Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Today is April 15, 2015, 103 years since Titanic sank. So this will be my last Titanic blog post. At least for this year.

On April 25, 1912, firemen from Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, refused to work on the ship because of insufficient lifeboats, and they went on strike. The firemen were accused of mutiny, but the magistrates refused to fine or imprison them. When enough usable lifeboats were replaced, the strikers returned and the ship sailed on May 15.

On learning of the Titanic sinking, a U.S. Senator called for an inquiry which was held in New York. Another inquiry was held in London, and the result of those was a reform of the laws governing ocean travel. In addition to enough lifeboats for everyone on board, other safety measures were adopted. More ships were outfitted with double hulls, and watertight compartments had complete bulkheads. Crews were required to be proficient in handling lifeboats, and passengers had to attend a boat drill to learn how to don a life vest and which lifeboat to board. Cruise ships still do that today.

North Atlantic shipping lanes were moved forty miles south during winter if there was any danger of ice, and ice patrols were formed to keep ships out of the path of icebergs. This became our present day Coast Guard.

One of the most important changes in England came about gradually but the Titanic disaster is often cited as the beginning of the end of the worst excesses of the British class system. The lower classes began to insist on respect, changed their attitude and took control of their lives. The U.K. still has a queen, princes and Lords and Ladies, yet immigrants continue to come here because of our declaration, “...that all men are created equal.”

Cameron’s TITANIC is the most accurate, but not perfect. The ship was found before Cameron made his film, so he knew it broke apart before sinking. Yet he shows people sliding down steep decks, not described by survivors, just as there were no locked gates. He also shows the lookouts in the crow’s nest shivering in their heavy coats because the temperature had dropped below freezing. At the same time Jack and Rose are dancing on the deck and she wears a short-sleeved party dress. He also shows all women wearing bright red lipstick, which was unlikely in 1912. I wrote a memoir about my husband’s aunt in 1913 and she assured me only actresses and other “fast women” wore lip-rouge at the time.

Earlier, black and white films got a few things wrong, the worst being 1953's TITANIC, depicting a wealthy man, played by Clifton Webb, buying steerage tickets from an immigrant because there were no more first-class cabins. Not true. Titanic left Southhampton with many empty ones.

When I gave a talk about Titanic at a local library, I answered many questions about the things I discovered during my research. One was about bathtubs. Third-class, or Steerage, on board the ship was much grander than the homes many passengers came from. Titanic had heat, electric lights and running water, which were luxuries to some. There were two bathtubs for the 700, one for men and one for women, and the water was changed between uses. Today that sounds inadequate, but the voyage was to take only seven days and in 1912 many people only bathed once a week, probably in a tub on the kitchen floor. Some people probably didn’t bathe that often, believing it was unhealthy.

I take up a new topic next week, one you’ll like because it involves a new low price on one of my books. See you then.


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