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Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeing is Believing (But Don’t Believe Everything that you See)

Last week marked the 98th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. It struck an iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912.  Nearly three hours later in the wee hours of the morning, the Titanic slid beneath the water’s surface and crashed into the ocean floor 2 ½ miles below. Thanks to James Cameron, nearly everyone is aware of the basic facts surrounding the disaster. While Hollywood is great for introducing topics and events to viewers on a large scale, historical portrayals from tinsel town often omit many facts and are even blatantly inaccurate sometimes. On that note, here’s some trivia to help you flesh out your knowledge of what is often (debatably) considered history’s worst maritime disaster.

  • The Titanic was labeled unsinkable not by her builders or owners but by a shipbuilding journal.
  • The company that owned and operated the Titanic, White Star, still exists – sort of. White Star merged with rival Cunard in the 1930s. Cunard is still very much in business, operating as part of Carnival Corporation. Current Cunard ships include the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria.
  • After the sinking, many conspiracy theories concerning the Titanic popped up. One claims that the ship was deliberately sunk for insurance reasons. Another claims that the Titanic was switched with her sister ship, the Olympic, at some point. According to this theory, it was the Olympic that actually sank rather than the Titanic.

Some of the real stories of the Titanic rival anything that Hollywood writers could dream up. Take the story of Violet Jessop, for instance. She survived collisions onboard the Titanic and the Olympic, as well as their sister ship, the Britannic. Jessop was onboard the Olympic when the ship collided with the British warship H.M.S. Hawke off the Isle of Wight in 1911 (both ships survived); she survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912; and she escaped the sinking Britannic after it struck a mine off the Greek isle of Kea in 1916.

It’s important to keep in mind that the primary purpose of movies is to entertain (and make money, of course). Educating the audience is good, but it’s usually only a secondary goal. After all, Hollywood movies aren’t documentaries. What you see on the screen probably isn't the whole truth, and some of it may be complete fiction. If a topic really interests you, do a little research on it.  Try looking beyond the silver screen for facts to satisfy your curiosity and fortify your knowledge!

Jessop, Violet. Titanic Survivor: Memoirs of Violet Jessop, Stewardess. Charnwood, 1999.
Titanic Historical Society,
Encyclopedia Titanica,

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