I think one of the first attention-getters was a Reader’s Digest article about the disaster, followed by the book Raise The Titanic by Clive Cussler. Over the years, my fascination bordered, at times, on obsession. I had a Titanic board game. I read every book I could get my hands on, fiction and non-fiction. I watched every film about it I could find, whether documentary or fantasy, drama or action.
The thing people forget – and I think the root of the fascination about the subject for my generation and the two preceding* – was the mystery. No one knew where Titanic was, exactly. The technology to find it didn’t exist. The technology to travel that deep in the ocean didn’t exist. Everything was based on anecdotal evidence – the stories of the survivors – and as it turns out, those stories weren’t always very accurate. They thought she lay holed but mostly intact on the seabed, and could someday be raised to become a floating museum and memorial.
The unravelling of the mystery was fascinating. I pored over those first photos in National Geographic, absorbing details like a sham-wow in an infomercial… this ship been a fascination for me for more than half of my young life, and here she was, laid out in front of me. Myth after myth was dispelled – she wasn’t intact, she’d broken up… she couldn’t be raised, at least not in the way fantasized about in fiction. The cold depths they thought preserve her, hadn’t – she wasn’t perfectly preserved or in stasis, Titanic was slowly dissolving, consumed by rusticles. Scientific analysis brought understanding of what actually happened to the great vessel, supporting some survivor reports of a great cracking sound which had often been discounted. Further analysis concluded that her steel was brittle, ultimately exacerbating the damage inflicted by the iceberg. Titanic was never unsinkable – she was a disaster waiting to happen.
Over my lifetime, the story has evolved from the remarkable myth of a lost ship which may never be found to a fully-explained tragedy with few mysteries remaining, subject of dozens of documentaries and films discussing almost every aspect of her short existence.
My generation is the last to see Titanic through the fog of mythology and uncertainty.
As my family commemorates the 100th anniversary of her sinking, Titanic isn’t a legend to my kids. It’s just a thing that happened a long time ago.
And that’s kind of sad.
Perhaps I need to find a way to bring the mythology back?
* To the people who were around when Titanic sank, it was an immense tragedy that got mixed in with the horrors of World War I and the flu pandemic and so many other terrible world events of the time. The generations born after it happened – the ones not directly affected – are the ones who elevated it to mythical levels.