At Sea on the Titanic a Century Ago

Instead, in the early morning of April 15, 1912. Even now, there is something surprisingly contemporary about that calamity. It is as if it were just now striking that iceberg, just now listing and sinking, if only because we can so readily imagine ourselves on board, even without the assistance of James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

on the cusp of historic change, and as an emblem of that change. Passengers and crew — 710 survivors out of 2,224 aboard — were rescued thanks to shipboard wireless telegraphy, a new technology. Thanks to the relatively new hobby of amateur photography, we can see those survivors still in their lifeboats waiting to be taken aboard the Carpathia, which carried them to New York. Above all, the Titanic was newness itself on its maiden voyage, so we continue to imagine the very thing that was never supposed to happen.

“At night an attentive and practiced lookout man will always be able to see the blink of the ice at a fairly long distance,” wrote the explorer Roald Amundsen the same year the Titanic sank. But Amundsen had in mind much smaller vessels, and he would never have imagined steaming at 22 knots through seas where icebergs had been reported. Capt. Edward Smith went down with his ship, so we don’t know what he was thinking as he kept the Titanic powering into that still, dark night. But the ambition and the folly of that voyage are still with us.

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