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An Unsinkable Legacy: Remembering the Titanic

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The Titanic / Prints and Photographs Division

In the wee hours of the morning on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic – the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time – sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg only a few hours earlier. More than 1,500 people died. This year marks the centennial of one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history.

Let me tell you another story about another ship, The Titan, billed as “unsinkable.” Setting off across the Atlantic, it also hits an iceberg and goes down. Most of the passengers perish.

The Titan is the story you haven’t really heard about or read about in the news and history books – probably because it’s a work of fiction. Written by Morgan Robertson in 1898, “Futility” tells a tale eerily similar to that of the Titanic – 14 years before the actual tragedy. Was Robertson unknowingly predicting the future? As it turns out, his fictional ship is almost identical to the real one, including its dimensions and the speed at which it was traveling when it hit the iceberg.

Very few copies of the 1898 edition still exist. (Robertson re-released his book in 1912, following the Titanic sinking, with a new title, “The Wreck of the Titan.”) The Library of Congress has a copy in its Rare Book and Special Collections Division; there are other copies in the British Library and a few other private libraries.

You can read the book online here.

View from the S.S. Carpathia of the iceberg that sank the Titanic / Prints and Photographs Division

Robertson didn’t sink the market, as it were, when it came to such predictions. Another eerie coincidence is in W. T. Stead’s short story, “From the Old World to the New,” published in 1892. In the story, a White Star Line vessel, The Majestic, rescues the passengers of another ship after a collision with an iceberg. Strangely enough, Stead himself would go down with the Titanic 20 years later.

The San Francisco Call. April 19, 1912

As far as the actual facts go, the Library has many primary sources on the Titanic. With headlines like “Queen of the Sea’s Awful Fate on Her First Trip Out,” “Death in Husband’s Arms Better Than Life Alone for These Heroines of the Titanic,” or “Wm. T. Stead, ‘Titanic’ Victim, is Sending Messages From Spirit Land” the Library’s Chronicling America newspaper collection brings you the news of the tragedy. More sample article and search suggestions can be found here.

Speaking of newspapers, as publications mark the Titanic centennial, you may be seeing lots of old photographs of the ship and such. Some of those are coming from the Library’s own photograph collections. From images of its construction and interior design to views of the ship on its first and final voyage to survivor portraits, knowing the ultimate outcome of the Titanic makes looking at these pictures all the more haunting.

As the Titanic went down, it’s said that the ship’s musicians played to the bitter end in an effort to maintain calm during the evacuation. According to survivor accounts, the hymn “Nearer My God To Thee” was the song they played. You can hear a version of it in the Library’s National Jukebox.

This really is just a sampling of the related resources on the Titanic. Several of the other Library blogs are also marking the anniversary. Make sure to check them out for more fascinating stories.



Comments (3)

  1. in 100 years we don’t understand the lesson.

  2. True, Oswaldo. The Italian cruise ship could have been a “Titanic” disaster of the 21st century, if had drifted into deeper waters.

    We still don’t understand what caused the Titanic to split in half when it sunk instead of falling on to it’s side

  3. I am the first one to comment

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