Among my various esoteric interests is a curious -- some would say morbid -- fascination for the infamous tragedies of history: Pompeii, the Hindenberg crash, and of course, the grandmother of disaster stories, the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Today is the 96th anniversary of what author Walter Lord called "a night to remember," i.e., the night the supposedly unsinkable ship struck an iceberg while on her maiden -- and only -- voyage. (Technically, the ship hit the iceberg late on the night of April 14, but it took two and a half hours to go down, so it actually sank on the 15th.)
Public interest in this particular shipwreck never seems to wane, for some reason, and to this day people are still debating over what exactly happened out there in the North Atlantic. Oh, sure, everyone knows the ship hit a 'berg, but was it ripped open like a giant can of anchovies by a sharp spur of ice, as so many movies have depicted? Or was the damage actually something more... subtle? Caused by something innocuous that nobody thought would be a problem, like the stupidly mundane combination of rubber o-rings and freezing temperatures that brought down the space shuttle Challenger?
Here's a theory: it was the rivets that held the ship together. More precisely, according to two authors of an upcoming book, it was rivets made of inferior, brittle materials that shattered when the iceberg gently brushed -- not ripped into -- Titanic's side. According to this theory -- which is backed up by observations of the wreck itself on the ocean floor -- the ship wasn't torn open, as everyone has believed; rather, the broken rivets allowed the hull plates to simply open up along their seams. The end result was the same, of course.
This idea has been floating around for ten years or so, but recent research in the archives of Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilding company that assembled the great ship and its two sisters, Olympic and Brittanic, indicates that the company's resources were stretched thin by the effort of try to construct the three massive, then-state-of-the-art vessels simultaneously. In the time-honored corporate tradition still exercised today, H&W cut corners in order to meet the deadline... and 1,500 people died as a result.
(In the interest of fairness, H&W denies any negligence and points out that one of Titanic's sister ships, the Olympic, sailed for a quarter-century without a problem. Of course, it never brushed against an iceberg, either, to my knowledge. The third ship of this class, Brittanic, was torpedoed during the Great War. Interestingly, H&W also sells Titanic jackets and t-shirts. Rather curious, considering it wasn't exactly their finest hour, but then I suppose if you're connected to a legend, you may as well exploit it, right?)
I haven't seen many other interesting Titanic-related items around the 'net today, but I did come across an an explanation of the menu from the final meal -- ten courses! -- and it appears that the final living survivor of the wreck, Millvina Dean, is still going strong at the age of 96. (She was a babe-in-arms the night of the sinking and has no memory of the event.) Only last December, she protested the Doctor Who Christmas Special for making fun of the tragedy. I haven't seen that episode, so I can't comment, but I like the fact that she's still so feisty.