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Monday, April 9th 2012

8:55 AM

Titanic personal stories

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic has taken over news pages lately as the centennial date looms only days away. So why should this space be any different?

The April 1912 disaster was labelled "the story of the century" within months. There are "stories of the century" all the time, of course, but this one lives the part, still prompting headlines, comments, analyses, books and movies, and all kinds of media wallowing, after all this time. The two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the atomic age, the space age and even 9-11 that have all happened since the sinking don't generate the ink and talk the Titanic does. 

The British version of the genealogy website, ancestry.co.uk, has just released 200,000 documents relating to the ship in time for the centenary, one for every rusted rivet left in the Atlantic seabed hulk. But it's the April 2012 National Geographic magazine that notes the forgotten personal angle in the too-familiar saga - the stories, not of the survivors, but of those who went down with the ship. What were the stories of the captain, the band members who kept playing or zillionaire John Jacob Astor who put his pregnant wife in a lifeboat and then walked away?

Writer Hampton Sides: "What happened to the people still on board as she sank? Hundreds of people may have still been alive inside, most of them immigrant families in steerage class, looking forward to a new life in America. How did they, during their last moments, experience these colossal wrenchings and shudderings of metal? What would they have heard and felt? It was, even a hundred years ago, too awful to contemplate." Those are the personal stories we will never know.


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