As the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster approaches next week, the prevailing question is “Why?” Why does this story touch us so deeply a century later? Why did the Titanic sink?
The story is best told by one who survived the tragedy. If you asked Colorado’s Margaret Brown, known in modern culture as “Molly Brown”, she would describe the Titanic as a great equalizer. In the Denver Post on April 27, 1912, Mrs. Brown said, “It isn’t who you are, nor what you have, but what you are that counts. That was proved in the Titanic.” Death and loss did not choose between classes or character. Heroics and cowardice came forward and became readily apparent and helped determine survival. Regardless, whoever or whatever you are can be found among those who lived and died on the ship that fateful night, providing a link to our own lives.
Ice fields had been reported on the wireless radio. Other vessels had slowed their progress to dodge icebergs in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. As of 9 a.m. on April 14, White Star Line officials announced, “We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe the boat is absolutely unsinkable.”
On its maiden voyage, Titanic was racing across the ocean to break speed records and to reach a grand celebration of its achievements in New York City. According to Mrs. Brown, “The tragedy of the Titanic was indirectly due to J. Bruce Ismay [Managing Director of the White Star Line]. He was speed mad and paced the deck like a caged lion as the ship surged through the icy waters. His hand, deadly and terrible, was, figuratively speaking, on the throttle, and in his powerful selfishness, he cared not for human life. All day Sunday shafts of bitter cold swept the decks from the ice fields. The ship was plowing ahead at the rate of twenty-three knots an hour and most of the passengers had remained in their cabins or salons.”
In the Denver Times, on April 30, 1912, Margaret Brown described the collision. “I was lying in my berth reading when the ship struck directly beneath my stateroom, and it scattered ice and glass across the deck. I looked out and seeing nothing but a strange, dark object looming through the cold and blackness beyond, went back to my book. Sailors came beneath my window, laughing, talking, and joking, and I was not alarmed. Finally, however, I was told to dress warmly, don a life-belt and bring all I had to the deck. I have no fear of water — it fascinates me. I saw none of the horror of that shipwreck — nothing harrowing, and to me it was almost a scene of tragic beauty.”
Joyce B. Lohse
To learn more, read my book, Unsinkable: The Molly Brown Story
and my “Unsinkable” article in the April Issue of Colorado Central magazine