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This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service. I'm Troy Kitch.
100 years ago this month, the RMS Titanic sank after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage from the United Kingdom to New York City. Nearly ¾ of the 2,200 people on board the ship perished.
[Jim Delgado] “Titanic tugged at the heart since the beginning because of the circumstances of its loss. It’s a maiden voyage. You have all of these people on board. There’s so much promise. It was, as they say, in the movie, a ‘ship of dreams,’ particularly of those who were on it, to start a new life.
You’re listening to Jim Delgado, ocean explorer and marine archeologist.
[Jim Delgado] “The fact that that ended suddenly and dramatically that, while there was class distinction—while some of the poorer people were locked below which in itself was dramatic and tragic, the fact that death cut across all classes. That the president’s aide, the richest man on board, died … that had an impact. As well as the poignancy of the loss of the families. That played out dramatically, because in many ways Titanic was the first modern world media disaster that played out in real-time. What I mean by that is that this was in an age before regular online fast-breaking news broadcasts, but there was the wireless transmission. The dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, that told the story dramatically that she was sinking. That other ships were on their way and then, ultimately, that the Carpathia had arrived to find Titanic sunk and they picked up survivors. And then the wait of a few days until Carpathia docked. And then the story went across the wires, throughout the world, it dominated headlines. It inspired more than a thousand pieces of music, it inspired memorials, sermons, physical monuments, and a lot of quiet, private heart-broken remembrance. When you consider a man who had come from his native Finland, who had arrived with his brother-in-law to raise money to bring his wife and four children home, to have sent the money to her for her to be on Titanic and to find that, that night, all of them had died. When he showed up at the White Star Lines office in New York, and stood in line and was told that his wife and children were gone, he collapsed. His friend ushered him to a bench and, white-faced, he somewhat came to and stumbled off and never again married, really didn’t speak much of it until he died in 1965. That played out powerfully in a lot of households. Those types of stories speak to us still after 100 years. It’s literally just around the corner in terms of human history, you can think of it as just a few generations ago. I myself have met and talked with Titanic survivors, all now gone of course, and in that connection to humanity and that connection to not only meeting these people and hearing their stories, but the connection that you have when you’re actually there, when you see that ship, I think that’s why it sticks with us. And Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel’s rediscovery of the Titanic in 1985 really brought that home. With every visit since, we are compelled in many ways – Titanic is a ship that really never left us … or shall I say, Titanic is a ship that we never really left alone.”
In recognition of the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, this podcast is the first of two episodes we’re producing this month featuring an extended interview with Jim Delgado, Director of Maritime Heritage with the National Ocean Service’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
Jim has been deeply involved with an international effort to protect and preserve the Titanic wreck site and all of its artifacts for decades. And he’s had two dives down to the Titanic.
[Jim Delgado] “I think the most memorable experience for me was being down there, of course. And going from spot to spot, and making that sudden leap in your mind. I mean, you sort of get it. You know, this is a ship that had a lot happen on it, powerful stories that played. But in many ways, it’s something you read about. It’s in a book. It’s in a film. And then you’re there. For me, I recall moving across the deck, as others have, and you come to a different spot and you’re making your notes about where you are and what you’re looking at, and in this case I’m looking at corrosion, and I’m looking at different aspects [such as] what’s preservable and what’s not. And we come to the davit that’s dangling there from lifeboat number 8. Eight’s a pretty important lifeboat, because this is a boat that had somebody important not survive. Isadore and Ida Strauss were rich, important people. He was owner of the Macy’s department store in New York. They were older, they were coming back from Europe and, in that night, as the ship is sinking, with women and children first, Mrs. Strauss and the maid get in the boat, but Mr. Strauss cannot. It is women and children first. And in some cases that rule is interpreted as women and children only. For men to get in the boats was to risk censure, if not embarrassment and outright ostracization. To be ostracized meant complete shunning, so he’s not going to get in. So Mr. Strauss is not about to get in this boat. He can’t. Mrs. Strauss is not about to let him stay there. Now, bear in mind, they know darn well what’s going to happen. This ship is going down into icy, cold water. He is not going to go easy. He is going to struggle and choke in that freezing water, and he’s going to be pulled down, and he’s going to die in pain. And if not that, then he’s going to freeze and float there with so many others. So she gets out of the boat, and the officer loading the boat tries to get her back in, as do others, and she won’t. Because as she explains, they’ve been married for a very long time, and she loves him. And where she goes, he goes. Now that might sound like sort of an arcane concept, particularly in the 21st century, as much as, say, women and children first, but I can guarantee you as somebody who’s loved and who’s lost that I get it. And she got it. And so she locked arms with her husband and they walked and they sat down, and they died together. That’s love. That’s love, unrefined, at its most basic. And I’ll tell you, at that spot on that deck, seeing where that happened, it came across powerfully. I was there. It ceased to be a story, and I cried. Of course I cried. I think any of us that do that, and I have talked to many other people, including rough, tough old explorers like me I guess, and you do … it’s a place that confronts you with this. It is a museum. It’s a ghost town. It’s a powerful place. And it’s a reminder of why Titanic is special. But I can tell you, there’s other shipwreck as well where, if you know the stories, you get it. And a visit is a powerful one. "
It’s the history – the stories behind the artifacts – that make places like Titanic so special. Jim said that this anniversary year is a time to reflect on these stories and to reaffirm our commitment to protecting all of our special places in the sea for future generations.
[Jim Delgado] "This anniversary is a reminder that history is about people. That it’s not necessarily about the big events or the big names, but it’s about people. Ordinary people, who often times are caught up in beyond their control. And that’s life. It’s a reminder that in an event like this, as we mark its 100th anniversary, it’s an opportunity to learn. I don’t think we’ve fully learned every lesson that the Titanic had to offer. Indeed, had we, then the 20th century would have played out a lot differently. That’s also life. Finally, I think the anniversary for me is a reminder that events like this, as we commemorate them, are an opportunity for us to connect back to these places, these special places in the sea and renew our commitment to protect them for what they’re worth. Their value and importance to us as human beings, as Americans, as citizens in our own communities, and as family members. Whether it’s an important natural resource, our fisheries, whether it’s an important coral reef, or whether it’s a shipwreck that speaks powerfully to our experiences, there’s reasons why we set aside places in the ocean for conservation, protection, and to share with the public in a way that’s either renewable or non-exploitive. And for that, I look at this 100th anniversary as an opportunity to renew my commitment, not only to see Titanic protected and available for future generations to experience, but also other shipwrecks like her that are museums in the sea. "
I hope you join us for our next episode, when you’ll hear more details about Jim’s dives to the Titanic and the complicated story behind the quest to preserve and protect this famous shipwreck – a story that’s still being written. And you’ll also learn about new projects that are bringing the Titanic experience directly to you.
And that's all for this week. If you'd like to learn more, check our show notes for the links. You’ll find these on our website at oceanservice.noaa.gov.
If you have any questions about this episode, about our oceans, or about the National Ocean Service, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don't forget that you can visit us online at oceanservice.noaa.gov. There you'll find an accompanying print story about the study we discussed today, and you'll links to all of the offices and programs we've mentioned in this podcast.
This is Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service.