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Titanic: The ship that not even God could sink

One hundred years after the sinking, the fascination that the Titanic continues to produce is curious. The replacement of Cameron′s film, awarded eleven Oscars fifteen years ago, coincides with the traveling exhibition, which now arrives at the Maritime Museum of Barcelona, with two hundred original objects and faithful recreations of the interior rooms of the ocean liner. A luxury for fans of a ship, which has not sunk into oblivion. Why does the Titanic attract us so much?

Article by José de Segovia from Madrid on Sunday, January 12th 2020 ·.·★ Reading takes 10 minutes or 2046 words.

The passion aroused by the Titanic seems universal. For social historians it is like a microcosm of society at the beginning of the last century. For sea lovers, it is the definitive shipwreck. For nostalgia sufferers, evokes past times. And for those who dream awake, it means the mystery of so many things that could have happened, only if.

I don′t know why I have always been so interested in ship stories - since I don′t know how to swim and I get dizzy when I go on them, or precisely for that, go know! -, not so much the cruises - although I still see episodes of Holidays at Sea, the favorite series of Andy Warhol. It is, rather, the idea of the closed place where transatlantic travelers had to spend all those days.

The boats are the scene of some of my favorite novels - the marvelous Nave de los locos by Katherine Anne Porter - a play - which I still remember hearing on the National Radio of Spain, as a teenager - and movies like James Cameron′s - without a doubt, his masterpiece -, which takes the love story of Negulesco′s film - The Sinking of the Titanic (1953) and the wreck sequences of Roy Ward Baker - The Last Night of the Titanic (1958 ) -, to create the illusion that the ship is like a living being, in a dreamy, almost fantastic story.


He was still a child, when I bought in the seventies, in London, the classic work that Walter Lord wrote in 1956 -A Night To Remember-, in a magnificent illustrated edition of Penguin - now published in Debolsillo as The Last Night of the Titanic-. It is he who speaks first of Robertson′s book, which he has just published Nordic in Spanish.

In 1898 an unknown author named Morgan Robertson published a novel about a fabulous ocean liner, larger than any other that had been built. The writer filled him with rich and accommodating people, until a cold April night hit an iceberg. The story showed the futility of everything. That is why he called the book Futility, when it was published in 1898 by Mansfield, years before the Titanic sank another night in April in 1912.

The ship built by the White Star Line recalls even in its dimensions the ship of Robertson′s novel (sixty-six thousand tons in reality, seventy thousand in fiction, with just eighty-two and a half feet difference in the extension). Both had a similar structure and reached a similar speed. The two could carry three thousand people, but they didn′t have enough lifeboats. Since it was thought that they could not sink. As if all this were not enough, Robertson called his ship Titan, titled his book The Sinking of the Titan!


This is not, of course, the first case of what seems to be a foretold prophecy. Jules Verne′s novels, or even Tintin′s comics, show artifacts that would later come true, but they existed long before in the project. Robertson′s novel not only demonstrates that he was very knowledgeable about naval issues, but that he draws conclusions about life that many of the Titanic contemporaries clearly understood, after thinking that ′God could not sink this ship.′

When Albert Caldwell′s wife watched the deck personnel carry their luggage on April 10, 1912 in Southampton, he asked one of the young men: ′Is it true that this ship cannot sink?′ The boy replied: ′That′s right, ma′am, not even God could sink this ship!′ The passengers of this ocean liner that began their first trip to New York, could not imagine what would happen four days later, twenty minutes before dawn.

One of the six lookouts who contemplated the quiet night, Frederick Fleet, says he doesn′t remember a sea as calm and a sky as clear as that of Sunday. It was very cold, but there was no moon, nor were there clouds that hid the starry sky. The Atlantic looked like a crystal sea, when Fleet suddenly saw something dark in front of him, blacker than the night itself. At first it was small, but every second it grew more and more. The lookout quickly rang a bell three times, warning of danger, while picking up the phone to call the command post.


When they began to take passengers out of the cabins, each one took what seemed most important to save from shipwreck. Adolf Dyker′s wife was carrying, for example, a box with two gold watches, two diamond rings, a sapphire necklace and two hundred Danish crowns. Others, like Miss Edith Russell, preferred to bring a kind of pet like a toy pig with music, to which she would have special affection. There are those who carried the books he had on the bedside table, like Lawrence Beesley, or a revolver and a compass, like Norman Campbell Chambers. There were even those who kept four oranges under his blouse, like waiter James Johnson.

A young theology student named Stewart Collett was traveling in second class. He took the Bible, which he promised his brother that he would always carry with him, until they saw each other again. Pastor Robert Bateman stood on the deck watching his sister-in-law, Mrs. Ada Balls, board the boat. ′If we don′t see each other again in this world,′ he said, ′we′ll see each other in the other.′ As he lowered the boat, he removed his lance and gave it to her as a souvenir, while the orchestra played all the way on the deck.

There are many legends around the Titanic. Everyone agrees that the ship crashed at twenty to twelve, and sank at twenty past two, but above all else there are many versions ... Many survivors insist that the ship that picked them up - the Carpathia - was half larger than the Titanic, when the two were very similar (although the Titanic had one thousand four tons more). Others imagine golf courses, tennis courts and dairy cows, which never existed. Almost every one of the women who survived says they left in the last boat. Obviously, this was not possible, but who was going to discuss it!


One of the most curious topics of discussion about the sinking of the Titanic is what music the orchestra played until the last moment. Many survivors remember the anthem Closer, oh God, to You !; others, one of episcopal origin called Autumn; although some sounded like something more cheerful, like jazz. What nobody doubts today is that they played until the end. Although at some point they stopped, of course!

A hundred years later, the English Channel crossed the English Channel, reading a new book that has been published on the subject. It has been written by my friend Steve Turner, an evangelical poet and journalist, specializing in music. It′s called The Band That Played On - the band that continued to play. And he has published it in the United States, the Nelson publishing house.

Talk about each of the eight musicians who formed the orchestra. Tell how they met on the ship without having met before, joined by an agency formed by two brothers, who were not from the shipping company. So they had no obligation to continue playing. They came from different countries and had been raised in different churches, but they knew well the hymns that the survivors remember that they played at the end - although at the beginning they played popular music.

The key figure is undoubtedly its director, Wallace Hartley. It came from a small independent Methodist chapel in Colne (Lancashire) - a result of the Evangelical Revival, produced by Wesley′s preaching in the 18th century, but then divided into four branches: free, primitive, independent and Wesleyan. His father was the founder of the church in that town, where he oversaw Sunday school. There Wallace learned to play the violin, joining the choir. His favorite hymn was Closer, oh God, to You!


Based on the biblical story of Jacob′s dream (Genesis 28: 10-22), it became especially popular in Protestant churches, although it was written by a Unitarian in a period of crisis. Sarah Flower Adams had had an Orthodox education, but struggled with doubts of faith, when she wrote this hymn in 1841, with music from her sister Ella. Due to that non-Trinitarian background, he was not included in the Baptist and Methodist hymnbook, but he was in Hartley′s independent methodist - where the Lord′s error comes from, which leans, according to the testimony of some survivors, by the episcopal Autumn, also known for its first line, God of mercy and compassion-.

The truth is that the fact that a hymn sounded, while the Titanic was sinking, has become an expression of futility in the English language. It is the image of the strange spectacle of musicians falling and instruments flying through the air, while the lights are blinking, until it finally goes out. Only a kerosene lamp flashed on the highest mast, while the ship was sinking ...

This painting, far from telling us about the absence of God, shows us the reality of the One who is in control of all things. It is true that we are on a ship, which many think that not even God could sink. Life teaches us the opposite. We have no other security in this world than God gives us. He has the last word, and control over our lives. That′s why we can sing:

Closer, oh God of You, closer, yes!
Although a hard cross oppresses me.
It will be my song here: Closer, oh God, of You,
closer, yes!

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Titanic: El barco que ni Dios podía hundir

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