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The double injury of the Titanic


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(I wanted to do this thread along with a showing of A Night to Remember (1958)--the classiest movie ever--but as the man says, you can't always get what you want, so Titanic (1953) will have to serve.)

 

The history of the Titanic looms large in our cultural consciousness.  It's a rich resource for invention, and any number of ax-grinders, story-tellers, philosophers, and moralists mine it avidly.  Romantics get all swoony at the luscious tragedy, heightened, no doubt, by the titillation of the disaster happening on its maiden voyage.  Calvinists, and back-to-Earthers with told-you-so manners and finger-wagging smugness in their looks tut-tut and tsk-tsk, and pull out their catalog of remonstrances about overweening pride, and tempting fate.  It's the great object lesson about hubris, and comeuppance, and all that.  It is true we got a lot of good out of it (price paid, over fifteen hundred lives).  Maritime safety was revolutionized because of the sinking.  But aside from that, most of the lessons learned, or the lessons we chose to take from it, were the wrong ones.  The sinking of the Titanic isn't a great tragedy of almosts, and if-onlys, and it isn't just deserts served to arrogance and presumption.  What happened is just a miserable shipwreck leading to the death of hundreds of people, the result of hucksterism and fraud.

The first injury derived from directors of the White Star Line (included among them, J. P. Morgan).  They rightly recognized the challenges presented to them by their competition, most importantly by Cunard, who had big, fast ships.  Knowing they couldn't, or not wanting to compete with them in that way, they contrived an alternate strategy, revolutionary in its way, as it was not maritime, but hospitality-based:  build the biggest ships, and rig them out in the most luxurious style.  Essentially, they put a first-class hotel on the water.  They calculated that by appealing to passengers' desire for status they could get them not to mind the extra day or two it took to cross the Atlantic, at the same time paying exorbitant rates for their passage.  The publicity campaign that sold the strategy was just as involved as the shipbuilding.  Along with the appeal to people's snobbery, and class consciousness, the might and 'unsinkability' of the ship were emphasized--in a way, also an appeal to people's snobbery.  Whether the White Star Line didn't have the resources to fulfill its hype, or was just cutting corners irresponsibly to save money, the safety of the ship was compromised in two vital ways, as Joseph Conrad (yes, that one) pointed out in two acute articles he wrote on the shipwreck and its aftermath.  First, as everyone knows, there were not enough lifeboats for all the people on the ship.  A full complement of boats was a large expense, and most importantly would block views from the cabins, limiting what they could charge.  As you know, people pay a premium for water views, even on a ship in the middle of an ocean.  True, contemporary law didn't require it, something incomprehensible today, but accepted at the time, because large ships were looked on as unsinkable.  This position was held by maritime authorities without any practical evidence.  It represents the usual abandonment of public interest by regulators to the convenience of the industries they have responsibility for.  But as Conrad points out, the larger the ship, the more vulnerable it is.  The thickness of the hull doesn't grow proportionately with the size of the ship.  If it did, the ship would sink on its own.  The greater the ship's mass, the less protection afforded to it by the hull.

The second way the ship was compromised involved a lesser-known, but even more critical element, the water tight bulkheads. The Titanic hull was divided into sixteen separate compartments with solid walls, or bulkheads, across the hull with doors through them, that when closed, provided a water tight barrier.  If any breach of the hull occurred, it could be isolated, keeping the ship afloat.  That is, they would have been watertight, Conrad observed, if they had reached the top of the hull.  Cost-cutting, or corner-cutting, or both, led the architects to leave them short.  Inrushing water topped the bulkheads of sound compartments, adding weight, dragging the ship down, leading to more overtopping, and so on.

What this shows is the Titanic was an unseaworthy ship, by design, tricked out with glitter and show, designed to distract people, and play to their vanity.  Nevertheless, for all its hoo-haw, it sailed far from sold-out, so I guess everyone wasn't fooled.

The second injury done to us by the Titanic is one we have done to ourselves, buying in to the White Star Line hype.  If the ship is as sold, then it really is a tragedy, an awful and wonderful just-so combination of events.  If the ship is as sold, then it really is divine retribution for overconfidence and recklessness.  A great mythology, or series of mythologies has grown up around the shipwreck, affording satisfaction for all kinds of hobby-horse riders.  Maybe it's all intentional, and the world secretly recognizes the truth.  Only the truth is prosaic, unappealing.  The flat truth allows for no ecstatic flights, no self-righteousness, no sermonizing, or ruminating.  Because the flat truth forces us to confront the passenger's deaths honestly.  We can't make their death symbolic, or turn them into martyrs.  There can't be any grandness to mitigate the crime committed against them.  It was a wretched, cold death.  The result of a faulty product that was misrepresented.

Titanic (1953), Sunday, 3 p.m., Pacific time.

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Really enjoyed reading your post, as a perspective "back story" intro for this now seldom screened movie.

As you are no doubt aware there have been several movies made, and hundreds of books written about the Titanic.
I've seen several of them and read a few.
My favorite read is A Night to Remember (1955) by Walter Lord. Lord wrote well and when he did his research there were still several Titanic survivors around that he was able to interview. 
My favorite movie about the man-made disaster is also A Night to Remember (1958).

When i was still a young man my mother met and became "friends" with a survivor of the Titanic.
She introduced me and I became acquainted with her as well.

She was a widow and lived in Hermosa Beach, Calif. The little house that her last husband built for her had windows that looked like portholes. Her married name was Edwina MacKenzie, but when she was a young woman and making her second crossing of the Atlantic on board the Titanic, her maiden name was Edwina Cecilia Trout.
She sailed second class and was bound for the states to visit her sister.
She was in her early 90's when I met her (in the mid 1970's), and was still quite the proper English lady.
She was very active, alert, congenial and talkative. When she boarded the Titanic in 1912 she was in her mid twenties so her memories of the event were very detailed. 
Having seen at least two of the Titanic movies by that time (Titanic (1953) & A Night to Remember (1958)) I of course asked her if the movies were accurate in their portrayal of the event. She said that both were flawed but of those two A Night to Remember captured it best. 
The wreck of the Titanic had yet to be discovered, but she remembered that the ship appeared to break in half.
Another thing that she shared that stuck with me was that as soon as the lights went out all she could hear was this terrible screaming. She said that she could never attend a ball game because the "cheers" of a roaring crowd resembled the sound of those hundreds of people yelling and screaming that night.
Edwina was at that time the oldest living survivor and quite the celebrity.  Having met her I was keen whenever she appeared in the paper or on TV for an interview. But she remained very friendly and approachable to anyone who wanted to talk with her, and she appeared to enjoy the company immensely.
She was born in 1880s, England, and I really enjoyed her sharing about anything from her life.
It was like listening to living history.
To me she was a Great lady, kind and gentle, and it was a privilege knowing her for that brief while. 

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Something that was recently discovered, Titanic could had been a bigger tragedy if it wasn't for the coal bunker fire. Many believe it contributed to the sinking but the opposite, if they didn't used the coal from that area FIRST (plus reshuffling) , Titanic would had more likely capsized shortly afterward.  What's overlooked the ship had a list to starboard side before the collision, went  to port after.

Also it's believed Titanic rode up on the iceberg, compromising the keel which caused additional flooding but that would had made about an hours difference in the sinking - still too late for help to arrive.

Some might think this is a bit crazy but if it struck the iceberg head on, it wouldn't have sank.  The collision would had crush the bow section and the first 2 or 3 compartments but it would had remained afloat.  This has happen before with the Stockholm that collided with the  Andrea Doria in 1956.

GettyImages-50344221.jpg

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It was a black moonless night, the waters were as still as glass. The lookouts couldn't hear or see the froth of waves against the ice because there were none.
The berg had recently flipped leaving the jagged edges well below the waterline.
Yes, perhaps if they'd hit head on the ship could have survived, at least long enough to be rescued.
Perhaps if they'd locked onto the berg, some could have even climbed onto it and waited out the night.

Many of the boats that left the ship were less than half full. On a night like that night they could have safely overloaded them all and saved well over two thirds the number on board, perhaps more. It was only a few hours wait for the Carpathia to arrive.

So many perhaps', so many what ifs...
However if things didn't happen as they had, perhaps the lesson wouldn't have been costly enough to have been learned, at least to the extent that afterward there'd be regulations for continuously manned wireless and enough life boats on future ships to accommodate all aboard.

Double hulled ships, with "water tight" bulkheads all the way up.
Those advents did help keep the Enterprise afloat after numerous hits. But that was war.
Too costly that, for tankers today.
Perhaps if the Exxon Valdez had had a great loss of life instead of just oil that would be mandatory today as well?

We say we know better but yet refuse to do better on so many things.
The "Double Injury" of paying the high price for such lessons, but then refusing to learn anything from them.

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hamradio:

Interestingly, Conrad spoke to both the coal storage and ramming topics.  He noted that with the proper doors, the storage could operate as additional flotation chambers.  As for ramming--to be generous, he was not an advocate.  He noted the ships that rammed bergs and came to port were considerably smaller than the Titanic, therefore, much more sound.  Remember, force equals mass time acceleration.  And you had crazy mass at crazy acceleration with the Titanic.  The outcome would not be good.

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18 hours ago, Stephan55 said:

Edwina was at that time the oldest living survivor and quite the celebrity.  Having met her I was keen whenever she appeared in the paper or on TV for an interview. But she remained very friendly and approachable to anyone who wanted to talk with her, and she appeared to enjoy the company immensely.

Did she ever express what she felt about the whole affair?  

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My grandfather had a ticket for the Titanic. Along with his brother, the two of them were about to start new lives in Canada (sending for their wives, including my grandmother, of course) after they got settled down with jobs.

But they got held up by traffic the day the Titanic sailed, missing the departure by something like 45 minutes, I believe. Luckiest traffic jam of my grandfather's life, obviously, as he had a third class ticket and not many of the third class passengers survived.

I never did ask my granddad if he still had the ticket. It's only now that my cash register mind is thinking of its value.

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21 hours ago, slaytonf said:

(I wanted to do this thread along with a showing of A Night to Remember (1958)--the classiest movie ever--but as the man says, you can't always get what you want, so Titanic (1953) will have to serve.)

 

The history of the Titanic looms large in our cultural consciousness.  It's a rich resource for invention, and any number of ax-grinders, story-tellers, philosophers, and moralists mine it avidly.  Romantics get all swoony at the luscious tragedy, heightened, no doubt, by the titillation of the disaster happening on its maiden voyage.  Calvinists, and back-to-Earthers with told-you-so manners and finger-wagging smugness in their looks tut-tut and tsk-tsk, and pull out their catalog of remonstrances about overweening pride, and tempting fate.  It's the great object lesson about hubris, and comeuppance, and all that.  It is true we got a lot of good out of it (price paid, over fifteen hundred lives).  Maritime safety was revolutionized because of the sinking.  But aside from that, most of the lessons learned, or the lessons we chose to take from it, were the wrong ones.  The sinking of the Titanic isn't a great tragedy of almosts, and if-onlys, and it isn't just deserts served to arrogance and presumption.  What happened is just a miserable shipwreck leading to the death of hundreds of people, the result of hucksterism and fraud.

The first injury derived from directors of the White Star Line (included among them, J. P. Morgan).  They rightly recognized the challenges presented to them by their competition, most importantly by Cunard, who had big, fast ships.  Knowing they couldn't, or not wanting to compete with them in that way, they contrived an alternate strategy, revolutionary in its way, as it was not maritime, but hospitality-based:  build the biggest ships, and rig them out in the most luxurious style.  Essentially, they put a first-class hotel on the water.  They calculated that by appealing to passengers' desire for status they could get them not to mind the extra day or two it took to cross the Atlantic, at the same time paying exorbitant rates for their passage.  The publicity campaign that sold the strategy was just as involved as the shipbuilding.  Along with the appeal to people's snobbery, and class consciousness, the might and 'unsinkability' of the ship were emphasized--in a way, also an appeal to people's snobbery.  Whether the White Star Line didn't have the resources to fulfill its hype, or was just cutting corners irresponsibly to save money, the safety of the ship was compromised in two vital ways, as Joseph Conrad (yes, that one) pointed out in two acute articles he wrote on the shipwreck and its aftermath.  First, as everyone knows, there were not enough lifeboats for all the people on the ship.  A full complement of boats was a large expense, and most importantly would block views from the cabins, limiting what they could charge.  As you know, people pay a premium for water views, even on a ship in the middle of an ocean.  True, contemporary law didn't require it, something incomprehensible today, but accepted at the time, because large ships were looked on as unsinkable.  This position was held by maritime authorities without any practical evidence.  It represents the usual abandonment of public interest by regulators to the convenience of the industries they have responsibility for.  But as Conrad points out, the larger the ship, the more vulnerable it is.  The thickness of the hull doesn't grow proportionately with the size of the ship.  If it did, the ship would sink on its own.  The greater the ship's mass, the less protection afforded to it by the hull.

The second way the ship was compromised involved a lesser-known, but even more critical element, the water tight bulkheads. The Titanic hull was divided into sixteen separate compartments with solid walls, or bulkheads, across the hull with doors through them, that when closed, provided a water tight barrier.  If any breach of the hull occurred, it could be isolated, keeping the ship afloat.  That is, they would have been watertight, Conrad observed, if they had reached the top of the hull.  Cost-cutting, or corner-cutting, or both, led the architects to leave them short.  Inrushing water topped the bulkheads of sound compartments, adding weight, dragging the ship down, leading to more overtopping, and so on.

What this shows is the Titanic was an unseaworthy ship, by design, tricked out with glitter and show, designed to distract people, and play to their vanity.  Nevertheless, for all its hoo-haw, it sailed far from sold-out, so I guess everyone wasn't fooled.

The second injury done to us by the Titanic is one we have done to ourselves, buying in to the White Star Line hype.  If the ship is as sold, then it really is a tragedy, an awful and wonderful just-so combination of events.  If the ship is as sold, then it really is divine retribution for overconfidence and recklessness.  A great mythology, or series of mythologies has grown up around the shipwreck, affording satisfaction for all kinds of hobby-horse riders.  Maybe it's all intentional, and the world secretly recognizes the truth.  Only the truth is prosaic, unappealing.  The flat truth allows for no ecstatic flights, no self-righteousness, no sermonizing, or ruminating.  Because the flat truth forces us to confront the passenger's deaths honestly.  We can't make their death symbolic, or turn them into martyrs.  There can't be any grandness to mitigate the crime committed against them.  It was a wretched, cold death.  The result of a faulty product that was misrepresented.

Titanic (1953), Sunday, 3 p.m., Pacific time.

a night to remember is the best titanic movie and even the special effects still look good today imo.

at least at the end of titanic clifton webb learns to love his son who is not his son. I did like that.

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23 minutes ago, TomJH said:

........

I never did ask my granddad if he still had the ticket. It's only now that my cash register mind is thinking of its value.

Edwina's little house was filled with mementos from her life. She even had a few little things that were in her pockets when she boarded her lifeboat. She lived to be 100 and remained active till the end, her "celebrity" as a survivor never diminishing as Ballard intensified his quest for the sunken liner. She passed away less than a year before it's rediscovery. She had no children and after she passed away someone bought her small house and everything in it. There were several small "collector" auctions for practically everything that she had any connection with, especially anything that could be associated with the Titanic. 
I don't know what monetary value was attained, but I thought it was sad that she had no one left to leave her "treasures" that knew her and would value them as she had.

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53 minutes ago, TomJH said:

ot held up by traffic the day the Titanic sailed, missing the departure by something like 45 minutes, I believe. Luckiest traffic jam of my grandfather's life, obviously, as he had a third class ticket and not many of the third class passengers survived.

Whew!

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1 hour ago, slaytonf said:

Did she ever express what she felt about the whole affair?  

Edwina did say that she originally had a first class ticket to sail on another ship (whose name escapes me) that was due to leave on the thirteenth, but her family and friends agreed that would be an unlucky day, so she cashed her ticket in for second class on board the Titanic, and sailed on the tenth instead.

I know that she must have been traumatized by the event, as anyone would, but she had had many, many years to deal with it.
For quite awhile she was afraid to sail again, but she overcame that and had crossed the sea many times since the Titanic by the time that I met her. She said she still loved traveling by ship, and was more afraid of airplanes than the thought of another ship going down.
However over the years many persons had given her books about the Titanic and other sinkings, both real and fiction, thinking that she would be interested in reading them. She said that once was enough and she didn't want to open the cover on something like that again, aside from signing someone else's copy (my mom had a couple of books about the Titanic and Edwina didn't mind signing them for her). Likewise she said she had never seen The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and didn't wish to. However she didn't appear to mind talking about the Titanic at all. Her memories and stories about the event seemed spontaneous and original and did not appear to be influenced by someone else.
Inspite of the sinking, she spoke quite fondly of the Titanic. She said that "she" was the most beautiful ship that she had ever seen, before or since, and was actually glad that she'd been aboard her. She believed that it was meant to be, and that God had spared her to do good things with her life. She spoke to many about it and thought that was part of her "mission."
If there was anything that bothered her so much that she couldn't or wouldn't talk about regarding that ship, that voyage, and that night, I never touched upon it. But then there were many things that I never did ask, that I later wished that I had. 
The look on her face when she talked about the sound of the people wailing in the dark, and in the water. And the weeping and sobbing from the boats around her. Until the awful silence came. That look told me that she was still haunted by the Titanic.

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Here's a link to a vimeo website interview with Edwina done just a year or so before her death in 1984...

(...nice write-up here slayton, and thanks for your posting your memories of her here too Stephan...greatly enjoyed reading them both)

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Dargo,
Thank you so very much for this.
It was wonderful to see "Winnie" again! Lively as I remembered.
I know that there have been (were) several televised interviews with her. I wonder if any of those still exist somewhere? 
This may be all we have left. So nice of you to take the time to locate it.
I am very grateful to you :)

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1 minute ago, Stephan55 said:

Dargo,
Thank you so very much for this.
It was wonderful to see "Winnie" again! Lively as I remembered.
I know that there have been (were) several televised interviews with her. I wonder if any of those still exist somewhere? 
This may be all we have left. So nice of you to take the time to locate it.
I am very grateful to you :)

You're welcome, oh fellow South Bay-er of yore. ;)

(...was my pleasure, ol' buddy)

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HEY, and speaking of our old stompin' grounds here AND Edwina...well, actually what I assume would have been her little Hermosa Beach cottage you remember talking with her in during those days...

I wonder what said little beach cottage would be goin' for in today's real estate market? Well, assuming of course that it hasn't been razed and replaced with one of those damn McMansions that have replaced so many of those little beach cottages in the area.

(...heck, in today's SoCal market, even IF it still stands, it would probably still be well over the million dollar mark or more, huh)

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Edwina gave my daughter a doll from England that was very old and she said had real teeth.
I'm going to have to ask her what became of it next time we speak.

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21 minutes ago, Dargo said:

HEY, and speaking of our old stompin' grounds here AND Edwina...well, actually what I assume would have been her little Hermosa Beach cottage you remember talking with her in during those days...

I wonder what said little beach cottage would be goin' for in today's real estate market? Well, assuming of course that it hasn't been razed and replaced with one of those damn McMansions that have replaced so many of those little beach cottages in the area.

(...heck, in today's SoCal market, even IF it still stands, it would probably still be well over the million dollar mark or more, huh)

It was a couple of blocks up from the beach so I know that the land alone would be worth what we'd (you and I) would call a fortune today.
I remember back in the mid 70's when I saw my first $250,000 house on my old block.
That was the value placed on it when it sold after the old lady who lived in it (I won't mention her name) passed away and her kids across the street put it up for sale.
When my former next door neighbor later sold her small house and moved up to Oregon, it went for $200,000 as is.
These were properties that went for under 10G's in the 50's.
I know that there are homes in tree section of Manhattan Beach valued at over a million today, so a lot in Hermosa, two blocks up from the beach... Yeah, a fortune.

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