September 1, 1985 Dr. Robert Ballard, along with American and French researchers, discovered the wreckage of The RMS Titanic, 73 years after it sank. Of course, today everyone is familiar with the tragic events of the Titanic due, in large part, to James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic. More than 12,000 below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean lies the remains of the glamourous and reportedly “unsinkable” ship. One of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, it remains in our hearts and our memories. The RMS Titanic hit an iceberg at 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, 2 hours and 40 minutes later on April 15, 1912, she would lie at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
The name, Titanic, is derived from Greek mythology and with her sister ships, Britannic and Olympic, were billed as the future of ships. Conceived by the White Star line with its chairman, J. Bruce Ismay and American financier J.P. Morgan, Harland and Wolff were contracted to build the three ships. With design by naval architect, Thomas Andrews. Titanic would have the designation as a Royal Mail Ship and would be 882 ft. 9 in in length and 104 ft. in height. Building began in Belfast on March 31, 1909 and launched on May 31, 1911 and finished on April 2, 1912. Her maiden voyage began on April 10, 1912 when she left Southampton. Titanic was designed with modern amenities and technological advances which boasted her as the fastest and luxurious ship on the sea. White Star Line, so proud of their new creation, called her the unsinkable ship.
Titanic boasted some of the wealthiest and famous people of the early 20th century. Among them were millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madeline, businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor and Ida Straus, owner of Macy’s, and Margaret “Molly” Brown, who would earn the nickname, the Unsinkable Molly Brown. The official passenger and crew count claims 2,224 people on board the Titanic. 710 would survive including Millvina Dean, who was nine weeks ago at the time and the last living survivor. She died at the age of 97 on May 31, 2009. 1,514 people would lose their life in the sinking. 333 bodies would be recovered. Only about two-thirds would be positively identified and approximately 150 would be laid to rest in one of three Halifax, Nova Scotia cemeteries. While many were affected by this tragedy, none more than the resident of Southampton, England in which 4 out of 5 crew members were residents.
Almost immediately after the sinking, proposals were made to find the wreckage but were abandoned as the depths were too great for divers at the time. Many expeditions have been proposed and attempted without success since the sinking. Until 1985, the location of the wreckage was unknown due to conflicting coordinates reported. After a failed attempt, Dr. Robert Ballard devised new technology and search strategies in to order to find the wreckage. Using cameras instead of sonar, September 1, 1985 at 12:48 am, pieces of debris began to appear on the cameras screens, one piece being identified as a boiler. The following day, the main part of the ship was found. Titanic was discovered to be in two main pieces 370 miles (600 km) south east of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland. The discovery of two main pieces confirms some of the survivors accounts that the ship had broken in two, despite the official report claiming in sank intact.
Titanic has the legacy of man’s hubris and pride. To think that man can design anything to which nature cannot destroy. So full of confidence in their design and counting the fortune they would make, they failed to see the flaws in their design. The memory of the 1,514 lives lost is a testament that we cannot take anything for granted. We may try to build everything to last and withstand all the nature can throw at us but eventually the forces of nature will win. We must expect the unexpected. There are still many unanswered questions about Titanic but today in 1985, the one big question was answered.