. It had stopped just outside the ice field where Titanic was lost for the night, but when the Captain was awakened after some on the ship spotted the Titanic's flares, he ordered everyone back to bed and never even checked the wireless room so he missed the distress call and also missed the opportunity to save many, many lives.
- There were many near misses: If ONLY the Californian had come quickly. If ONLY they had not called the boat unsinkable. If ONLY the crew of the Olympic had not accidentally taken the keys to the locker that contained the binoculars for the lookouts. If ONLY they had enough lifeboats or heeded the ice warnings or did not turn the ship in a certain way when they saw the iceberg, maybe people would have lived. In fact, when First Officer Murdoch ordered the ship "hard a'starboard," he sealed her fate. She would have been better off plowing head first and may have stayed afloat long enough for rescue. The entire disaster was a series of small, seemingly avoidable mistakes.
- J Bruce Ismay was considered the biggest coward in history: You may remember him from the movie as the man who "encouraged" Captain Smith to go faster. Indeed, legend holds that is true. As heir to the White Star Line and owner of the ship, he is also the one who refused enough life boats as a "waste of deck space." Then he jumped in one as soon as he could. He may have survived the sinking, but his reputation did not. He was seen as a massive coward and more or less went into hiding.
- There was not that much suction at the stern: Despite what we think we know about the Titanic and about the sinking of ships in general, passengers who held on to the stern (like Jack and Rose) were able to just tread water off the boat. They were not sucked down as much as feared.
Did you know any of these things?
Image via Elsie esq./Flickr