At the same time the pride and flagship of White Star Line, RMS Titanic sank to the icy cold bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean at 2.20 am on 15 April 1912, many stories, mostly contradictory of one another started to appear among popular culture in both the U.S. and Britain. Many of the contradicting stories came from the survivors themselves and the popular press of the time.
William Randolph Hearst, who owned the largest newspaper empire in America at the time, ran a series of scathing reports blaming White Star Line. In particular, the managing director, J Bruce Ismay for the disaster, which claimed the lives of 1,512 people, including numerous well-known and influential personalities of American society. By 1919, Hearst was becoming well known for his style of ‘Yellow Journalism,’ which included: inventing sensational stories, faking and distorting interviews, relaying news stories from the U.K. and Europe, then attributing them to non-existent U.K. and European news correspondents.
The Edwardian era in the United Kingdom was in full swing by 1912. Although King Edward VII had already died in 1910, U.K. society was enjoying great economic and social change, resulting from rapid industrialisation, Society was enjoying more freedoms and independence. In accordance with these changes, fashion faced rapid developments. As the upper classes pursued leisure sports, demanding more mobile and flexible clothing styles. The Edwardian era is known to have been the last time that women wore corsets in everyday life. The British Edwardian era also triggered change in Europe. This was also the time of the French ‘Belle Époque,’ where Art Nouveau was becoming dominant in architecture. The developments of the automobile and electricity, was influencing the arts, along with a greater awareness of human rights.
Literature was producing great names, such as H. G. Wells, Beatrix Potter, P. G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw. Mass audience newspapers were becoming critically important in order to keep up to date with fashions and art.
The British Edwardian era was a time of great social divide. The wealthy could buy influence and power in the political arena and the military, increasing their standing in social circles, while the poor remained very poor. This triggered a rise of interest in Socialism to combat the plight of the poor and the lower status of women. In 1893, women were granted the right to vote in New Zealand, followed by South Australia in 1895. The Women’s suffrage movement was increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.
The Edwardian era was also a time of innocence. Although the notion of innocence of the era persists into the twenty first century, that innocence was lost when RMS Titanic sank beneath the icy cold, frigid North Atlantic Ocean. Many legends and myths grew up among the actual events leading up to how and why an ocean liner the size and luxury of Titanic could simply sink after colliding with an iceberg. Stories surfaced that she sank in one piece. Others say she broke apart just prior to sinking. Many claim the iceberg created a massive gash in her bow, allowing her to sink in just under three hours, when her designers and builders claimed she was practically unsinkable. That term “practically” was somehow lost in translation soon after the disaster.
A curse from an Egyptian mummy has been blamed for the sinking, as were many other supposed causes, such as a German U-Boat, used in a vain attempt to trigger World War I, through to the navigation of the ship being taken from the Captain by the ship’s owners, in an attempt to win the prestigious Blue Riband, for the fastest trans-Atlantic crossing.
Many stories surfaced claiming Titanic did not sink. It was actually her sister ship, Olympic in a wrangle over insurance claims, after Olympic was involved in a collision with a Royal Navy cruiser.
The managing director and chairman of White Star line, J. Bruce Ismay, was branded a coward in the United States, but returned home to Liverpool a hero, until the rumours from the U. S. caught up with him in another inquiry into the sinking.
Titanic’s Captain, Edward J. Smith was initially honoured as a hero. But individual eyewitness survivors claim contradicting stories. These eyewitness accounts of events have been lost over time and forgotten. Including the claim that First Officer William Murdoch shot himself, while trying to oversee the launching of the lifeboats in an orderly manner.
According to the eyewitness testimony, a high ranking officer did shoot himself, but that high ranking officer was not Murdoch, but another officer who has gone down in history as a hero, while going down with his ship.
Many of the myths surrounding the Titanic story were discounted and many questions answered when the wreck site was discovered on September 1, 1985. However, the persistence of stories that have been retold over the generations have continued to cloud over what really happened, causing the Titanic story to continue to be a legend, full of myths and folklore.
Titanic the Legend, Myths and Folklore, unravels those stories that, overtime have become part of the legend, and presents the actual accounts of the Titanic disaster, while pointing out the myths and folklore that persist in literature written since 1912. And, the movies that insist on including the myths to present a more interesting story that is – Titanic.