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100 Years After She Sank, Titanic Continues to Fascinate
Monday, April 02, 2012
The Titanic tragedy that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 and stunned the world still captivates audiences 100 years after the largest so-called unsinkable steamer collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage and sank into the ocean depths.
The details of the disaster have been revisited in countless articles and a dozen movies, including "A Night to Remember" and James Cameron's 1997 "Titanic," which is being re-released in 3D on Wednesday.
The sinking of the New York City-bound steamer off the coast of Newfoundland on April 15, 1912, continues to intrigue because it is epic, according to Paul Heyer, who wrote Titanic Century: Media, Myth and the Making of a Cultural Icon.
"It has a kind of tragic aura to it that we find in the Bible, Greek drama, Shakespeare, novels such as Moby Dick," he said. "It’s almost as if all these themes in literature have come to life in a real historical event."
Charles Haas, author of several books on the ship, recalls learning about the Titanic from his grandfather, with whom he would watch giant ocean liners float through the New York Harbor.
"Some people might say, ‘The ship sank, get over it,’" Haas (pictured right; photo courtesy of RMS Titanic, Inc.) said. "Some people might say, ‘Titanic is a metaphor for failure,’ you know, we have that phrase 'Like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.' But in terms of sheer durability, I think Titanic’s going to go on."
Kevin Sandler, author of Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster, lists some of the reasons that the dramatic scene still looms large in the minds of many.
"You got a big ship colliding with an iceberg," said Sandler. "You have death and destruction in the middle of an ocean. You have this kind of false confidence in technology."
The Titanic sank at the dawn of the Modern age just as the Victorian era was coming to an end. Passengers’ bags had been loaded onto the steamer with an electrical crane, and for a dollar you could step into a Turkish bath heated by electricity. With their tickets, first class passengers got deck plans that folded up like road maps.
The Queen of the Ocean, as the Titanic was called in its promotional material, had water-tight doors and patented anti-corrosive coating. It wasn’t supposed to sink.
As a 20-year-old, author Jack Eaton became fascinated with the ship when he saw an Esquire Magazine article called, “The Sinking of The Titanic.”
'The Sinking of the Titanic' appeared in a July 1946 issue of Esquire Magazine. This painting is by Harper Goff.
"It’s just a wonderful, wonderful fascination with so many intricate and convoluted details that it’s sort of a never-ending story," Eaton said.
He met Charlie Haas, his future co-author, when the two were looking for the same ‘Titanic’ entry in the card catalogue at the New York Public Library in 1973.
"I reached for the drawer that had Titanic’s entries in it," Eaton (pictured left; photo courtesy of RMS Titanic, Inc.) said, "at the same time another hand converged from the left and it was Charlie and he was looking for the same thing!"
They went on to write five books together and founded the Titanic International Society. They've been to the site of the wreck three times.
In one of the most famous cinematic depictions of the disaster, the designer of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews, tells Captain Edward J. Smith in the 1958 film "A Night to Remember," that his unsinkable ship will sink.
"As far as I can see, she made 14 feet of water in the first 10 minutes after the collision," Andrews says. "That’s not very fast. She should live another hour and a half ... How many people are there on board?"
"2,200 or more," the captain answers.
"And room in the boats for how many?" Andrews asks.
"1,200," Smith says. "I don’t think the Board of Trade Regulations visualized this situation, do you?"
Watch the classic scene from "A Night to Remember," based on the Walter Lord book, below.
Here's the trailer for Cameron's re-release of "Titanic":