Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rest in peace Titanic: Reflections written 100 years later at the precise time

commentary by Janet I. Martineau
It is 11:45pm on April 14, 2012.
At this time, on this April day, 100 years ago, the 882-foot-long Titanic had just struck an iceberg 800 miles from the nearest land and, before the night was though, this unsinkable beauty, on its maiden voyage from Europe to America, would break in two and sink to the bottom of the ocean. 
Some 2,220 passengers and crew were onboard. 705 survived. 1,500 perished. Only 328 bodies were recovered. Do the math. That means nearly 1,200 went down with the ship.
So on this night, at this time, I have decided to write a story about Titanic in honor of the ship and its passengers and post it on the Internet for posterity;  writing it at the very time 100 years ago the ship began its desperate struggle. I suspect by the time I finish writing it, the ship will have sunk. That is how quickly it perished. Less than three hours. Llike New York City’s World Trade Center twin towers did on 9/11.
Titanic is the stuff of legend now, countless movies and books and touring exhibits and television specials. And it has thoroughly fascinated me for as long as I can remember.
A model of the Titanic,  owned by Floyd Andrick
In fact, during an April 12 “Tales of the Titanic” presentation at the Midland Center for the Arts, each person attending received a R.M.S Titanic Boarding Pass with a passenger’s name handwritten on it.
Mrs. Quigg Baxter mine read, and for the rest of the evening my overly dramatic roll-playing mind wondered who she was. And did she survive.
At the end of the presentation, in the lobby were lists saying who survived and who did not.
Mrs. Quigg Baxter, that list informed, was a first class passenger who died. As did a Mr. Quigg Baxter.
I was devastated. I drove home in a funk. This is how my life has gone. I sometimes get a little too connected to let’s pretend stuff and begin to believe it is real.
But more later about Mrs. Quigg Baxter. 
The 100th anniversary of Titanic  began, for me, by attending the 3D re-release of James Cameron’s 1997 movie “Titanic” on April 5. I had seen the original release five times back there in 1997; totally swept up in its mixture of real footage of the Titanic in its resting place with an overly romantic fictional story about a first class girl and a third class boy who met and fell in love on that passage.
Never one much for 3D, this one captured my attention. What would it feel like as it began sinking. I was nuts with anticipation.
Turns out the sinking part of the 3D was not impressive. But the 3D treatment in visiting the real wreckage was breathtaking as were the scenes aboard the ship as it sailed. Its staircase, its luxury suites, it massive engines and boiler room, its outside decks looked so real I began to think I was really onboard and living it.
And at the other end of things, the 3D was so real it choked the senses. That was when the ship had sunk and one lifeboat returned to try and find survivors. All it found were dead bodies bobbing in the water; frozen to death. That image in 3D, of hundreds of bodies bobbing, was incredibly too real.
On April 8 and 9, National Geographic Channel aired two anniversary specials. In one, Cameron and other experts used modern-day technology and knowledge to track how Titanic died. Turns out Cameron very accurate in his movie. In the second special, Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic wreckage in 1985, expressed his concern that too many explorers are visiting the ship and destroying it.
It is, after all, the graveyard of some 1,200 people -- although their physical bodies are no longer there.
Which brings us to the April 12 “Tales of Titanic” event at the Midland Center for the Arts.
It was presented by Floyd Andrick, a 64-year-old Midland resident who likewise is a Titanic fanatic. He has an impressive collection of Titanic memorabilia and, over the years, interviewed 14  survivors.  Survivors who, many of them, lived into their 90s and 100s -- as if having cheated death they somehow took full advantage of life.
Andrick was a font of knowledge in his presentation.
Newspaper headlines, from Andrick collection
Among his nuggets:
-- It took 10,000 men 3 years to build and outfit Titanic.
-- Titanic provided luxuries  most of its passengers did not have on land. Things like flush toilets, telephones, restaurant meals.
-- Its four smokestacks were so large “you could drive a train engine through one” and its three propellors were made of bronze.
-- When the iceberg was sighted, the order from the bridge to stop all three propellors and put two in reverse doomed it to scrape the side of the iceberg and leave the 280-foot fatal gash on its right side. 

An order to keep the left propeller going would have spared the hit.
And doing nothing at all, but hitting the iceberg head on with the pointed  bow of the ship, said Andrick, might have cost 30 or so lives of those in that area. But it would not have sunk the ship.
-- They later found which iceberg Titanic hit....the ship left behind red paint.
-- Most lifeboats had room for 65 people. One after another was lowered with far fewer on it.  28 in one, 12 in another.
-- There were 2,220 people on board but only room for 1,170 in its lifeboats. A ship only eight miles away, and thus capable of rescuing many before the ship sank, had turned off its radio communication for the night. “Some good came of this tragedy,” said Andrick. “The Coast Guard was formed as was the International Ice Patrol, ships were from then on required to have enough lifeboat capacity for all the people on board, and 24-hour radio communication became the law.”
Andrick also chilled bones with two anecdotes.
Titanic sunk, as we have said, in 1912.
In 1898 an author named Morgan Roberston wrote a fictional novel titled “Futility” in which the world’s large ship, 800 feet long and unsinkable  with four smokestacks and three bronze propellors, 3,000 passengers and crew, hit an iceberg on its right-hand  side on an April night during its maiden voyage and sunk with a great loss of life due to a shortage of lifeboats.  He named the ship The Titan.
And one of passengers Andrick interviewed was  Eva Hart, who was 7 at the time (and lived to 1996 and age 91) and recounted hoe her mother  Esther had a bad feeling about the voyage, pleaded with her husband that they not sail on it, commented she would never make it to America.
Floyd Andrick with a photo of the Hart family
Turns out, Andrick said, Esther and Eva survived but husband/father Benjamin did not. At 1:45 pm....nearly the time it is now as I continue writing...she and her mother were lowered into boat 14 as Benjamin said, “I’ll see you at breakfast.”
Esther and Eva went on several ships after  that “but her mother never again had any bad feelings about sailing on one.”
Makes one wonder, does it not. Was this all destiny at work?
Which brings us to Mrs. Quigg Baxter.
Midland messed that one up. There was no Mrs. Quigg Baxter on board Titanic. Mr. Quigg Baxter was, a 24-year-old unmarried hockey player from Montreal returning home in first class with his mother (Mrs. James Baxter)  and his married sister from a European trip. Great fun, since I am of French Canadian ancestry.
Turns out, young Mr. Quigg had met cabaret performer Bertha Antonine Mayne in Brussels....she with a checkered past...and they had become lovers. He had booked her on Titanic in her own first class stateroom, under a fake name. She, mom and sis survived -- thanks to some help from the famed Unsinkable Molly Brown -- but the millionaire hockey player did not. His body was never found.
After the sinking Bertha stayed in Montreal with Baxter family for several months, returned to Europe, resumed her singing career in Paris....and never married. She died in 1962.
That is the stuff of Titanic. 2,220 human interest stories. This one pretty wild. It is why our interest remains on this 100th anniversary.
And I have just looked at the clock. It is 2:23am on April 15, 2012. Titanic sunk four minutes ago 100 years ago....and those bodies are bobbing in the icy water.
Rest in peace Titanic. Rest in peace.

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