She was the pride of the White Star Line. Built over the course of two years in the shipyards of Belfast, the RMS Titanic was not only the largest ship afloat at the time, but she was also labeled “unsinkable,” due partly to her watertight compartments. On her maiden voyage she carried a wide mix of passengers: steerage quarters were filled with new immigrants, and upper levels hosted the wealthy and famous. She sailed on April 10, 1912 and ran into disaster in the North Atlantic in the late hours of April 15, 1912.
While her initial collision with an iceberg was not considered lethal, the fact that some five of her 16 airtight compartments were compromised proved fatal.
In a little over two hours, the ship foundered and sank, leaving some 1500 people of over 2200 passengers to perish in the icy sea.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of that terrible tragedy.
For those who curious to learn more, there are countless resources available designed to inform about the ship’s specifications, the passenger lists, and the even the resulting courtroom investigations.
We can read of survivor testimonials and burial sites for the unfortunate, as well as efforts to salvage the wreckage.
Of course, Walter Lord’s 1955 fascinating book, entitled “A Night to Remember,” remains a classic.
Lord’s account follows the passengers and the crew as each faced the disaster in his or her own fashion. Destined to become a film of the same name, this story remains among the more famous of the retellings.
Dr. Robert Ballard is considered a scientific authority on the event, given his expertise in locating and exploring the wreckage. With the aid of a small robotic submarine, Ballard was able to locate the debris field that others had been unable to pinpoint for so long.
“Titanic Revealed,” a haunting dvd documentary, recalls Ballard’s original discovery. Ballard also assembled an excellent picture book of photographs taken during his exploration.
“Called Titanic: The Last Great Images,” the book offers us eerie glimpses of the crusted bow and the battered remains of children’s shoes found on the ocean floor.
The book also offers period photos taken both during the ship’s construction and as she departed.
Another beautifully arranged book of photographs, “Titanic: An Illustrated History,” involves the work of author Don Lynch.
Among other highlights, Lynch presents a foldout of the ship’s layout and interior shots of the first class staircase, the second-class public rooms and the third-class dining room. The book also supplies a valuable overview of the tragedy as it unfolded. Readers can even see the position of various lifeboats over the course of the sinking.
For those who seek a more personal look at the tragedy, “Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage” seems the perfect book. Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Shelia Jemima assembled this fine collection of letters, photos and testimonials. Of particular interest are the personal recollections supplied by the many survivors and the heartbreaking photographs of various memorials, such as the White Star Company’s church service in Southampton.
For those who wish to do more reading on the event, Stephanie Barczewski’s “Titanic: A Night Remembered,” includes detailed biographies of some of the dead. Among them are the ship’s captain, Edward Smith, and band member Wallace Hartley, who played music to the end.
And Brad Matsen, author of “Titanic’s Last Secrets,” adds more to what we know by retelling the explorations of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, who not only investigated the wreckage of the Titanic, but also the remains of the Britannic.
Interested in one of this year’s titles? “Shadow of the Titanic” by Andrew Wilson is one of the finer offerings. Wilson’s take is unique, however, in that he conveys the dismal lives of the survivors after the collision. So many suffered from what we now recognize as survivors’ guilt.
For example, Madeleine Astor, widow of John Jacob Astor, went on to marry several more times and eventually lost her portion of the Astor fortune. Duff Gordon, one of the many wealthy, never overcame rumors that he had paid lifeboat rowers to ignore those struggling in the icy waters.
Reflection on the fate of the Titanic leads to thoughts on the nature of heroism, vulnerability, and randomness of chance.
The library has an excellent collection of titles that can offer you more about that fateful trip aboard the pride of the White Star Line.