It was the greatest ocean liner ever built. And, when it hit an iceberg four days out of Southampton, England on its way to New York, and sank, the world was stunned. Of its 2,220 passengers, 1, 517 perished.
It happened just 100 years ago, on April 15, 1912.
The Titanic’s owners said it was an unsinkable ship. But, 45 minutes after an iceberg ripped open its hull, the ship began sinking bow first. Tales of heroism and cowardice have emerged from this immense tragedy. But the most enduring image perhaps is the courage of the band, who kept playing even as the ship was going down. The musicians hoped to calm the passengers and save some lives by playing music.
They offered a hymn: “Nearer my God to Thee; Nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee!” And they kept playing even as women and children were lowered in lifeboats over the side. It was bitter cold but the eight musicians kept playing. The ship shuddered as water flooded its compartments.
Not one band member survived.
Among the wealthiest passengers were Isidor Straus, owner of Macy’s, the world famous department store, and his wife, Ida. As women were being loaded into lifeboats, Ida Straus stepped back. “We have been living together for many years,” she told her husband. “Where you go, I go.” They sat down in deck chairs and waited. Soon a great wave washed them over the side.
In New York, as the news spread, people flocked to newspaper and telegraph offices in hope of getting news of loved ones aboard the stricken vessel. A young telegraph operator, David Sarnoff, took in the names of many survivors. Later, Sarnoff would play a vital role in the creation of RCA and NBC.
The youngest passenger was two-month-old Millvina Dean. With her parents and her brother, she was emigrating to Kansas. They were placed in a lifeboat. Her father was lost in the disaster. She died in 2009 at 97, believed to be the Titanic’s last survivor.
Frederick Fleet was the lookout who alerted the ship’s officers that they were approaching an iceberg, but it was too late. The ship struck the iceberg.
He suffered from guilt for most of his life because he lived while so many died. In 1964, after his wife died, he committed suicide. The artist,Marek Sarba, painted a tribute to the band members who played in the ship’s last moments. Passengers are seen descending the ship’s grand staircase. The painting’s title is: “And the Band Played On." The artist pointed out that the people on the staircase are from the ship’s three classes, first, second and third. He added:
“Because, at the very end, who cares?”