Using the History of the Titanic to Debunk Myths
No sooner had the Titanic sunk than myths began to spring up around her. Known history can debunk some of these Titanic myths, whether they’re about why she sank or some of her more peculiar passengers and cargo.
A mummy on the Titanic?
One Titanic myth said that a mummy was stowed on the ship and that’s why Titanic sank. According to the myth, the mummy was named Amen-Ra, and she hurled curses around like a lawn sprinkler throws water.
As is often the case, the truth is much less dramatic. There was no mummy on the Titanic, and her sinking had everything to do with an iceberg and nothing to do with a curse. Moreover, the genuine “mummy of Amen-Ra” was not really a mummy, but a sarcophagus cover that now resides in Room 62 of the British Museum.
Unlike most myths, the source of the mummy myth is well known. It originated with writer, journalist, editor, and spiritualist William Thomas Stead. On Friday evening, April 12, two nights before the Titanic sank, Stead regaled his dinner companions with ghost stories and tall tales. One tale recounted the legend of Amen-Ra, the mummy allegedly stowed in the cargo hold.
A worker was trapped in the Titanic’s hull
One of the ghastliest myths about the Titanic purports that a worker was trapped inside the ship’s hull during construction, and with nowhere to escape, he died, his body sealed in the hull of the ship.
Only two construction-related deaths occurred during the building of the Titanic, a remarkable safety record. The two deaths were recorded, and all workers were accounted for when the ship set sail. No workers were trapped inside the Titanic’s hull.
A “priceless” book was lost with the Titanic
The myth of a “priceless” volume of Omar Khayyam’s The Rubaiyat in the hold of the Titanic is a myth. That the book sank with the Titanic has been confirmed by 1912 newspaper accounts and elsewhere, but its value hardly comes close to the epic numbers you imagine when you hear the word priceless.
A few weeks before the Titanic sailed, the book was purchased at auction for around £405. Today, the identical book would fetch around $40,000, although that amount would climb significantly due to the book’s association with the Titanic. But its value in no way would reach the astronomical heights the myth would have us believe.
The Titanic purser’s safe was loaded with valuables
The Titanic purser’s safe is where the wealthy first-class women onboard stored their valuables during the voyage. A common belief had it that the safe was still aboard the Titanic and that it contained a treasure trove of diamonds, jewelry, gold, bank notes, and other valuables.
In truth, the purser’s safe was retrieved from the Titanic and opened for a 1987 television special called Return to the Titanic. Inside the safe was what a representative from Van Cleef & Arpels said was a diamond bracelet. That’s it: a diamond bracelet — not a jewelry-store cache of diamond bracelets or any other jewelry, for that matter.
The Titanic sank because of the champagne curse
The myth of the Titanic champagne curse tells us that the reason the Titanic sank was because the bottle of champagne used to christen her didn’t break. An ancient rule of the sea says that if a ship’s christening bottle remains intact, bad luck will befall the vessel.
But there was no champagne bottle. The White Star Line most assuredly did not christen its ships with bottles of champagne or any other beverage. A priori, the Titanic did not sink due to a champagne curse, even if you believe in champagne curses.