Why is Titanic so captivating?


Harland Duzen

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One thing I been wondering about since joining ET is what is it about the sinking of a passenger ship 100+ years ago now that so interesting to us? What makes us so excited / intrigued about Titanic that will make us read court inquires, analyse hundreds of Survivor testimony and make us view dozens of old photos from atom-to-atom for any details to name a few examples.

  • Is it the symbolism of Man VS Nature with the 1912 blissful arrogant being proved wrong in the most destructive / ironic way?
  • The stories of those aboard ranging from eloping lovers, those starting new lives, kidnapped children and other backstories more surprising than anything reporters could make up.
  • The short life-span of the ship with it's cabins and luxury barely being touched prior to it's demise (something that must make it much easier for model makers as they don't have to build a 1:700 Titanic from 1920-or 1930 details as it lasted just a week and had no changes.)
  • The multiple mysteries and unknown events on board such as the fate of some passengers / crew, how the ship sank etc.
  • All / More / None of the Above?
There are dozens of other possibilities, but I wonder what other people's opinions are.

Another thing I want to know, is what was your first encounter with the story of the Titanic? Was it the film, a photo, a story of myth or more?
 
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Harland Duzen

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My first encounter was in 2005-2006 in primary school when my class was shown "Titanic: Untold Stories". I remember naively thinking of Phillips to have doomed everyone and how Emily Ryerson ended up losing both a son and her Husband. I never looked back and now in 2017, I have 13+ Titanic books and counting, 3 DVDs, passage on Honor & Glory return voyage on D-Deck and planning to write my own book!
 
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Kyle Naber

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I think people are still so interested in the ship and the tragedy is that absolutely no one saw it coming because everyone on the entire planet was so confident in this big chunk of metal and it's abilities to steam roll over Mother Nature. It was an event that knocked man kind down a few pegs and reminded people just how quickly your life can be taken from you. There's so much romance and mystery in those 2,208 stories. The disaster set new rules and regulations for the future generation of ocean travel and set an example for the very being that is arrogance.
 
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Kyle Naber

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My first exposure to Titanic was the 1997 film. I've watched it almost every day since I was around 8 years old. And I think it was a movie much needed. The interest in Titanic peaks when we learn or make something new. For example, interest REALLY rose when the wreck was discovered in 1985 and when a new movie came out about it. I'm really not ashamed to say that that was my first introduction to the ship because it is what propelled me into this community and I think a lot of other people in my generation could say the same.
 

Adam Went

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I think it just has all the makings of a story to not be forgotten - the finest liner afloat on her maiden voyage, dubbed "unsinkable" in some quarters, carrying some of the most wealthy and famous people in the world, hits an iceberg and sinks with a huge loss of life. All of this gets embellished over time and we have what we have today. Of course numerous movies, documentaries, and a myriad of books with different theories and angles have kept it in the public eye as well, along with the discovery in 1985. To me it just represents the coming together of so many different things to make an infamous incident.

Personally I was introduced to the wreck and my maritime interest was piqued by Robert Ballard's "Lost Liners" back in the late 90's.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

A. Gabriel

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I have difficulty recalling my first encounter with Titanic — it certainly wasn’t the Cameron film, that one I only managed to watch very recently. May have been THG, may have been one of the documentaries, may have been Spammals’ gaming escapades, I do not remember. At any rate, my eyes were, I think, immediately drawn to the aesthetic of her lines, the fine profile she cut, the tasteful elegance of her interiors, the intricate complexity of her engines. To say nothing of the sheer scale of her, or all those of many backgrounds that walked her decks! I thought her a beautiful ship, and indeed I still do.

Alas now after much reading and browsing the various forums, I feel afflicted by a melancholy concerning Titanic, namely that in truth there is nothing particularly special about her and therefore nothing about her I ought be interested in. In speed she was deficient, losing to the Cunarders. In size she would be outclassed in months by Imperator, and is diminutive indeed by today’s standards. In safety she was woefully inadequate, losing to Great Eastern in subdivision and survivability. In interiors, the “four flyers” and even SS France outmatched her in lavishness, whereas she hardly has any spaces that extend over two decks or three. In machinery she is considered outdated, or at least conservative, in not adopting an all-turbines arrangement, and there would even come bigger and more powerful engines. I have even come across a comment stating that Titanic was little more than a glorified ferry boat, and get the feeling that her sole claim to fame was sinking with throngs of wealthy who lived to tell of it. Gustloff and Doña Paz certainly had higher tolls.

I do not wish to cease my fascination with the Titanic, let alone become jaundiced or cynical — I am only 22 after all. But when she is so outclassed and outmatched in every other area, what then is left for me to regard with interest?
 
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Aaron_2016

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Living so close to Belfast I grew up with the story of the Titanic, although my parents were far more keen to discuss the Canberra as they witnessed her construction and sea trials. The Titanic was really a taboo subject in Belfast and I remember my Dad would point and just say "The Titanic was built over there" and I did not realize the importance of the ship at the time. When I saw the film SOS Titanic and A Night to Remember my interest quickly picked up and I began to read the books. I think the emotional impact really hit me when I saw photographs of the victim's shoes on the sea floor. I think even today it is still hard to believe what happened because the story seems just like a legend. The idea that the world's largest, safest, and most luxurious ship in the world with the finest captain and crew, and passengers that would represent the world from the wealthiest to the poorest would seal their fate when the Titanic collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage and went down with great loss of life is just incredible, and the disaster proved that mankind was still vulnerable to nature herself. Also the fact that a ship remained close by and did not come to their rescue.

It truly feels like a Biblical story. Something like this - e.g. They built a temple in their own image and declared it was stronger than nature and God himself. They defied the warnings and the perils that lay ahead and increased their haste to the new world, and willingly sealed their own fate. They shunned and mocked the Heavens. The Lord grew angry. His hand swept over the sea and sky. The light of the moon would no longer guide their path. The sea became flat and would no longer reveal the dangers ahead. The oceans would no longer obey mankind's assumptions. Ice now crossed over the path of their temple. Their eyes now masked by haze, mirages and deceptions. Yet still they mocked and increased their haste to the new world. A single berg of ice now stood against their temple. They struck and were mortally wounded. They cried to the heavens with shooting stars for help to assist them. Their cries would fall on deaf ears. All seemed lost until one samaritan came forth and saved the fortunate few who abandoned the temple and lived with the knowledge that mankind's arrogance to put himself above nature and God will lead only to his destruction.


.
 
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Harland Duzen

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I think even today it is still hard to believe what happened because the story seems just like a legend. The idea that the world's largest, safest, and most luxurious ship in the world with the finest captain and crew, and passengers that would represent the world from the wealthiest to the poorest would seal their fate when the Titanic collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage with great loss of life is just incredible, and the disaster proved that mankind was still vulnerable to nature herself. Also the fact that a ship remained close by and did not come to their rescue.

It truly feels like a Biblical story. Something like this - e.g. They built a temple in their own image and declared it was stronger than nature and God himself. They defied the warnings and the perils that lay ahead and increased their haste to the new world, and willingly sealed their own fate. They shunned and mocked the Heavens. The Lord grew angry. His hand swept over the sea and sky. The light of the moon would no longer guide their path. The sea became flat and would no longer reveal the dangers ahead. The oceans would no longer obey mankind's assumptions. Ice now crossed over the path of their temple. Their eyes now masked by haze, mirages and deceptions. Yet still they mocked and increased their haste to the new world. A single berg of ice now stood against their temple. They struck and were mortally wounded. They cried to the heavens with shooting stars for help to assist them. Their cries would fall on deaf ears. All seemed lost until one samaritan came forth and saved the fortunate few who abandoned the temple and lived with the knowledge that mankind's arrogance to put himself above nature and God will lead only to his destruction.
Precisely!

The Titanic when seen from an expert's or a causal viewer's perspective is akin to a Biblical tale or a symbolic moral lesson.

I often wondered why the Titanic was taught to myself and a year-group of pupils at school (here in the UK) and I think it's because it IS the ultimate moral lesson to teach children about the dangers of believing yourself better than nature and what could happen if given the chance to save yourself or others.

The story of a ship named after the greek gods that was publicly* proclaimed "unsinkable" and the largest man-made object in the world destroyed in just hours by an iceberg made up of nothing but frozen water from thousands of years before.

If you told someone this without knowing it was real or happened , they would think it had been made up or was a highly fantastical story (like some people who thought the 1997 film was a story... ). nevertheless it did happen and you could't make it up which is why I think newspapers and the public at the time were so intrigued and desperate to find more info about what happened.

Arthur Rostron^ sums it up best in my opinion in an account from 1913:

"Looking in the dictionary one finds there the definition of that ill fated name: "TITANIC: a race of people vainly striving to overcome the forces of nature." Could anything be more unfortunate or tragic in it's significance?"


*Inaccurate but the public then and now still believe it.

^Confidential but the Captain of the rescue ship being named Arthur could be seen as symbolic of King Arthur who legend says will rise again in times of need.
 
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"I do not wish to cease my fascination with the Titanic, let alone become jaundiced or cynical — I am only 22 after all. But when she is so outclassed and outmatched in every other area, what then is left for me to regard with interest?"
Your only 22. This and other interests will wax and wane over the years. Its only natural. In 2012 I was lucky enough to be in Belfast for the 100th anniversary of Titanic. But after the ceremonies were done and I got to see the new museum there in the Quarter i said to myself..."ok its time to move on to other interests". But Titanic overall is such a fascinating story, the ship, the people and all the related stories associated with her. I keep coming back to her to learn more. Its like that line from the Godfather III movie..."just when I thought I was out they keep pulling me back in"
 
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A. Gabriel

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I should admit right here and now that I did in fact have a prior interest in Titanic the previous year, though it was soon driven off because I had undergrad work to finish up and it left me immensely busy as heck. I forgot what drew me back in a few months ago but I have no objections whatsoever to getting sucked right back into the lure of this ship.

Maybe I’m just being excessively hair-splitting in thinking that because Titanic doesn’t have anything really noteworthy on its own merit (see again: outclassed in every department by other ocean liners), that the implication is it shouldn’t be worth getting interested in, as the phrase ‘glorified ferry boat’ would seem to imply.
 

Harland Duzen

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There's nothing wrong with having interests in anything other than a 100 year old Ocean Liner and it's passengers. It's what makes us more than 1-dimensional characters (unlike some recent films...) :D

Back to topic, and maybe another reason that you / me and every are so interested is the passengers. They were people from every country in the world onboard and all with interesting stories and goals.

They were actual couples eloping to start a new life, pilots, boxers, a dragoman brought on board as a joke, (cough cough) and of course the wealthiest couple on world aboard coming back after a 2nd wedding and mini-scandal along with 2,000 other people.
 
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I should admit right here and now that I did in fact have a prior interest in Titanic the previous year, though it was soon driven off because I had undergrad work to finish up and it left me immensely busy as heck. I forgot what drew me back in a few months ago but I have no objections whatsoever to getting sucked right back into the lure of this ship.

Maybe I’m just being excessively hair-splitting in thinking that because Titanic doesn’t have anything really noteworthy on its own merit (see again: outclassed in every department by other ocean liners), that the implication is it shouldn’t be worth getting interested in, as the phrase ‘glorified ferry boat’ would seem to imply.
Yes that would be true by today's standards But in her time, for a brief time she was the pinnacle of ocean liners. She was a symbol of the great things happening during the turn of the last century. Someday in the future all the stuff we value today as being so wonderful will be looked at as primitive useless junk. But I get your point if you look at it thru today's lenses.
 
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There's nothing wrong with having interests in anything other than a 100 year old Ocean Liner and it's passengers. It's what makes us more than 1-dimensional characters (unlike some recent films...).

Back to topic, and maybe another reason that you / me and every are so interested is the passengers. They were people from every country in the world onboard and all with interesting stories and goals.

They were actual couples eloping to start a new life, pilots, boxers, a dragoman brought on board as a joke, (cough cough) and of course the wealthiest couple on world aboard coming back after a 2nd wedding and mini-scandal along with 2,000 other people.
Yes I agree with what you wrote. Although I am fascinated by the technology of that time it was the stories of the passengers and crew that made it such a huge story when she sank. The elite of society going down her had a big impact on the story. Although its not right if a chinese junk sunk in Hong Kong harbor in 1912 killing 2000 workers it probably would have been on page 7 of the NYT's.
 
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Aaron_2016

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I should admit right here and now that I did in fact have a prior interest in Titanic the previous year, though it was soon driven off because I had undergrad work to finish up and it left me immensely busy as heck. I forgot what drew me back in a few months ago but I have no objections whatsoever to getting sucked right back into the lure of this ship.

Maybe I’m just being excessively hair-splitting in thinking that because Titanic doesn’t have anything really noteworthy on its own merit (see again: outclassed in every department by other ocean liners), that the implication is it shouldn’t be worth getting interested in, as the phrase ‘glorified ferry boat’ would seem to imply.

It was the shock to the western world that such a catastrophe could happen. Not only did it reveal the harsh reality that the upper classes were just as vulnerable as everyone else, but it created a new frame of mind in the subconscience of everyday life - similar to the American sense of vulnerability after 9/11. A new era had dawned.

I'm reminded of this scene from 'My Fair Lady' (set in 1912) as it represents the ideal desire for perfection and orderly conduct within the upper classes. In their minds their world was perfectly safe and their lives from birth to death were already planned and co-ordinated so that nothing could disturb their comfort. The creation of a new luxurious ocean liner that would be the safest in the world was a beacon of light and a testament to mankind's greatest achievement. The Titanic disaster must have felt like a tidal wave and created a noticeable unbalance in the whole ethos of their way of life.

They followed an orderly pattern since birth. It kept them safe. Then suddenly the Titanic went down.

Skip to 2.10



.
 
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robert warren

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I was knee high to a grasshopper when they showed it on Ripley's Believe It Or Not---when Jack Palance hosted the show. Since then it has always been a part of my life.Sometimes the interest wanes but it's always there(especially in April).That's the thing with Titanic-once the bug bites you it never really goes away.It's a story that reeks of the best Hollywood fiction but it was real. The biggest ship in world, setting sail with the largest gathering of rich and titled ever assembled on one voyage,many of whom believe the ship to be unsinkable, and 4 days out on it's FIRST voyage, it hits an iceberg and sinks!! Its also the era she represents ,the last years of the Gilded Age, a golden Indian Summer before the horrors of war changed everything forever.Also the fact that man's faith in techonolgy and progress was totally shattered by this tragedy.There's also the gallantry and heroism shown by much of the passengers during the evacuation,And of course let us not forget she was one the nicest looking, most beautifully done up liners of all time.As JP Morgan said "the pearl of the ocean".There are so many more reasons, but to mention them all would take up a lot of time. Lastly, when I became bitten, it was in those pre discovery years when the ship had a huge aura and mystique about her.Somewhere in that deep dark ocean, this jewel of a ship was down there and we had no idea what had become of her. It was legend, it was fantasy and captivating to say the least.
 
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When I was in Belfast for the 100th I chatted up some people that were sitting outside my and their hotel. They had to go outside to have a smoke. Turned out they were a BBC film crew and were there to cover the next days events. They didn't get the fascination a lot of people had with Titanic. They were like it was just a ship that sank..who cares? I tried to explain it to them but they still didn't get it. They were more interested in hearing about Las Vegas (my home airport) than Titanic. I don't think they wanted to be there. But they were friendly people so it was all good.
 

Jay Roches

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For me, it started in third grade, in 1988, with “Exploring the Titanic”, the children’s version of Bob Ballard’s book. A classmate ordered a copy from Scholastic, which was a service for ordering books from a monthly catalog — when the books arrived we had time in class to read them, and I, for some fateful reason, borrowed the Titanic book. I don’t remember why it was so interesting, but it was, particularly the 1912-era cutaway profile illustration. Before long I acquired the adult version of Ballard’s book and a copy of the 1912 book “The Sinking of the Titanic & Great Sea Disasters”. I distinctly recall being surprised to discover that anybody survived the sinking, so I must have had prior knowledge of the disaster. That was probably from singing “They Built the Ship Titanic” for a school talent show in second grade.

The first Titanic film I saw was A Night to Remember, but I didn’t see it via the usual 1980s channels, Beta or VHS. The local public library had a collection of several hundred 16 mm films (and laserdiscs), many from the National Film Board of Canada. (This meant I also got to see such NFB classics as “The Railrodder”, about a coast-to-coast journey by railway handcart.) They had ANTR, which was on three or four very large reels. The films were free to borrow, and you could borrow a silver screen and 16 mm projector (a Bell + Howell, just like they used at school!) for a fee. So, I borrowed ANTR numerous times, set the projector up in the basement, and forced friends and relatives into watching a rather long black-and-white film about Titanic.
 
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In my hand is a first edition, second printing of "A Night To Remember." It was a Christmas present in 1955, year Walter Lord's book came out. I talked so much about it she decided to buy a copy for me. Over the years it has become yellowed with time and the pages dogeared to remind me of things I no longer remember. I've re-glued the spine, but the front cover is threatening to go adrift. It's been years since I've actually read the book. New and deeper knowledge of events of that night now exist. But, it has a place of honor on my "Titanic" shelf.

About ten years ago or a bit less I happened to find a first edition, first printing in nearly-new condition including dust jacket. It sits next to the my worn and tattered copy and is never read. Don't want to break the binding.

-- David G. Brown
 
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A. Gabriel

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Oh I wish I could get my hands on a copy of ANTR -- it is not exactly a procurable book in the Philippines, much to my chagrin.

My Titanic book wish list, a.k.a. necessary staples on a 'rivet counter''s bookshelf:
A Night To Remember (Lord)
Titanic: The Ship Magnificent (Beveridge)
The Olympic-Class Ships (Chirnside)
RMS Titanic, Owners Workshop Manual (Haynes)
 

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