Sunday 20 May 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About the Titanic

1.  By the Numbers
The $7,500,000 (now $400,000,000) Titanic could hold a maximum of 3,547 people, but had 2,223 aboard when tragedy struck four days into its maiden voyage. There were six warnings of icebergs before the collision and it took 160 minutes for the boat to sink into water that was negative two degrees centigrade. Just 31.6 percent of the passengers and crew survived, however experts say 53.4 percent should have survived given the capacity on the Titanic lifeboats. Just 28 people were on board the first lifeboat, which had a capacity of 65. Today, the ship sits at 12,600 feet below sea level.

2.  Titanic's Near Collision

Long before it struck an iceberg in the Atlantic, the RMS Titanic ran into trouble with another object: the steamer New York. A much smaller ship, the New York was sucked into the Titanic's wake and its mooring snapped, spinning her around stern-first toward Titanic. A nearby tugboat, the Vulcan, came to the rescue by taking the New York under tow. The two ships avoided collision by a matter of about four feet and the incident delayed Titanic's departure for about an hour.

3.  Canceled Lifeboat Drill
A lifeboat drill was planned for the Titanic on April 14, 1912 - the day it struck the iceberg. For reasons that remain murky, Captain Edward John Smith canceled the drill. Some say it was canceled to allow passengers to go to church. Several historians believe that had the drill taken place, many more lives could have been saved. There were not even close to enough lifeboats on board to hold all passengers and crew, but when they were launched, they were not filled to capacity.

4.  Two Bathtubs
Nearly every passenger on the Titanic had to share a bathroom as only the two promenade suites in first class had private facilities. However, the third class passengers had it rough. There were just two bathtubs for the use of more than 700 passengers.

5.  The Atlantic Daily Bulletin
The Titanic was so impressive for its time that it even had its own newspaper on board. The Atlantic Daily Bulletin was printed every day on the Titanic. The newspaper included news, advertisements, stock prices, horse-racing results, the day's menu, and society gossip.

6.  The Richest Man On Board
The wealthiest passenger aboard the Titanic was Lt. Col. John Jacob Astor IV. Astor, whose family made its fortune in opium, fur trade, and real estate, went down with the ship after helping his pregnant wife escape into the last lifeboat. Traveling with the Astors was their valet, maid, nurse, and pet Airedale. The nurse and maid survived with wife Madeleine, the rest perished. The Astors were returning on the Titanic from an extended vacation in Europe and Egypt where they waited for gossip to calm down over their recent marriage. Madeleine was one year younger than Astor's son Vincent from his first marriage.

7.  The Titanic Orchestra
All eight members of the Titanic orchestra perished in the disaster, though just three of the bodies were found. According to those rescued, the all-male group played until the ship went down. It's been suggested that the last tune was the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." "I shall never forget hearing the strains of that beautiful hymn as I was leaving the sinking ship," an unnamed rescued sailor told the Western Daily Mercury in 1912. "It was always a favorite hymn of mine, but at such a time and under such tragic circumstances it had for me a solemnity too deep for words." On May 9, 1912, a concert was held at the Apollo Club in Brooklyn, N.Y. to aid the families of the musicians who died in the disaster.

8.  The Mystery Ship
According to newspaper reports from 1912, the SS Californian was just eight to 15 miles away from the Titanic as it sank, but failed to respond to distress calls. Several Titanic buffs believe another ship, the 254-ton Samson, was just five to eight miles away, between the Californian and Titanic. The SS Californian's crew claimed that this mystery ship, which some believe to be the Samson, was steaming away, confusing them into thinking the rocket-flares came from a ship that was, in fact, in fine working order. For its part, the Samson may not have been eager to identify itself because of illegal seal hunting.

9.  Suicides
Ten Titanic survivors would later commit suicide. The first was stewardess Annie Robinson who was sailing across the Atlantic to visit her daughter in Boston two years after the tragedy and jumped overboard. The last was Frederick Fleet, the lookout on the Titanic who first spotted the iceberg. He hung himself from a clothesline in his garden in 1965.

10.  The Lost Titanic Film
One of the roughly 700 survivors of the Titanic voyage was silent screen star Dorothy Gibson. Gibson burst to superstardom in 1911 and her film "The Lucky Hold Up" was released on April 11, 1912 while she was on the Titanic. Surviving the disaster on the first lifeboat launched, Lifeboat No. 7, she convinced her manager to appear in a film based on the sinking. She went on to write the scenario and star in the one-reel drama "Saved from the Titanic" wearing the very clothes she wore on the night of the tragedy. The film was hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic, but the only known prints were destroyed in a 1914 fire at the Éclair Studios. Many film historians consider this the greatest loss of the silent era. Gibson abruptly ended her film career soon after the film's release. At the time, she was the highest paid movie actress in the world.

Note:  For further reading, look at the list below.

1.  A Night to Remember (Walter Lord, 1955).
2.  The Discovery of the Titanic (Robert Ballard, 1987).
3.  Titanic:  An Illustrated History (Donald Lynch, 1995).
4.  Titanic: A Survivor's Story (Colonel Archibald Gracie, 1998).
5.  The Titanic for Dummies (Stephen Spignesi, 2012).

Photo of sinking from movie Titanic (1997) courtesy

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