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The Titanic For Dummies

From The Titanic For Dummies by Stephen J. Spignesi

On the night of April 14–15, 1912, the unthinkable happened: On its maiden voyage, the Titanic, the largest passenger ship ever built at that time, hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. More than 1,500 of the 2,200-plus people on board were killed, including some of the wealthiest and most well-known people in the world. Those who survived told harrowing stories of waiting in lifeboats in the frigid waters for hours, uncertain whether anyone even knew they needed to be rescued. Stories of the Titanic’s sinking still captivate audiences a full century after its demise — stories that remind us of the limits of men’s endeavors and the dangers of their arrogance.

2012 Titanic Centennial Commemorations

April 15, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. Lots of cities, people, and companies want to commemorate its loss. Following are ten Titanic commemoration events you can attend.

The Titanic Memorial Cruise on the Balmoral

The Titanic Memorial Cruise on the Balmoral will follow the same route as the Titanic herself. The Balmoral departs Southampton, England, on Sunday, April 8, 2012 (two days before the original departure), sails past Cherbourg in France, and stops in Cobh (a port city on the south coast of Ireland that was called Queenstown when the Titanic stopped there on April 11, 1912). The Balmoral then sails the Atlantic to the site where the Titanic foundered. At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 2012, a hundred years to the minute when the Titanic sank, a memorial service will take place on the Balmoral to honor the lost ship, her passengers, and her crew.

The Balmoral will carry 1,309 passengers, which is the same number of travelers (not crew) that sailed on the Titanic. Aboard the ship, guests can hear lecturers and historians talk about the Titanic. They will enjoy food and drink from the Titanic era and are invited to wear period costumes. Passengers can also mingle with more than 30 relatives of Titanic survivors and victims. The ship will visit Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a stop at three cemeteries where bodies recovered from the Titanic are buried.

For more information about the Titanic Memorial Cruise on the Balmoral, visit the Titanic Memorial Cruise website.

The Titanic Memorial Cruise on the Azamara Journey

The Titanic Memorial Cruise on the Azamara Journey departs from the Titanic’s destination port, New York, instead of its beginning port in Southampton. The ship departs on April 10, 2012 (the exact date 100 years ago that the Titanic departed), and makes its first stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a visit to the cemeteries where Titanic victims are interred. The Azamara Journey then travels to the site of the Titanic’s sinking, where a memorial service for the passengers and crew of the Titanic will be held at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 2012. The ship, which will host lecturers on the Titanic throughout the cruise, returns to New York to conclude the cruise.

For more information about The Titanic Memorial Cruise on the Azamara Journey, visit the Titanic Memorial Cruise website.

The Titanic Mini Cruise from Southampton

The Titanic Mini-Cruise from Southampton is a five-night cruise that leaves Southampton on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. From there, it sails to Liverpool, where the offices of the White Star Line were located. Next, it goes to Belfast, where the Titanic was built, before heading back to Southampton and docking on Sunday, April 8, 2012. Passengers will travel aboard the Balmoral.

For more information about the Titanic Mini-Cruise from Southampton, visit the Titanic Memorial Cruise website.

The Titanic Centennial Memorial Weekend

The Titanic Centennial Memorial is a newly built, black-polished-granite, mausoleum-inspired monument with an illustration of the Titanic etched on its front. This beautiful cenotaph is located at the historic Oak Grove Cemetery in Springfield, Massachusetts. Its unveiling and dedication ceremonies will take place on Saturday, April 21, 2012. The ceremonies are open to the public. The monument was initiated and sponsored by the Titanic Historical Society. The weekend includes seminars, a formal Titanic dinner, programs, and speakers at the nearby Castle of Knights meeting and banquet house in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

The memorial is located near the grave of Titanic first-class passenger Milton Long, who died in the sinking. A photo of the memorial and details about its construction can be found at the Titanic Historical Society website.

Titanic 100

Titanic 100 takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in April 2012. The organizers planned this event as a project to increase Canada’s involvement and presence in Titanic history. The organizers say that after Belfast, where the Titanic was built, Halifax is the second-most-important Titanic city in the world because of its historic sites. Halifax boasts three Titanic cemeteries and 24 Titanic sites, including (per the organizers) “recovery locations, the morgues, locales for the 1997 movie, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Titanic scientific exhibit at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.”

Organizers for Titanic 100 have planned these events:

  • A multidimensional conference on the Titanic, covering science, art, economics, and the ocean. It will have a public forum consisting of reflections and new research, as well as presentations and keynote addresses.

  • A festival comprising concerts, community events, and a soundscape.

  • A Marine Art Festival consisting of an art exhibit, performances, and a roving lecture series.

  • An unveiling and dedication ceremony for a Titanic monument on the Halifax waterfront.

  • Concerts in the city.

  • A film festival of Titanic movies 1912–2007, followed by a symposium featuring experts and scholars.

  • Upgrades to the city’s Titanic assets, including refurbishment of three cemeteries, new site panels, new signage, and a Titanic trail.

In addition, an info-packed Titanic 100 website has been created.

Titanic 2012 Cape Race Commemoration

Titanic 2012 Cape Race Commemoration is a symposium and commemoration designed to remember Cape Race, which linked Newfoundland to the Titanic story. The Marconi wireless station at Cape Race, located on the southeastern tip of Newfoundland, was used to relay messages from the Titanic to New York City. The station at Cape Race was the only land-based station that received a distress call from the Titanic.

During this commemoration, visitors can explore Cape Race, learn the story of the area’s Marconi station, listen to guest speakers, taste items made from icebergs, and hear local Titanic tales. The events take place April 14–15, 2012.

For details, visit the Cape Race website.

Titanic-Themed Weekend at Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan is planning a Titanic-themed weekend May 13–15, 2012. Visitors get the following in this weekend package:

  • Lodging

  • Meals

  • An interactive dinner theater event featuring an 5-course dinner identical to the last dinner served to the Titanic’s first-class passengers

  • A screening of James Cameron’s 1997 movie Titanic

  • An Edwardian-era fashion show

  • Titanic seminars

For more information, visit the Grand Hotel's website.

Titanic Museum Openings in Belfast and Southampton

Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Southampton, England, each built a new museum to commemorate the Titanic’s hundredth anniversary:

  • The Southampton Sea City Museum: This museum, scheduled to open before April 2012, will feature two permanent exhibits about the Titanic story and the city’s role as a major port from which the Titanic set sail. Four out of five crew members aboard the ship hailed from Southampton, and the losses to the city were significant. For more information about the museum, visit the Sea City website.

  • The Titanic Belfast Museum: This museum, which opens in March 2012, will offer an exhibit covering every detail of the Titanic’s building; the exhibit will feature nine interactive galleries. Visit the Titanic Belfast website for more information.

Titanic Museum Attractions’ Trip Giveaways

As part of the company’s centennial events, Titanic Museum Attractions will give away a total of six 11-day trips for two to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Titanic was built. Titanic Museum Attractions will give away three trips at its Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, location and another three at its Branson, Missouri, location. The company is also sponsoring a “Back to Titanic 100th Year ‘Tour Ireland’ Sweepstakes.”

Beginning in July 2011, Titanic Museum Attractions offered the opportunity for guests who visited their museums to participate in a special tribute to the passengers and crew by depositing a rose petal into a container in the Memorial Gallery. On the 100th anniversary of the sinking, April 15, 2012, all the rose petals will be released onto the surface of the North Atlantic where the Titanic sank.

For more information about the Titanic Museum Attractions sweepstakes and giveaways, visit the Titanic Museum Attractions website.

Titanic Weddings

Want to get married in a Titanic-themed ceremony? Hotels and resort sites have created Titanic packages for couples who want to do just that. Here are two such examples:

  • Couples at the Grand Hotel in Michigan can get married on a replica of the Grand Staircase of the Titanic.

  • The Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas offers many wedding packages for couples. A visit to the Titanic Artifact Exhibition on site can be included during the stay.

Why the Titanic Still Fascinates

The story of the Titanic’s demise is achingly dramatic and keeps audiences and readers spellbound even a century later. The Titanic disaster wasn’t the greatest maritime disaster in history, but it’s by far the most famous. Following are some reasons that the story still resonates:

  • The first-class passengers included some of the richest people in the world. The rich and famous flocked to the Titanic. In 1912, ocean travel was the only way to get from Europe to the United States, and the wealthy were drawn to the ship touted as the most luxurious steamship ever built — a luxury hotel on water. The ship’s maiden voyage attracted artists, authors, industrialists, retailers, and others who could afford the expense of a first-class ticket. While well more than half the first-class passengers survived the tragedy, some of the most famous passengers (such as John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim) were among the casualties.

  • The third-class passengers were sailing toward the American dream. Most of the 700-plus passengers in steerage were part of the great migration from Europe to America that occurred at the turn of the twentieth century. They were sailing in search of the American dream. Leaving their homelands with essentially everything they owned was the biggest decision of their lives. Only about 25 percent of them survived the sinking.

  • The caste system was on full display. While the third-class accommodations on the Titanic were nice compared with other ships, they paled in comparison to the first-class amenities. And the classes did not mix and mingle during the voyage — or during the sinking. Divisions among the classes were stark, as evidenced by the vast difference in survival rates between first- and third-class passengers. (James Cameron acknowledged this disparity in his epic film when he had Rose’s pompous, imperious mother ask, “Will the lifeboats be seated by class?”)

  • The ship was generally considered to be unsinkable. The sheer size of the Titanic (it was almost 900 feet long and weighed more than 46,000 tons) was a spectacle. It boasted 16 watertight compartments that were designed to allow the ship to stay afloat even if it suffered damage and began to take on water. While the White Star Line never claimed that the ship couldn’t sink, it did say (in a brochure) that the Titanic was “designed to be unsinkable.” No one imagined that it could go down, especially not on its maiden voyage.

  • The lifeboat capacity was inadequate. The Titanic met regulations in terms of the number of lifeboats on board, but the lifeboats could hold only 1,178 people if filled to capacity. More than 2,200 people were on the ship. Also, the chaos of the sinking led to many lifeboats launching without being filled to capacity, which is why only around 700 people survived.

  • The survivors’ stories were front-page news. Many survivors shared their harrowing stories of watching the ship sink and hearing the screams of passengers who did not secure spots on the lifeboats. They shared their terror of being in the icy waters of the North Atlantic for hours, uncertain whether any ships were trying to rescue them. Those stories made front-page news in the days and weeks after the sinking and became the stuff of legend.

  • The wreckage was found. Interest in the Titanic waned in the years after the tragedy, although the 1955 publication of Walter Lord’s history A Night to Remember created a surge of attention. (Several movies focusing on the sinking also brought it back into the spotlight from time to time.) But in 1985, interest exploded when Dr. Robert Ballard, on a joint mission with IFREMER (the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea), discovered the wreck of the Titanic. Since then, photos, video, and artifacts have brought the ship back into the public eye; spurred the release of documentaries and movies that explored the Titanic in ways never before possible (including James Cameron’s 1997 masterpiece); and secured the story’s place in world history.

Timeline of Key Titanic Events

The events surrounding the construction, voyage, and sinking of the Titanic — and the people involved in those events — have been a source of fascination for a century. Here are some of the key dates in the Titanic story, starting before its conception and ending with centennial celebrations in 2012.

1898 Morgan Robertson publishes a seemingly prophetic novella called Futility (later renamed The Wreck of the Titan). In this tale, the world’s largest steamship — the Titan — hits an iceberg and sinks.
1907 April 30: J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, and Lord William James Pirrie, a partner in the shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff, agree to build the Titanic.
July 1: The order is officially placed with Harland and Wolff for the construction of the Titanic.
1909 March 31: The first keel plate for Titanic is laid in the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Ireland.
1910 October 19: Plating of the Titanic is completed.
1911 May 31: The Titanic is officially launched from Harland and Wolff Slip Number 3. The launch is witnessed by more than 100,000 people.
1912 March 31: The outfitting of the Titanic is complete.
April 2: Five tugs tow the Titanic down Victoria Channel to Belfast Lough for sea trials, which include maneuvering the ship at different speeds, evaluating the performance of the helm, and performing an emergency stop. After successful sea trials, the British Board of Trade awards the Titanic her passenger certificate. The Titanic departs Belfast under the command of Captain Edward J. Smith and proceeds to Southampton, England.
April 3: The Titanic arrives in Southampton and docks at Berth 44.
April 10: The Titanic casts off, accompanied by six tugboats, and has a near collision with the New York. After this delay, she leaves Southampton and sails to Cherbourg, France, where she takes on more passengers. The same evening, the Titanic departs from Cherbourg, bound for Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland.
April 11: The Titanic drops anchor in Queenstown harbor and takes on more passengers. Later, she raises her starboard anchor for the final time and departs Queenstown harbor for New York.
April 14, 9 a.m.: The Titanic receives the first of several messages warning of icebergs in the area.
April 14, 11:40 p.m.: In the crow’s nest, Frederick Fleet sees an iceberg looming directly ahead in the Titanic’s path. He rings a 16-inch brass bell three times and picks up the telephone that connects to the bridge. Sixth Officer James Moody answers. Fleet shouts into the phone, “Iceberg right ahead.”

First Officer William Murdoch immediately orders maneuvers to avoid the iceberg. He sounds a bell alarm for ten seconds to warn crew below decks that the watertight-compartment doors are about to be closed. Murdoch then pulls the switch to slam the doors shut.

A mere 37 seconds after Fleet spotted the danger, the Titanic collides with an iceberg.
April 15, 12:05 a.m.: Captain Smith orders the Titanic’s lifeboats uncovered and the crew and passengers assembled.
April 15, 12:15 a.m.: The Titanic sends out her first distress call.
April 15, 12:45 a.m.: The Titanic’s first distress rocket is fired. The first lifeboat, No. 7, is lowered from the starboard side.
April 15, 1:40 a.m.: The Titanic’s last distress rocket is fired.
April 15, 2:05 a.m.: Collapsible D, the last lifeboat to hold passengers and crew, is lowered from the port side. Collapsibles A and B, free from their tie-downs, are swept from the deck.
April 15, approximately 2:17 a.m.: The Titanic’s last wireless distress call is transmitted: “We are sinking fast.”
April 15, 2:18 a.m.: The Titanic’s lights fail. People in the lifeboats hear an enormous crashing sound as things in the ship — from grand pianos to engines — break free and plunge toward the ocean.
April 15, 2:20 a.m.: The Titanic’s stern rears up out of the ocean, poises upright for a moment or two, and then plunges downward, splitting in two and sinking 2.5 miles to the bottom of the ocean. More than 700 survivors watch the nightmarish tragedy from lifeboats.
April 15, 4:10 a.m.: The Carpathia arrives at the site of Titanic’s foundering and begins taking on survivors. The rescue operation continues for four hours.
April 15, 8:50 a.m.: Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia sets sail for New York with the Titanic’s survivors.
April 18: The Carpathia arrives in New York with the Titanic’s survivors. More than 10,000 people line the docks.
April 20: The cable ship Mackay-Bennett arrives at the site of the Titanic’s foundering to retrieve bodies. A total of 328 bodies are recovered.
May 13: The last lifeboat belonging to the Titanic is found adrift in the Atlantic by the Oceanic. Three bodies in the boat are buried at sea.
May 18: More than 30,000 mourners attend the burial of the Titanic’s bandmaster Wallace Hartley in his hometown of Colne, Lancashire, England.
1955 November: Walter Lord’s history of the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember, is published. It goes on to become the bible for Titanic historians.
1985 September 1: A joint French-American scientific expedition led by Robert Ballard discovers the wreckage of the Titanic 2.5 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic.
1987 August: An expedition by IFREMER (the French oceanographic institute that co-discovered the wreckage in 1985) to the site of the Titanic retrieves some 1,800 artifacts.
1994 June 7: A Norfolk, Virginia, court names RMS Titanic, Inc., the salvor-in-possession of the Titanic and any and all artifacts the company recovers. In order for possession to remain in effect, RMS Titanic, Inc., must remain “in possession” of the ship, thus requiring periodic visits to the site, some of which have been solely for photography.
1997 December 19: James Cameron’s film Titanic opens in the United States to excellent reviews and extraordinary business.
1998 August: RMS Titanic, Inc., successfully raises a 20-ton piece of the Titanic’s hull, known as the Big Piece, to the surface.
2009 Elizabeth Gladys Millvina Dean, the last Titanic survivor, dies in England at the age of 97.
2012 Titanic centennial commemorations take place in Belfast, Southampton, Halifax, and other cities important to the Titanic’s history. Commemorative cruises to the North Atlantic are launched as well.
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