Two and a half years ago I wrote in my post The Half-Life of Grief that maybe 100 years after some great tragedy, after anyone directly involved would’ve long been dead, as would most people directly affected by it, we should have one last observance, and then put it to bed.
This coming Saturday will mark the 100-year mark of what is probably the most famous peacetime maritime disaster: the sinking of the RMS Titanic. And fitting with what I’d previously said, the youngest, and last survivor, Millvina Dean, died in 2009 at age 97. The only people left now are those with indirect ties; people such as Robert Burr, whose grandfather was a steward who went down with the ship, or Philip Littlejohn, whose grandfather left the ship in Lifeboat 13. People who weren’t there, but were told the story by people in their families who had actually been there on that night to remember.
And in a move that was seen as some as tasteless and tempting fate, the MS Balmoral left Southampton last week, as a 100th anniversary commemoration cruise, following the same course that the Titanic had intended to take.
Yes, I can see how some people might think that this was in terrible taste. I did when I first heard of the plans to do it a few years ago. But when I read the article about it in the Daily Mail, I changed my mind. This was to be no simple “party cruise” for people who had gotten “Titanic-mania” after seeing James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster. This “Titanic Memorial Cruise” was to feature meals from the original menu, a five-piece band playing music from the era, and lectures from historians and experts. It would also stop, on April 14th, for a memorial service at the site where the ship went down. Later on it would stop at Nova Scotia, where some of the bodies were buried, before finally continuing on to New York.
If you still think this is crass, and that the people who spent up to $9500 for tickets are trading on the sorrows of others, let me ask you about the many history buffs who visit places like Gettysburg or Normandy or Auschwitz every year. Aren’t those people, especially the ones who go “dressed for the occasion,” doing the same thing?
And what about the people like Burr and Littlejohn, descendants of passengers and crew members, who have decided to make this anniversary voyage, and successfully complete the trip that their ancestors started out on? Are they tasteless gawkers too?
I don’t know. I guess that 100 years later, when everyone involved would’ve been long dead anyway, is a pretty good time to put it to bed, and to do it in a grand way. I guess also that when you consider that the Titanic was built in Belfast, they’re putting it to bed in the grand tradition of the Irish wake, combining both the joy and the sorrow.
So let’s raise a cup to the Titanic and the 1514 people who went down with her.
And then let us say “goodnight.”