Tuesday, 10 April 2012

100 years of the Titanic

On this date, 10 April 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton, and into history. It is a well known story that has been analysed, filmed, written about, speculated on and done to death. My own interest in the ship came about when I read about the spot where she had gone down, that ships avoided for fear of encountering bodies. In later years I would raid the local libraries for books about the ship and try my best to obtain a model of her.


Skipping forward to 1985 when the ship was rediscovered, and those heady days when myself and an aquaintance started what was to become the Titanic Society of South Africa. Come 1986 and at last we could see proper images of the ship, and the many secrets that she had. 


Then the vultures gathered and soon Titanic was being picked clean by those intent on bringing up as much of the ship as they could lay their mechanical grabs on. Skip forward to December 1997 when the James Cameron Titanic movie hit the screens and a whole new generation discovered the ship and got totally confused, thinking that Jack and Rose were real people, and that the movie was historically factual. 

In 2000, I was able to see the artefact exhibition up close. And, it was one of those moments of revelation. The many personal items on display brought it all home. The story of the Titanic is not the story of  a luckless ship that hits an iceberg, it is really the story of a group of people thrown together by extraordinary circumstances. It is about tragedy, arrogance and  a totally different age of travel. So many books have been written since then, some good, some mediocre, many inaccurate, some drivel. Theories abound as to why the ship sank, and why Captain Lord got a bad deal. There is even the big insurance swap theory, and aliens get mentioned in a certain cheesy magazine.


Like so many others who used to study the ship, I no longer have much of an interest. My own collection has been mostly broken up, and if somebody would come along and make me an offer I would dispose of the rest of the collection too.  The mystery is no longer there. Pictures are a dime a dozen, and the commercialism of the wreck has left a sour taste behind. Shipping groups are still invaded by hordes of "Titanic fans" who vehemently insist that Titanic was the best ship ever! Sadly, they suffer from delusions and chase other ship enthusiasts away who just want to read about ships that actually completed their maiden voyages. 


The Titanic Society of SA is long gone, I dropped out of it in 1999, and I have no idea what happened to its assets and liabilities. Some relics of those early newsletters still exist amongst my files, I have some books, files of newspaper articles, a poster or 2, and diecast models of Olympic, and Brittanic.  I even have a shirt, purchased at the exhibition, with Titanic emblazoned on the spot where a pocket should have been, but I don't wear it.

There is one Titanic curiosity in Johannesburg in Braamfontein cemetery, and for a time we used to lay a wreath there at the anniversary. I also have a list of possible Titanic connections to South Africa which makes for interesting reading.

The one piece of irony is that I don't think the White Star Line ever considered that their most unsuccessful ship, would also become their most famous. And,  I doubt whether they ever considered that long after they were gone, her name would still be synonymous with disaster at sea.  

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