The List: 20 facts about the Titanic

Part of the railing of the Titanic lies in 12,600 feet of water, about 400 miles east of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo: AP/Discovery Channel) Part of the railing of the Titanic lies in 12,600 feet of water, about 400 miles east of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo: AP/Discovery Channel)
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The RMS Titanic sunk on its maiden commercial voyage a century ago. Within 160 minutes after the celebrated ocean liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, 1,495 of the 2,207 passengers and crew aboard were dead. Julian Fellowes, the creator of the popular “Downton Abbey,” has written the miniseries “Titanic,” which will air in four parts on ABC on Saturday and Sunday. The List this week looks at 20 facts about the disaster, which still stirs emotion and fascination.

  • The voyage begins — At noon on April 10, 1912, the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England. It arrived at Cherbourg, France, at 6:30 p.m. to pick up more passengers. At 11:30 p.m. on April 11, the liner reached Queenstown, Ireland. The ship sailed through clear waters toward New York for three days until 11:40 p.m. on April 14, when it struck an iceberg.
  • Readiness — The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats allowing a total capacity for 1,178 people, as well as 3,560 inflatable life jackets and 49 life buoys.
  • Silent-screen star — One of the survivors of the disaster was silent-screen actress Dorothy Gibson. She later made a film titled “Saved From the Titanic,” which was a huge success. The only known prints of the film were destroyed in a 1914 fire in what film historians consider one of the greatest losses of the silent era. Gibson later fell in love with Antonio Ramos, the press attache for the Spanish Embassy in Paris. She was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 and imprisoned at San Vittore. She died of a heart attack in 1946 at 56.
  • At the helm — Capt. Edward John Smith, a 37-year veteran making his final crossing after serving with the White Star Line for 28 years, might have been ill-prepared for a giant liner. Smith learned much of his trade under sail and at the helm of modest steamers. On the Titanic, the 62-year-old ventured at 22 knots, full speed, into an area notorious for icebergs in mid-April. His only caution to the crew was that the Titanic stop at the first sign of ice.
  • Near collision — After leaving Southampton, the Titanic sucked into her path another liner, the SS City of New York. Quick work by the Titanic’s tugboats averted a collision.
  • Mystery ship — The SS Californian, which was eight to 15 miles away from the Titanic as it sank, did not respond to distress calls. Many Titanic buffs believe the Samson, a 254-ton schooner of Norwegian registry, was just five to eight miles from the Titanic, between the liner and the Californian. The Sampson may not have been eager to identify itself because of illegal seal hunting.
  • Foreboding Letter — Eileen Lenox Conyngham, 11, wrote a letter to her nurse, Louisa Sterling, four days before the disaster. The girl said the Titanic “broke the ropes” and rammed into the Oceanic while “floating about” Southampton dock. Young Eileen escaped the disaster because her family disembarked in France. Her letter arrived in Ireland within days of the Titanic’s sinking and was treasured by Sterling for the rest of her life.
  • Obscure memorial — Hidden away, where P Street ends at the Washington Channel in Washington, D.C., is a memorial to the “Brave men” of the Titanic, which was erected by the Women of Washington in 1931. The 13-foot-tall, partly clad male figure with arms outstretched originally stood at the current site of the Kennedy Center.
  • Harry Potter to Titanic — Geraldine Somerville, who plays Harry Potter’s mother, Lily Potter, in the “Harry Potter” films, stars in ABC’s “Titanic” miniseries.
  • Ticket prices — The Daily Mail reported that a first-class (parlor suite) ticket cost £870/$4,350 ($50,000 today). A first-class (berth) ticket cost £30/$150 ($1,724 today), second-class accommodations cost £12/$60 ($690 today), and a third-class ticket cost £3 to £8/$40 ($172 to $460 today).
  • Who saw the iceberg? — Lookout Frederick Fleet in the crow’s nest alerted the bridge to the iceberg ahead. An order was given to go “Full speed astern.”
  • Swimming pool — It cost 1 shilling to use the 30-by-14-foot pool, which included use of a costume. Men and women were not allowed to use the pool together.
  • Cost to send a Marconi wireless telegram — Twelve shillings and sixpence/$3.12 ($36 today), for the first 10 words, and 9 pence per word thereafter. More than 250 passenger telegrams were sent and received during the voyage.
  • Double tragedy — Douglas Spedden was 6 years old when his nurse told him they were on a “trip to see the stars,” as she carried him to lifeboat No. 3 from which he was rescued. Three years later, at age 9, he was hit by a car in Maine and died two days later. It was one of the first recorded automobile accidents in the state.
  • The richest — The wealthiest passenger aboard was Lt. Col. John Jacob Astor IV, with a fortune estimated at about $100 million. He did not survive.
  • Auction — More than 5,500 items from the Titanic’s resting place went on auction in New York City on April 2. By law, the lot could not be broken up and the winning bidder must display the items for the public. The winning bid is to be announced Wednesday.
  • Hero — The most senior officer to survive the disaster was 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller. He took charge of an overturned lifeboat, then calmed and organized the survivors, numbering about 30. He was the last survivor taken on board the rescue ship RMS Carpathia. He served in the British navy in World War I and helped rescue soldiers during the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II. He was portrayed by Kenneth More in the 1958 film “A Night to Remember” and Jonathan Phillips in the 1997 film “Titanic.”
  • Memorial museums — Two Titanic museums, one in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., with 2 million visitors since 2010, and the other, in Branson, Mo., with 5 million visitors since 2006, will conclude their activities Saturday by lighting memorial flames at the bows of the half-scale replicas of the ship. Both museums are billed as exhibiting the largest permanent collections of Titanic artifacts and memorabilia.
  • Orchestra — All eight members of the all-male Titanic orchestra perished. Three bodies, including that of John Hume Law, were found. Two weeks after his death, Law’s father received a bill from C.W. and F.N. Black, the Liverpool firm that employed the orchestra, demanding 5 shillings and 4 pennies for costs pertaining to his son’s uniform. According to those rescued, the musicians played until the ship went down. It has been suggested that the last tune was the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” A concert was held at the Apollo Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 9, 1912, to aid the families of the musicians who perished in the sinking.
  • Suicides — Ten Titanic survivors later committed suicide. Stewardess Annie Robinson was the first. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, the 42-year-old was sailing across the Atlantic to visit her daughter in Boston when she jumped overboard as the ship entered a thick fog.

Compiled by John Haydon
Sources: Mirror, National Review, Deutsche Presse Agentur, www.webtitanic.net, titanic3.tripod.com, encyclopedia-titanica.org, People magazine and Associated Press

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