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F. P. Dorchak

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Ice and Death - R.M.S. Titanic
11/25/2007 8:22:44 AM

Last week we visited one of the five traveling Titanic exhibits, and it was nothing short of moving. It hits you on so many levels, but on every level: tragic. An oceanliner--the largest of its day, one blatantly declared unsinkable--strikes an iceberg, breaks apart, and spirals and twists its way two-and-a-half-miles below the frigid surface of the North Atlantic to plow into a cold, dark, and desolate watery grave.

Shoes found down there--laced all the way up. Think about that.

Undamaged stained-glass windows.

A cup still upright on a bathroom stand.

Rows of chinaware neatly stacked in the unlit silt, as if placed on a display shelf.

An actual chunk of the behemoth’s mighty armor: a piece of the hull.

Jewelry, diaries, toothbrushes, and more. Everything everyone one of us would have used had we lived in 1912. Had we gone down with the epic oceanliner on April 15, 1912. I love contrasts, and you don’t get much more contrasting than with the Titanic. Something meant to sail the ocean blue now sunk in ocean dark. None of these people ever thought they would find themselves offloaded into a cold, deep ocean. None of those people looking to their toothbrushes ever thought, “Gee, this is the last time I’ll ever see or use this. Next time it’s ever seen will be at the bottom of the Atlantic, buried in memories and silt.” The items themselves, if they were to ever carry a thought, were all probably thinking: “Wonderful. Juuust wonderful....”

Then to have items pulled BACK up and into the light of day! To SEE what is WHERE down there! To learn what happened after the sinking! To actually TOUCH of piece of the ship (a piece of hull was out expressly for that purpose)! To see...REMAINS of the once great ship....

Haunting. Ghostly. Unnerving.

Every artifact we saw had been two-and-a-half miles at the bottom of the ocean. Never expecting to ever see the light of day again. To be slowly eaten away by microorganisms. Even the ship itself is slowly being eaten away. It is all being consumed by Life. Life that fills every nook and cranny of the planet in places we wouldn’t even think Life should exist. The R.M.S. Titanic still has a few years to go, but probably won’t make it another 100 years. But to look IMAGINE...those who’d walked its decks....

When we entered our exhibit, we were all given fake White Star Line boarding passes, with a real passenger’s name and what information there was about him or her, including where that passenger fit on the ship: 1st, 2nd, 3rd class; their cabin (if known); any background. Mine was one Mr. Johan H. Nysveen, 61. Originally from Oyer, Norway, but who had come over to America and lived and worked in Grand Forks, ND (a place, incidentally, I’ve lived nearby myself--I’d lived north of there 90 minutes), for 27 years. Mr. Nysveen, however, had returned to Norway to remarry and was returning to North Dakota one last time to “finish his business there,” my boarding pass said, before returning to his wife in Norway. Everyone had one of these cards. And throughout the exhibit were actors taking on roles of some of those who’d been on the Titanic. There were also pictures of some of these people, with tantalizing tidbits...all the time, all of us wondering...did “my” person--ME--make it?

Mine did not. Mr. Johan H. Nysveen, died along with 1500 others (the actual number seems unknown).

Yes, this made the exhibit just a touch more personal for all of us. There was such joy and fun in my wife and mother-in-law’s voices when they declared at the end of the exhibit that THEY had made it. Such sadness when I told them I...had not.

That was the point.

We also watched the IMAX Ghosts of The Abyss (was my second time seeing it), and it just made things even more poignant. Seeing what’s left of the great ocean liner in its sad, deteriorating, state, but the most haunting scenes were those which overlaid scenes of people (from movies or otherwise) walking the decaying decks and halls. The most heartrending moment for me was when they showed the movie version of the sinking and then had all the actual pictures of those lost fly out from the viewer and into the sinking scene of the ship. Powerful, affecting, upsetting.

I’d read that the Titanic’s sinking was more than a physical tragedy in that it also heralded the end of an era. A way of life and thinking. That, among other things, Man, in all its period pomposity, could not after all Triumph Nature with its intellect, could not master it. That basically, we had been slapped back down, put in our place. What a rough lesson to learn--and have we really even learned it? We’re always trying newer, bigger, faster, which is not always a bad thing, but I think it all comes down to INTENT. And we have not been without our own “Titanics” (Challenger...Columbia...). Not getting into the Zen aspects of death and dying, it is interesting when these tragedies occur and how. No one will ever know all the intricacies of what happened except for those few intimately involved, and sometimes it’s just plain old “We just hadn’t even thought about it,” but when you push the envelope...sometimes, it pushes back. Growth usually does not come without its share of pain.

And now for a plot twist: The Wreck of the Titan, or Futility, by Morgan Robertson, wrote about a large ship, called The Titan. And that it had hit an iceberg. The specifics of the story differ slightly, but the ships were almost identical in size, displacement, etc. When did Mr. Robertson write this book?


This book can currently be found at Buccaneer Books, 4460 Depot Lane, Cutchogue, New York, 11935. I have a link to it, below.

Additionally (and I am updating this blog after-the-fact, because one of my brothers just pointed this out to me), according (see link, below), there was a silent 1911 movie playing the night the Titanic struck an iceberg. A 53-minute silent movie, by D. W. Griffith. It’s name?

The Poseidon Adventure.

Read the write-up at, below. I do not remember anything mentioned about this (or Robertson's story) in the exhibit, nor in reading about the Titanic, but admittedly, it has been a while since I researched Titanic material. Some things just weren’t meant to be...and the hints were there--just ignored.

Go see the exhibit. Go see that IMAX movie. It’ll make you think.

Post Script: Antarctic, November 23, 2007, approximately 10 p.m., ET.

The Canadian cruise ship, The Explorer, struck submerged ice and sank, while making a circuit of Antarctica’s South Shetland islands. It didn’t hit an “iceberg,” per se, but a piece of ice that was merely submerged. There was no loss of life. See link, below.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving--and had something to be thankful about.


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