10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Titanic
The sinking of the infamous RMS Titanic in 1912 has gone down (no pun intended) as the most famous ocean liner disaster in history, thanks in part to popular culture’s take on the topic from the 1958 Roy Ward Baker film ‘A Night to Remember’ to James Cameron’s legendary blockbuster ‘Titanic.’ And yet the legend surrounding this infamous boat (and the 1,500-plus people it took down with it) has surpassed some of the actual events that transpired in the icy North Atlantic Ocean.
Here are a few things you might not know about the Titanic.
1. It almost crashed into another boat before it sunk
There are numerous facets of the ship’s construction and funding that could have prevented it from becoming the massive tragedy that it was, but one incident could’ve stopped it from ever seeing an iceberg. A few days before the accident, the Titanic left its port from the Southampton docks where it almost collided with its sister ship, the New York. While the suction in the water created by the massive ship caused the New York to drift towards the Titanic, it managed to avoid a collision.
This incident and a previous ocean liner accident on the Olympic ( a vessel that was also helmed by Titanic’s Captain Edward John Smith) under similar conditions prompted the captain’s steward, Arthur Paintin, to write a letter to his parents expressing concern that “the Olympic’s bad luck seems to have followed us.”
2. The owners didn’t put enough lifeboats on the ship because it would take up valuable space on the deck
White Star Line, the company that commissioned the construction of the Titanic, didn’t have enough lifeboats to go around when it came time to evacuate the crew and passengers. However, this wasn’t a violation of the Board of Trade or maritime regulations. The boats grew so big so fast that regulations didn’t keep up with the times. The Board of Trade only required 16 lifeboats on board a ship carrying more than 100,000 people and the Titanic carried a total of 48 lifeboats. White Star Line decided against adding more boats because they didn’t want to cut into the passenger’s space on the promenade deck for a romantic dance spot.
3. Rumors suggested that it sunk because of a mummy’s curse
There have been all sorts of legendary causes that people have claimed were behind the ship’s sinking, such as claims that the infamous Hope Diamond was on board or that it was crashed intentionally so the company could collect the insurance money. The hands down, most ridiculous claim is that a mummy’s ancient curse caused the Titanic to sink.
Snopes reports that the rumor started out around the turn of the century, crafted by two men as a ghost story about the mummy of the Priestess of Amun. They claimed the mummy was left at a friend’s house and would mysteriously cause objects in the room to break and eventually bring sickness and death to its owners. One of the men, journalist William Stead, went down with the ship and his gruesome ghost story became attached to it when one of the survivors recalled hearing the story from Stead during a dinner. However, historical records and manifests of the Titanic show that there was no mummy being transported, either as cargo or a passenger.
4. It was never christened
Another long-held myth about the ship’s demise was that the champagne bottle that was cracked against its hull upon its maiden voyage didn’t break and caused its bad luck. Putting aside the fact that superstitious fate had as much to do with Titanic’s sinking as rabid squirrels, that still couldn’t have been possible because the Titanic was never christened with champagne. White Star Line didn’t christen any of their ships because they didn’t believe in the practice. The myth may have been re-enforced by the movie ‘A Night to Remember,’ in which the ship is christened in its iconic opening scene as it embarks on its ill-fated journey.
5. Titanic’s builders never claimed the ship was “unsinkable”
Another part of the Titanic legend was that its creators and crew called it unsinkable, making its inevitable fate seem all the more tragic. However, before its historic journey, it was actually called “practically unsinkable.” A US Naval report compiled more than 80 years after the accident found that the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews called it “practically unsinkable,” but the press dropped the adverb to make his claims sound more exciting.
6. Someone wrote a book about a sinking ocean liner similar to the Titanic accident 14 years before the accident
One bizarre rumor about the ship happens to be true. Author Morgan Robertson wrote the book ‘Futility or The Wreck of the Titan’ in 1898 about an ocean liner called The Titan with some eerie similarities to the very real Titanic. For instance, both ships were sunk by an iceberg around the same time and even both suffered high casualty rates because of a lack of lifeboats, four more than the Titanic to be exact.
7. The Titanic wasn’t the worst marine disaster in history
The sinking of the Titanic might have been a huge tragedy and even an unavoidable disaster, but it was far from the largest maritime accident. That dubious honor goes to the sinking of the German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. The ship was built in 1937 and first launched as a cruise ship, but was drafted into military service in 1939 as a barracks for submarine trainees and later to transport German refugees on a special mission.
A Soviet submarine spotted the Gustloff while it was illuminated to help it safely through icy shipping waters and fired three torpedos on it. According to newspaper reports, the ship was overcrowded with people at the time of the attack. Estimates put the death toll at 9,400 people, 4,000 of whom were children. The accident was not widely known for several years.
8. The moon may have been responsible for the Titanic’s sinking
Reports blame a number of causes for the Titantic’s accident, but the most interesting theory also happens to be the most recent. Of course, smashing into the iceberg was the chief cause of the accident but the moon may have been to blame for the dangerous maritime conditions.
Scientists at Texas State University recently theorized that the killer iceberg that caused the Titanic’s sinking may have been created by an unusually close moon. Oceanographers discovered that on the night of the accident, the moon and sun were in a position known as “spring tide” that causes massive rises and falls in tide levels. This phenomenon may have caused one of the Greenland icebergs that normally get stuck off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, but the high tide could’ve pushed it further south into Titanic’s path.
9. The man who found the wreckage was conducting a secret Cold War recovery mission for the US Navy
The sunken wreckage of the massive ocean liner laid on the bottom of the ocean for just under a decade before it was discovered by oceanographer Robert Ballard in 1985. The mission to find it, however, was actually just a cover for a military mission.
Ballard, who recently appeared on an episode of ‘The Colbert Report’ to discuss the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking and urge for its conservation, revealed in 2008 that he went to the US Navy to raise funding to create the technology necessary to find the ship, but the Navy wanted to use it first to investigate the wreckage of two mysterious submarine accidents, the U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion. The Titanic was located between both submarines, so Ballard agreed to help under the condition that the public thought he was just looking for the Titanic. This was due to the fact that the military suspected that the Soviets were responsible for sinking the Scorpion, and Cold War tensions were high in 1985.
10. A couple got married on the bow of the wreckage
Ever since Ballard found the sunken ship, it has become one of the popular tourist destinations on the ocean floor. It has been visited and tampered with so many times that Ballard and other oceanographers and historians have grown concerned with its preservation.
The concern reached a fever pitch in 2001 when American newlyweds David Leibowitz and Kimberly Miller arranged to be married on the bow of the wrecked ship. News of the nuptials prompted outrage from British historical preservation groups and became one of the more infamous incidents in a long list of tourist-funded visits to the wreckage that has caused irreparable damage to the sunken ship. Frankly, we blame that darn Celine Dion song for prompting the romantic union at sea.