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Illustration of the <i>Titanic</i> on the seafloor This illustration shows the bow (front section) of the Titanic on the ocean floor. The stern (back section) lies one third of a mile away. (Ken Marschall)

Remembering the Titanic

A century after its doomed voyage, history’s most famous ship still fascinates people

On April 10, 1912, thousands of people gathered at a dock in Southampton, England. They’d come to watch the R.M.S. Titanic, the largest ship in the world, embark on its maiden voyage. The massive ship spanned the length of four city blocks and was taller than most buildings at the time.

As the ocean liner set sail for New York, the more than 2,200 people onboard were excited to be a part of history. But shortly before midnight on April 14, disaster struck when the Titanic crashed into an iceberg. The mountain of ice tore open the right side of the ship, and seawater began pouring in. In less than three hours, the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. More than 1,500 people died. This month marks the 100th anniversary of that fateful night. A century later, the tragic story of the Titanic’s sinking still captivates people.

“No matter who you are, what your age is or your interests, there’s something about the Titanic story that pushes one of your buttons,” says Robert Ballard. He’s the explorer who discovered the Titanic shipwreck decades later.

LUXURY OF THE SEA

The Titanic made headlines even before it set sail. People from all walks of life jumped at the chance to be among its first passengers.

Onboard, working-class immigrants eager for a new life in America packed into the lower decks. Meanwhile, first-class passengers traveled in luxury. The most expensive suites had private balconies and up to five rooms. The Titanic was one of the first ships to have electric elevators and a swimming pool.

Some of the world’s richest business leaders were among the many prominent passengers on the Titanic . In the days before TV and big Hollywood movies, millionaires were the biggest celebrities.

“The wealthiest of the wealthiest were the stars of the society,” explains Ballard. “And they went down on that ship.”

UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

News of the disaster stunned the world. People were even more shocked when they learned that it could have been avoided.

In the hours before the Titanic’s sinking, the ship’s captain had received several warnings of heavy ice ahead. But, wanting to stay on schedule, he pressed on.

As the Titanic began to sink, most passengers had no way to escape. To make the huge ship look even more spacious, its owners had decided to carry only 20 lifeboats—not enough to save even half the people onboard. And most of the lifeboats weren’t filled to capacity. Many passengers didn’t believe the Titanic would actually sink— until it was too late. In the end, only 705 people survived.

AN UNSINKABLE STORY

Over the years, the legend of the Titanic grew. For decades, the resting place of the doomed ship remained a mystery. Finally, on September 1, 1985, Ballard and his team of explorers located the shipwreck about 450 miles off the coast of New York — and more than 2 miles under the sea.

The discovery sparked a new fascination with the famous shipwreck. In 1997, interest in the story was stirred once again when Titanic hit theaters. At the time, it was the biggest moneymaking film in history. Titanic went on to win 11 Oscars, the top awards for movies.

PRESERVING HISTORY

Today, after a century on the ocean floor, the Titanic is deteriorating. Raising the crumbling ship is impossible, so scientists are doing the next best thing. They’re using photos and 3-D videos to create the first complete map of the wreckage. For years to come, people worldwide will be able to explore the famous shipwreck online.

Titanic, as I’ve discovered over the years, is something that just doesn’t die,” says Ballard, “because the story of Titanic is always rediscovered by every generation.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2, 2012 issue of Scholastic News Edition 5/6. For more from Scholastic News, click here.

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