Almost exactly one hundred years ago, the big ship hit an iceberg and went to the bottom of the sea, taking with it over 1500 people. You will see a lot of memorializing and perpetuation of heroic myths in connection with this; the images of strong, stoic men standing on the sinking vessel after giving up places in the limited number of lifeboats while the band played Nearer My God To Thee right up until the moment they and their instruments vanished beneath the waves has now been traded among those looking for a life lesson amid the tragedy for a century.
This is mostly crap, of course; while there were heroic men who went down with the ship, witnesses on the lifeboats, such as Assistant Cook John Collins and passenger Helen Bishop, remember a "mass of humanity" surging up on the deck after all the lifeboats were gone. According to Bishop:
"They surged up out of the steerage and shut the lights from our view. We were too far away to see the passengers individually, but we could see the black mass of human forms...One dining room steward who was in our boat was thoughtful enough to bring green lights--the kind you burn on the Fourth of July. They cast a ghastly light over our boat. Whenever we would light one of these diminutive torches we would hear cries from the people aboard--they thought it was help coming."Ah, yes. That would be the poor people who struggled to reach the deck after riding in a compartment in the ship's bowels that was called "steerage," because, in fact, on other ships it did dual duty by carrying passengers one way and cattle on the return voyage. Some of those sodding poor were distracted by the more religiously inclined, such as Father Thomas Byles, who exclaimed "prepare to meet thy God!" and led the doomed in prayer. Many fell to their knees and chanted the rosary; others, more practical-minded, dashed for the ladders and actually tried to survive.
As for the band, and the lingering myth that they played "Nearer My God To Thee," that seems to have been a myth cooked up by one Mrs. A.A. Dick and related to a reporter. She also described the stoic men standing on deck, waiting quietly for the end, while the band played and the great ship sank.
Other, more reliable witnesses such as radio operator Harold McBride reported that, in fact, the band was playing a hymn called "Autumn," which is less about submission and resignation than it is a cry for divine assistance:
God of mercy and compassion,
Look with pity on my pain;
Hear a mournful, broken spirit
Prostrate at Thy feet complain;
Hold me up in mighty waters,
Keep my eyes on things above;
Righteousness, divine atonement,
Peace and everlasting love.
Then they all drowned.
I guess it's pretty heroic, though. But as Joseph Conrad wrote not long thereafter:
...it would have been finer if the band of the Titanic had been quietly saved, instead of being drowned while playing--whatever tune they were playing, the poor devils...There is nothing more heroic in being drowned very much against your will, off a holed, helpless, big tank in which you bought your passage, than in quietly dying of colic caused by the imperfect salmon in the tin you bought from your grocer.And one final, rather less-than-sentimental image, written by one Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church of New York:
The picture which presents itself before my eyes is that of the glassy, glaring eyes of the victims, staring meaninglessly at the gilded furnishings of this sunken palace of the sea; dead helplessness wrapped in priceless luxury...Everything for existence, nothing for life. Grand men, charming women, beautiful babies, all becoming horrible in the midst of the glittering splendor of a $10,000,000 casket.Happy anniversary, everybody.