Titanic Myths

There have been many tales of Titanic over the years, some true, some wishful thinking and some that are downright ludicrous. These have filtered down to us and a lot are now taken as gospel by a surprising number of people. In an effort to dispel these fabrications I wrote this little monograph for this page. Enjoy it but please ask permission before using it on another web site.

The Mummy:

It sounds like a Boris Karloff horror movie and, if the myth is to be believed, it reads like one as well. The tale goes like this:
An unidentified American buys a mummy case from the British Museum and has it shipped home. The ship involved is, of course, Titanic. The case has a painting on it of the former occupant and the eyes are said to have this look of extreme pain in them and are very realistic. After arrangements are made the case is brought aboard and stowed either in the hold or in some variations of the story on the bridge, in Captain Smith's quarters or somewhere where the officers will be affected by it. Due to the evil influence of the mummy the Titanic hits the iceberg and sinks. Sometimes the mummy is smuggled off Titanic in a lifeboat and then goes on to take out the Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence Seaway and later is aboard the Lusitania, being shipped back to the museum, and causes yet a third sinking. The fact of the matter is that the British Museum never sells anything in its collection to private buyers. This story traces back to the 13th of April, 1912 when, aboard Titanic, W.T. Stead the famous editor of "Review of Reviews" and spiritualist told the story of the curse behind the mummy case in question and did it on the 13th day of the month to prove his lack of belief in superstition.
If there was a curse involved it was through the telling of this story (assuming you believe this sort of rubbish) and not a mummy secreted aboard Titanic.

The Dairy Cattle:

It seems that someone, somewhere wanted to make Titanic even more luxurious than she was and decided that there was a herd of cows aboard to provide fresh milk for the passengers. This is not much of a puzzler in reality. Cows make very poor sailors and would not give much milk to start with. Outside of the feed required for keeping them from starving where would you put a herd of cows? The space was needed for passengers.

The Worker sealed in the Hull:

As with many ships there is a story floating around out there that tells of a worker in the Harland and Wolff Shipyard who was sealed inside Titanic's double bottom. The "proof" of this is random noises like hammering that were heard at times during the launching and afterwards. Of course the poor workman laid a curse on the ship and so it merrily sailed off to its doom with the iceberg. Truth be told there are a lot of random bangs and rattles during and after the launch of a ship and the strangest thing of all is that the worker didn't have a voice to holler for help. Sorry... no stray corpses in Titanic.

The "No Pope" Story:

Of course religious superstition manages to raise its head with Titanic. The ship was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Somewhere on the ship the numbers 3909 04 were supposed to be in plain view. As the four was written with the top open rather than as here if you held this numerical combination to a mirror it spells (in the mirror) No Pope. What makes one wonder is that Belfast is predominantly Protestant and hold no allegiance to the Pope! For some reason this has come down through history as a bad omen especially as the ship was never christened and that the wrath of God was brought down in the form of the iceberg.
Facts? Titanic's yard number was 401 and her registry number was 131428 (which had not been issued at the time of launch). These are rather prosaic numbers though and don't lend themselves to flights of fancy. Was 3904 04 on Titanic? No one can say, as there is no photographic evidence. If it was there it could well have been a plate or rib number that had been chalked on for purposes of assembly and I doubt that God would object to that. Lest I offend anyone in our audience let me say that I am a Catholic and did discuss this with my parish priest before writing it, he agrees and said that it sounds more like a tale of the Roman gods.

No Christening:

Titanic was never christened. The ritual of christening a ship goes back to the earliest days of ships when a sacrifice was made to the gods (pick an era, pick a god or gods) to ensure that the ship would have a long and safe career. It didn't work. All one has to do is study marine archeology and the numerous ancient vessels on the ocean floor to realize this. The White Star Line never christened its ships and Titanic was only one of many. I find it hard to believe that a bottle of champagne would have stopped the collision.

Ismay ordered Smith to go at full speed:

I think every movie made about Titanic shows Bruce Ismay telling Captain Smith to "light all the boilers and show how fast we can go" and this was the rumor in 1912. This is baloney, though it does make a good plot. For one thing the Captain of a ship is in command from the time she leaves port till the time she is tied up at her destination. There are several items that can disprove this one. For one thing Titanic was never built with the idea of capturing the Blue Riband. She was built for luxury and a safe crossing. If White Star had wanted a speed record they could have done it with Olympic, she had the same power plant as Titanic and was actually a lighter ship. The other thing is that if Titanic had made a record passage she would have arrived in New York the night before she was due. Ships in that case sat outside the harbor and waited daylight so they could proceed to dock. Hardly an end to a luxurious voyage by keeping the cream of society cooling their heels in quarantine till morning with the lights of New York visible from the deck. As a matter of record Titanic made 75 revolutions (revolutions of the propeller shafts on the piston engines) the entire voyage after she departed Queenstown (Cobh) giving her a speed of 21-22 knots. Her maximum speed was 78 revolutions as proven during her trials. This would have increased after the engines had been broken in.

Molly Brown took command of the lifeboat she was in.

It is said that Margaret Brown (she was never called Molly till after her death) took command of her lifeboat after she decided that Quartermaster Hitchens was unfit to command it. Margaret Tobin Brown was herself a teller of tall tales and its not surprising that something like this would spread, she probably made it up herself. The fact of the matter is that Hitchens retained command of the boat though Mrs. Brown did protest that they were not going back to pick up swimmers and helped to organize the ladies in the boat to assist with the rowing. A good portrayal of this scene is found in the movie "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". Ask yourself this question; If Mrs. Brown and taken command why didn't the boat return to pick up survivors?


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