Color painting of the R.M.S. Titanic at sea.
The Library of Virginia >> Exhibitions >> R.M.S. Titanic: Ninety Years Later

Introduction

Newspaper Coverage

Inaccurate or Misleading Reporting

Headline Coverage

Editorial Cartoons

High Society on the High Seas

Man vs. Nature…
Nature Wins

Aftermath and Inquiry

References


To borrow a headline from the Los Angeles Times: the "Horror of the disaster loom(ed) larger every hour" (Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1912). With each passing day the specter of the sinking ship grew darker. The number of lives lost grew more exact. The scope of the tragedy had begun to take hold. drawing of the disaster

Within days the United States Senate called an investigation, with Bruce Ismay as the star witness/defendant. Despite his claims that he had nothing to do with the speed of the Titanic, that he did not unfairly take his place in a lifeboat, and that his conscience was clear (News Leader, Richmond, VA., April 20, 1912) he was forever branded a coward and accomplice to the catastrophe. The inquiry did not formally act against Ismay or White Star, and, in fact, White Star never had to pay (Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1912) any reparations to relatives of the victims. Eventually he would resign his position as White Star Director and live in relative solitude in Ireland, but not before laying down plans to build a "safe steamship" (Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA., May 1, 1912). Meanwhile the investigation would condemn Ismay and White Star for knowingly going too fast in dangerous waters and having too few lifeboats (despite exceeding the regulations calling for life boats for one-third of all passengers, a regulation that would be changed in the wake of the disaster).

Simultaneously there was tremendous grieving in Southampton, England , (Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1912) the home port of the Titanic, and in the United States, friends, loved ones, and the press waited in anticipation (Virginia-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, Norfolk, VA., April 17, 1912) as the survivors, aboard the Carpathia, steamed toward New York. Varying lists of dead and survivors were published by almost every newspaper in the country, but it wasn't until the cable steamer Mackay-Bennett began to pluck the dead from the sea, and send in lists of the identifiable dead that many people's hopes for a loved ones survival were dashed. In fact, until they were found at sea (Staunton Daily Leader, Staunton, VA., April 26, 1912), the bodies of Isidor Straus and John Jacob Astor were presumed to be miles below the surface of the Atlantic aboard the Titanic, and there were bizarre plans floated to recover them (Virginia-Pilot and the Norfolk Landmark, Norfolk, VA., April 24, 1912).

Along with the survivors (Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA., April 28,1912) and the empty lifeboats (Baltimore Morning Sun, April 19, 1912) messages of condolence from around the word poured in. King George V and Queen Mary of England sent sympathies to the White Star Lines. So did their cousin the German Emperor, Wilhelm, Similar tidings were received from Spain, France, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Weeks after the disaster it was obvious that Virginia and the rest of the world would not easily forget the Titanic. The, Staunton Daily Leader (Staunton, Va.) began serializing The Wreck of the Titan, an eerily prophetic novel (Daily Mail, London, England, April 17, 1912, originally published in 1898, which tells the story of a great ship, the Titan, which struck an iceberg and sank with tremendous loss of life.

It has been 90 years since the Titanic was swallowed by the Atlantic, and took with her the lives of more than 1500 people. The stories, rumors, controversies, lies, and legend that surround her continue to persist. From the decades' long search for her resting place, to the discovery of her remains, on Sept. 1, 1985; the continuing speculation about the "true" cause of her demise: brittle steel; (New York Times, September 16, 1993), sabotage, insurance scam; what the band was playing as she went down (the big contenders: Nearer my God to Thee or Autumn); even Captain Lord (Los Angeles times, July 27, 1990) of the Californian (the vessel that did not respond to distress calls of the Titanic) was re-tried in 1990, though he died in 1962, the legend and myth of the Titanic has continued to resonate in our consciousness. This has everything to do with the tragic circumstances of the Titanic's loss. The overwhelming power of nature to thwart mankind makes the Titanic's resting place on the ocean floor more than an archeological site, but an object lesson in prudential progress, and a shrine for the dead who were sacrificed that we should learn. In our time a controversy has arisen over a proposed exhibition of artifacts (Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1994) taken from the wreckage. Even to this day the Titanic fascinates and confounds us.