Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 91/365 A Premonition of Titanic Proportions

Being a bookseller means listing hundreds of books, and listing those books means reading at least the jacket or first couple chapters, and reading that much of a book means said bookseller has a mind full of trivia (also known as little bits of knowledge about little bits of everything).

Today, the trivia that comes to mind is one of my obsessions since childhood: The Titanic. Yes, way before Jack and Rose, I had Titanic fever. Probably it stems from my mother letting me watch A Night To Remember back in the late 1950s.

Today, April 14, is the 97th aniversary of the sinking of the beautiful Titanic.

And it is the 111th anniversary of Futility: The Wreck of the Titan, a book by our friend (shown above) Morgan Robertson, written and published long before the Titanic was even on the drawing boards. Mr. Robertson was a well-known American author of short stories and novels (and possibly invented the periscope, but that's another story). His book originally went unpublished due to the unbelievable nature of his story, but was eventually published by M.F. Mansfield in 1898.

Futility features an enormous British passenger liner called the Titan, which is considered unsinkable, and consequently carries insufficient lifeboats. On a voyage from Southampton port, England to New York City, in the month of April, the Titan hits an iceberg and sinks in the North Atlantic with the loss of almost everyone on board.

There are some differences between the fictional prophecy and the later sinking of the Titanic, but the similarities are almost hair-raising:

  • Both referred to as unsinkable and/or indestructible

  • The Titanic was the world's largest luxury liner (882 feet, displacing 66,000 tons), and was The Titan was largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men (800 feet, displacing 75,000 tons)

  • The Titanic had three propellers and two masts

  • The Titan was equipped with three propellers and two masts

  • Both were launched in April from Southampton, England

  • The Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats, less than half the number required

  • The Titan carried "as few as the law allowed", 24 lifeboats, less than half reuired.

  • Both had a passenger capacity of 3000 souls.

  • The Titanic struck an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912 in the North Atlantic 400 miles away from Terranova, while traveling at 23 knots.

  • Also on an April night in North Atlantic, the Titan hit an iceberg 400 miles from Terranova, while traveling at 25 knots.

  • When the Titanic sank, more than half of her 2207 passengers died screaming for help.

  • When the Titan sank, more than half of her 2500 passengers drowning, their "voices raised in agonized screams".

But what about the differences?

  • The Titan does not make a glancing blow with the iceberg on a clear night, as the Titanic did, but instead drives headlong onto an iceberg.

  • The Titanic hit the iceberg in clear, crisp, cold conditions, while the Titan hit the iceberg in bad, misty and foggy conditions.

  • 705 people aboard the Titanic were saved, while only 13 of those aboard the Titan survived.

  • The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, while the Titan had made several voyages.

  • Titanic sank while sailing from Europe to the USA, while Titan was going in the opposite direction.

  • The Titan sinks a ship before hitting the ice. The Titanic came close to an accident with the New York but did not actually hit it.

  • The Titan had sails to improve her speed; the Titanic did not.

  • The Titanic was the second of three nearly identical sister ships (the Olympic and the Britainnic) while the Titan had no sister ships.

After the Titanic sank, Robertson's book was re-released, and there have been several editions since. The one pictured above is a first edition.

Yep, it's mine.

I keep it packed away with my piece of coal that was brought up from the Titanic in the early days just after it was found.

Nope, not selling it.

One last coincidence: the 227th victim pulled from the icy Atlantic waters was one J. Dawson,a young man from Dublin, a coal-trimmer by profession, his body accompanied only with this brief description:

CLOTHING - Dungaree coat and pants; grey shirt.
EFFECTS - N. S. & S. Union 35638.

After laying on ice for over three weeks, Joseph Dawson was laid to rest on May 8th, 1912, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with 149 fellow victims, 44 of whom are still unidentified.

Joseph's tombstone is a plain black granite, marked only with "227", "April 15, 1912" and "J.Dawson". Years later his resting place would become the most famous of all the Titanic burials, as visitors mistook him for the fictitious "Jack Dawson" of James Cameron's "Titanic".

1 comment:

  1. and you keep this special book tucked away where? Not that I would disturb it...

    The SPR, Wm James and all those in Gates of Night, interested in said story. that's where I first heard it.