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TITANIC: THE MYTHS AND THE MOVIES
Everyone knows the story of the ship Titanic. On April 14, 1912, on her maiden voyage, Titanic ran into an iceberg and sank about two and a half hours later. In the years since the sinking, many myths about the Titanic have survived – and even been created – by the many movies that have been made about her. The story is well-known, but are you sure that what you know about Titanic is actually true? Or is it just a myth perpetuated by the movies?
One myth that everyone thinks they know is that of the band playing until the ship sank. Several movies about the sinking have included the band, out on the deck of the ship, playing until it sank. Some people have even said that the last song they played was a familiar tune, the song “Nearer My God to Thee.” In reality, none of the band members survived the sinking, and the reports of their last song were given by survivors who left the ship long before she sank. Most survivors agreed that the band did play out on the deck of the ship despite very cold weather. Some survivors, however, said that the band played lively tunes, such as ragtime and jazz, rather than somber tunes like “Nearer My God to Thee.” We’ll never really know what their last song was, though, and the mythical final song is appropriate for the situation, so the myth continues.
Another myth that we talk about today is that the ship was considered “unsinkable.” In reality, no one actually said that. While many people marveled at the ship’s size and construction, no one associated with the ship or her company, the White Star Line, wanted to invite disaster by saying that Titanic was unsinkable. To say that it wasn’t possible to destroy the ship would have served only to ask for trouble, and no one wanted that. It was only after the disaster that people began to exaggerate the strength and size of Titanic by calling her “unsinkable.”
Yet another myth, perpetuated by several movies about Titanic, is that third-class passengers were not allowed to go to the upper decks to reach the lifeboats. In real life, the crew may have forced third-class passengers to stay below decks at first, but once the true danger of the situation became known, third class passengers were allowed to the upper decks. Unfortunately, by this time, most of the lifeboats had been launched half-full, so the third class passengers did not get the same opportunities to get onto them.
Other myths concern the people who were on Titanic when she sank. Two men who had a lot of control over the ship were J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line, and the Captain, Edward Smith. Ismay managed to get onto a lifeboat and survive the sinking, but he was painted as a coward who didn’t have the courage to go down with the ship. It also came out that he may have encouraged Captain Smith to ignore ice warnings and keep Titanic at close to top speed. After the disaster, Ismay was portrayed in the press as someone who valued the reputation of the White Star Line over the lives of the ship’s passengers. He never overcame the shame of having gotten on a lifeboat when so many others perished. Captain Smith went down with the ship.
One element of the Titanic sinking that was thought to be a myth for a long time was whether or not the ship broke into two pieces when she sank. Some survivors were certain that they saw Titanic split in two as she went down; others swore that she didn’t. It wasn’t until 1985, when Titanic was found at the bottom of the ocean, that the breaking up of the ship was confirmed. When an event like the Titanic sinking happens, it’s hard to separate myth from fact, especially since it has been over 100 years after the fact. However, people are still passionate about learning more about Titanic, and new details emerge each time the ship is visited. Of course, there are some details that we’ll never know because they went down with the ship.
1 Why are there so many myths about Titanic?