Memories: RMS Titanic, April 14, 1912

I will not be doing a love/hate post because it is a very special day.  At the bottom of the post, see an activity you may share with me as we observe the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the White Star Line ship Titanic.

This disaster has captivated the world since it happened.  A brand new ship, luxurious even by today’s standards, and at the time the largest man-made object in the world.  It carried the elite of society, along with hundreds of immigrants heading to New York and a fresh start.   The new ship boasted a barbershop, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath and the best accommodations in steerage of any liner.

The Royal Mail Steamship (RMS) Titanic.

Image F.G.O. Stuart / Wikimedia Commons

You can read the Wikipedia article for more information on the ship and its fate; I won’t rehash it here.

The last known picture of Titanic. Bye bye.

I will say this:  Captain Arthur Rostron of the RMS Carpathia, a much smaller ship than Titanic, was a hero.  When told of the distress message sent by Titanic’s crew, he gunned his little liner immediately to the site, through a dangerous sea filled with growlers and bergs that were hard to see that moonless night.

Captain Arthur Henry Rostron of RMS Carpathia, in 1912.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tiny Carpathia had to really cram to hold the survivors of Titanic.  The people onboard shared their blankets, and by all accounts were very kind to them.

RMS Carpathia.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Titanic inspired many books and films. The stories of the passengers and crew, their lives and their deaths, intrigue us.  Sadly, with the passage of time, there is no one left who survived the sinking to remember it.  It is fortunate that their testimony and anecdotes were so well preserved.

The ship went undiscovered for over 80 years.  Everyone knew roughly where it sank, but no one could pinpoint the exact location.  Two miles deep, the wreck appeared to be lost forever.

On September 1, 1985, Dr. Robert Ballard, former Navy officer and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and a crew of explorers discovered Titanic’s remains on the ocean floor.


Dr. Robert Ballard.

Image:  Wikimedia Commons

We now have images of the wreck.

Titanic's bow. Notice the "rusticles," bacterial growths eating Titanic's hull. It is estimated that in 30 years, she will be gone.

Photo: AP


An assortment of objects in the debris field.


Shoes. The shiny object below them looks like a trunk or suitcase hinge.

Image: NOAA

The sea claimed any bodies long ago.  Salvage company RMS Titanic Inc. are the only entity legally allowed to take anything from the wreck.  They sell coal (Titanic carried tons of it) along with themed merchandise to finance expeditions and exhibitions of artifacts.

I own two pieces myself.  To me, that is financing its preservation both by exhibit and exploration.

Many artifacts are being preserved to learn about the time period and the ship itself.  Biologists and oceanographers study the little ecosystem that sprang up around the wreckage.  There are fish, bacteria that have adapted solely to feed on the iron in the hull, and other marine life we know little about.

In an interview on NPR April 11, 2012, Robert Ballard said:

“When I found the Titanic, I went to the courts, and I said, ‘Well, can I own the Titanic?’ And they said, yes. It’s an abandoned shipwreck. All you have to do is go down and retrieve one object of saucer or plate or something, come into the courts, and we’ll make you the owner. But we’ll make you the owner under one condition, that you remove it from the bottom of the ocean. … I was opposed to that. I wished I’d gone and got that one cup and brought it up and said, ‘I want to turn it into an underwater museum.’ I’d rather take people there through the technologies we now have, and I really regret I didn’t do that.”

What Ballard said is idealistic, but impractical.  You know what it takes to go down there?  It’s extremely dangerous and would be cost-prohibitive for anyone but the very wealthy.

One of the purposes of exhibits is for people to learn and remember those who went before.  Salvaging the wreck for historic purposes is no different from preserving a Roman or Viking wreck.  We are emotional about Titanic because we can remember survivors, and their descendants are still with us.  We don’t remember the Romans and Vikings, and we’re not quite so sentimental about them

To stand in front of these artifacts is to connect with the people on the ship.  A little bow tie is the one that got me.  Titanic‘s artifacts are all things that are familiar to us.  We use combs and ties and dishes like those.

It is important that we never forget what happened that frosty April night in 1912.   The people who died that night did not do so in vain.   Their fate inspired changes in maritime law that keep all of us safe now.

  • No longer is the number of lifeboats determined by the gross tonnage of the ship.  Now every single person on board, passengers and crew, has to have a seat.  There are mandatory lifeboat drills.
  • Radio communication can never be turned off.  Someone has to monitor it all the time. In addition, any color rockets fired from a ship are automatically taken as a distress signal
  • Although the icebergs drifting that far south at that time of year was a fluke, after the sinking the International Ice Patrol was formed to keep watch over the area.
  • Watertight bulkheads were extended to be truly watertight (Titanic’s only cleared 10 FEET above the waterline.  As the bow dipped, water spilled over into adjoining compartments, making the ship sink faster.)

Tonight, many of you may be watching James Cameron’s film.  I will be.  But there is something else I would like to share with you, as we remember those who were lost, from the famous and rich to the stokers in the belly of the ship.

I found this blog post, which Barry Cauchon updated from a previous 2009 article.  He gives the times in two different accounts of the sinking and extrapolates them from ship’s time (which is different) to now, with Daylight Saving Time factored in.  You may adjust them to your own time zone.

I will reproduce his answer to my comment below:

Saturday, April 14, 2012 at ‘8:38 am’ awesometalks said:

For the Central Time Zone, this is when you would commemorate the exact moments of the event. Not all states use Daylight Savings Time, but as most do, this calculation is based on that (CDT)(Central Daylight Time). If you are still on standard time (CST), deduct one hour from these calculations.

CENTRAL DAYLIGHT TIME (CDT)(if you are on Daylight Savings Time now)

Lightoller’s Version (Central Daylight Time 2012) (CDT)
1. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 10:07 pm (CDT )(April 14, 2012 real time)
2. The Titanic sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later at 12:47 am (CDT) (April 15, 2012 real time)

Lord Mersey’s Version (Central Daylight Time 2012) (CDT)
1. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 9:50 pm (CDT) (April 14, 2012 real time)
2. The Titanic sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later at 12:30 am (CDT) (April 15, 2012 real time)

Thank you, Barry!

I decided I’d use Second Officer Charles Lightoller’s version.  At 10:07 pm CDT, I’m going to light a candle in remembrance of the lost souls on the ship.

At 12:47 am, I will blow it out.

Won’t you please join me?  Let me know in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Memories: RMS Titanic, April 14, 1912

  1. Pingback: Thinking about the Titanic tragedy 100 years later as a human being (sort of) and as a 19th and 20th century historian | Felicita Ratti's Blog

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