April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
This was posted on my facebook on April 15th, 2012:
One hundred years ago on this day, the most beautiful ship the world has ever known sank into a dark abyss after striking an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean, defying mankind, defying all that was believed to be impossible.
One hundred years ago on this day, fifteen hundred people died with the White Star Line’s pride and glory, the largest man-made object of its time, the glorious and incomparable RMS Titanic – all because the “unsinkable” ship’s creators thought that in the end, man could overcome nature.
One hundred years. The ship that has fascinated the entire world has been resting under the waves for a hundred years.
I will never fully understand why I love Titanic and her story so much, why I have always loved her as though the ship were a sister to me or at least a very good friend. Titanic was the first love of my life, my first passion, the first chunk of history I was ever captivated by. To this day I nearly cry simply looking at pictures of her, reading about her untimely fate, researching the lives of her many passengers that were tragically cut short. To say that I am obsessed with her is the understatement of the century. Titanic is a part of my heart and my soul like nothing else will ever be.
I first learned about the ship when I was six years old. My mom says the day in question occurred when she and my dad were watching James Cameron’s masterpiece in our living room and I flounced in, caught sight of the beautiful ship onscreen, and started asking questions. Apparently, they then let me watch the first part of the movie but refused to let me watch the second due to the violence. (After begging my father – a fellow history geek – for weeks, I was allowed to watch the second part of the movie when my mom was gone one day, which resulted in me having nightmares for a week or so and probably began my lifelong fear of deep water, but it was beyond worth it.)
However, I will always remember truly discovering Titanic through my grandpa. Somewhere around the time I saw Titanic onscreen, my grandparents were in town, and if I remember correctly, they were in charge of watching my brother and I one day while my parents were out. I was running wild all over the house and my grandparents were at their wits’ end. My grandpa eventually sat down in the kitchen, got a big sheet of paper and spread it out over the table. Pointedly oblivious to me climbing the walls, he started to draw the outline of something big and mysterious-looking on the paper. I was curious about everything at six and immediately flocked to him to peer down at the drawing over his shoulder.
“What’s that, Grandpa?” I asked.
“It’s a ship,” he answered without looking up. “I’m drawing the most beautiful ship you will ever see.”
“Is it for real? Is it big?” It’s been too long to remember specifically what questions I asked then, but I remember my grandpa’s mouth twitching as though to hold back a smile as he realized he had successfully gotten me to calm down. As I kept firing questions at him, I remember him eventually turning to me and asking, “Do you have horses?”
“Yes,” I said, purely because I didn’t.
“Well, hold them.” And he finished drawing while I sat there silently. Neatly outlined on the paper eventually lay a long, tall, stunning ship (I learned that very day that it was never to be called a “boat”) with four funnels and two skinny masts on either end with wire stretched between them. Several decks stacked upon one another lay between the top of the hull and the bottom of the funnels. My grandpa drew portholes on the sides and tiny lifeboats up above them.
“What ship is it?” I asked at that point, and he told me. The ship, he said, was a glorious creation in the early twentieth century, and on its maiden voyage it had sailed from Southampton to France to Ireland and eventually headed to New York – only to hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic and sink, taking the lives of hundreds of passengers. He told me how the ship’s creators had deemed her unsinkable so that when she did, indeed, sink, there had not been enough lifeboats for the people aboard. He told me how unbearably tragic it was. How beautiful the ship had been. Its name, my grandpa said as he wrote it on the drawing of the ship on the table, was Titanic.
From thereon out, I was madly and indescribably obsessed. At six years old, I remember always wanting to go to the library so I could read books on the ship. I read everything I could get my hands on that I could understand at that young age, including the books my grandparents sent to me. When I was seven or eight, my parents took me to see the Queen Mary in California because it resembled Titanic and bought me two postcards with the beautiful liner painted on them, postcards I still cherish today.
As I got older, I was able to read more information about Titanic online. For birthdays and Christmases I was given books, diagrams, T-shirts, puzzles, a mock Heart of the Ocean necklace that I remember being scared to wear in case it got lost. I was called into the room whenever anyone came across a documentary on TV about the ship and I would happily come running. My friends stopped talking about Titanic around me because they knew I would start talking about it and never stop.
Through years of saving allowance (when I still received it) and, eventually, my paychecks, I bought beautiful photographs of Titanic and had them framed so I could look across my room whenever I wanted and see her in all her glory. On my bookshelf sits a sealed and protected scrap of wood from the ship found floating in the water after the collision, a piece of coal that was salvaged from the wreck site two miles beneath the waves. I cried when I held both artifacts in my hands for the first time. Everyone I knew made fun of me for spending money on wood and coal. But I didn’t care. Part of the Titanic would be with me always.
I think the most memorable thing, however, was when my then step-dad took me to the Titanic museum in Orlando when I was fifteen. There I spent two hours in awestruck wonder, looking at all the artifacts and the pictures, taking in the history and the reconstructions of certain parts of the ship and let me tell you, if you love the ship at all you must go to that museum sometime during your life. It is simply amazing. I remember they built a replica of the Grand Staircase which had been roped off to people who weren’t a part of the exhibit – something I was disappointed about since, like every girl who has ever seen the movie Titanic, all I wanted to do was walk down it like Rose did when she met Jack at the bottom. However, the tour guides hurried us along, and I passed the room sadly. But my step-dad and I doubled back to look at everything again when the tour was over and upon entering that room once more, it was completely empty.
“Go jump the rope,” he told me, nodding to the replica Grand Staircase. “I’ll keep a look out.”
“Really? We’re not supposed to – ”
“Hurry, or someone might come in!”
That was one of the best moments of my life, leaping over the rope and the sign that said “No Trespassing” and rushing up those stairs and thinking how they were exactly like the ones in pictures I had seen of the Titanic’s grand staircase. The clock was there at the top, set at 2:20. Everything was so perfectly carved, so accurately sculpted. I slowly and gracefully walked down the stairs smiling like an idiot but it was amazing; all of it was so surreal and for a moment I had a feeling similar to one I’m sure the ship’s passengers must have had… I was simply awestruck by what Titanic’s elegance and glory had been. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to appreciate the splendor of the ship, never knowing that within days everything would be at the bottom of the ocean.
When I saw the movie by James Cameron for the first time, I was too young to understand a lot of what was going on and only remember being fascinated by all the beautiful clothes and Rose’s red hair (to this day I want her hair). I remember being impressed by how brave all the people were, feeling utter sadness when the freezing water took their lives. Now I watch the movie and cry and sit in awe, but not when Jack and Rose are onscreen. I cry when I see the real wreck at the bottom of the ocean at the beginning of the film, when I see the way the once glorious ship disappeared into the night two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg. I sob when the older Rose begins her story and the image of the bow of the ship underwater morphs into the stunning ship it was before it sank. And the very first part of the film, the reenactment of Titanic leaving port for the first time, with all of her passengers waving and cheering…it’s overwhelming. It has always been unbearably overwhelming.
There are many reasons why I was and still am so fascinated with this ship, all of which are not entirely straightforward or clear. Maybe it’s the surreal, breathtaking, nearly indescribable beauty of the doomed ship. It’s the tragedy. The ultimate test of man vs. nature. The bravery shown by the passengers, the crew. Nearly fifteen years of obsession and fascination later, I still get goose bumps when I think about the two hours and forty minutes those passengers went through, the amount of courage they showed.
The captain heroically went down with his ship. The band kept playing until the very end. The operators kept messaging for help even while water filled their cabin. The workers and stokers down below gave their lives to keep the lights on literally until the moment the ship split. Men stepped aside to allow women, children, and less capable people into the only boats there were. There was panic, no doubt. There was terror. There was desperation. And yet through it all, people were brave. They faced their death instead of running from it. Maybe what draws me to the ship most of all is the chilling truth of what the tragedy was about; in the end, it took the glorious Titanic to bring together two different worlds: the rich and the poor. It took the sinking of the incredible ship to show that, contrary to popular belief amongst its passengers, no one person was better than the other.
So much of my life has been dedicated to simply knowing everything there is to know about the Titanic, knowing what caused it to hit the iceberg, knowing who decided to build it, knowing who some of its passengers had been. And every fact I retain is never enough. I’m always searching for more truths, more stories, more answers. Most of all I find myself asking the question that can never be answered: why – why? – did the ship have to sink?
Over two thousand, two hundred people were on board when Titanic headed out into the vast ocean by April 11th, headed for New York, for the New World. Seven hundred five of those passengers survived the disaster. The other fifteen hundred died during that fatal night. Most froze to death rather than drowned…. but either way, it was a tragic end.
All the survivors of the tragedy are gone now. The remains of the Titanic, laying two miles below sea level, are starting to wither away. That thought alone is a knife in my heart…but what I’ve come to realize is that even though the Titanic no longer sails above the water, she is still alive in the hearts of those who understand her story, marvel at her splendor, despair at her death that came too soon. She still stands for timeless beauty unaltered by society. She still stands for hope and she still humbles the human race by reminding us that we will never be greater than Mother Earth. If anything, she reminds us that in the end, financial status or race or religion is not what defines a person’s character. It took the sinking of the ship to show that what sets anybody apart from others is their courage and their strength.
Today, on the hundredth anniversary of Titanic’s sinking, I still sit in awe of the ship she was when she sailed, the beacon of hope she was to the hundreds of passengers who trusted her. My heart will forever belong to the ship that was betrayed by both man and nature on that night a hundred years ago, the ship she is now, laying quietly and peacefully in her resting place… the surreal, beautiful ship she was then and will be forever.
If there is any quote that sums up everything, as Rose from James Cameron’s movie puts it: “Titanic was called the ship of dreams. And it was. It really was.”
If you don’t want to read my huge tribute, just listen to this. This sums up everything and more.