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A Night To Remember – 100 Years Later

In Local News on April 9, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Most photos labeled to be the Titanic, including those used in the White Star Line advertising, were actually her sister ship RMS Olympic, the first of three identical ships built between 1911 and 1914.

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

“Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption.” –  The Bishop of Winchester,Southampton,England 1912.

On April 14, 1912, somewhere on the frigid north Atlantic, three words echoed from high atop the mast of the largest moving object ever created. “Iceberg, right ahead,” became the death knell for one of man’s mightiest technological achievements and equally remarkable failures.

Almost a folktale of human arrogance, countless books, movies, television shows and songs tell the story of how the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic struck an iceberg and shortly thereafter slipped quietly below a calm sea, seemingly gone forever. More than 1,500 passengers and crew perished that night, having either gone down with the ship or frozen in the icy water waiting for rescue.

Even her state of the art double bottom hull and 16 water-tight compartments couldn’t prevent the ship from proving Archimedes’ most basic principal of buoyancy. The exact location of Titanic’s final resting place remained a mystery for more than three quarters of a century. Then, in 1985, oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard found the decaying remains of the great liner wrecked and scattered on the ocean floor more than two miles beneath the surface.

Though some survivor accounts described the ship as sinking intact, it actually broke apart, collapsing under its own weight and hydrodynamic pressures during its long plunge to the bottom. While the stern section lays crushed and nearly unrecognizable, 2,000 feet away the bow of the ship sits upright and, at first glance, appears relatively intact; a ghostly reminder that the site is more than just a shipwreck, but also the gravesite of all those who perished along with her.

Interest in Titanic is one of the most widespread hobbies in the world, generating millions of dollars in revenue for media, artifacts and a myriad of Titanic-related works. Along with the 100th anniversary of the disaster comes a revived interest in the disposition of the wreckage, today with more emphasis on the people involved, how they died or what they did to survive.

But the obsession with the sinking is far more than morbid curiosity. It’s a study of human behavior; the reaction of normal people to a seemingly impossible situation that came about because of arrogance, vanity and corporate greed.

For decades, armchair quarterbacks have speculated about how Titanic and her passengers might have been saved or even how the accident could have been prevented. In reality, only those who were there really know what happened and, given the potential for more loss of life, the fact that more than 700 people survived is somewhat of a miracle.

Though Titanic was marketed as the crowning achievement of the White Star Line, many have forgotten that she was not the only ship of her kind. In fact, there were three: Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Physically identical in nearly every way, the other two cruise liners suffered uniquely different fates than their sister ship.

First to be built, the RMS Olympic, certainly deserved the title of unsinkable more than Titanic. In May of 1918, after being fired upon by a German U-boat, the ship rammed and sank the sub, making her the only merchant vessel to ever do so. The Olympic stayed in service until 1935 when she was finally scrapped and sold off in pieces.

Launched in 1914, RMS Britannic never made a transatlantic crossing. During the First World War she was refitted, relieved of bulky extravagancies, and converted to a hospital ship. In 1916, Britannic struck a German mine and sank off the Greek island of Kea. Fortunately, out of a crew of more than 1,000, only 30 people died. Britannic is still on the bottom, lying on her side and relatively intact, in only 400 feet of water.

Lost on her maiden voyage, Titanic had a short life, but her memory will likely never fade completely, even as the shipwreck continues to deteriorate in the hostile environment of the deep. Hopefully her legacy will forever serve as a reminder to future generations that life is precious and humans are fallible.

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