On the 100th anniversary on Sunday, many are looking back at the story of the ill-fated ship and what could have been if she had made it to New York.
The Titanic would have docked at Pier 59 amid celebration. Now, it’s a driving range at the Chelsea Piers sports complex.
But there was a ship that did arrive there 100 years ago. The Carpathia was the vessel that received Titanic’s distress calls and plucked 705 passengers and crewmen from the sea. The rescue ship pulled up to what should have been the Titanic’s destination.
“The significance of Pier 59 is that this is where the Carpathia landed with the lifeboats from the Titanic,” said Dana Thayer, marketing director of Chelsea Piers. “It was actually the pier that the Titanic was headed to.”
The Carpathia arrived with its decks full of survivors. They reached New York City, but not the way they expected.
Philip Littlejohn’s grandfather Alexander, was a first class steward who survived the disaster. He later confirmed to reporters that musicians on board were playing as the ship sank.
“He said ‘well, the band were playing but I don’t know what tune it was,'” said Littlejohn. “He said ‘all I could hear were the terrible cries for help. They were awful and heart-rending.'”
The Hollywood blockbuster rekindled worldwide interest in the Titanic. Alexander Littlejohn would have been serving the equivalent of Kate Winslet in the first class dining room.
When the Titanic hit the iceberg, he was ordered into a lifeboat to help women and children as the ship sank. He was never the same.
“The obvious effect is before and after, there is a picture of him on the deck, the rescue ship of the Carpathia,” said Littlejohn. “Six months later, he goes back to work, he’s issued with a new discharge book and in the front of that, it says color of hair: white. So between April and October, he went completely white through the effects of shock.”
A fleeting image of the Titanic being built is the only moving film of the doomed liner. Her sister ship, the Olympic, got all the attention for her maiden voyage in 1911.
Alexander Littlejohn was onboard, but it was his experience a year later on the Titanic that stayed with him forever. His shock of white hair an enduring reminder of the tragedy he witnessed.
The Titanic hit an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912. More than 6,000 objects have been retrieved from the ocean floor, but no artifacts came from the ship’s interior. As decks collapsed, what’s left of the ship’s interior was sealed off forever.
To coincide with this weekend’s 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, an exhibit overseen by Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who found the ship on the ocean floor, opens Thursday at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.
WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau On The Story
The exhibit is called “Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below.”
27 years after he discovered the Titanic, Ballard is part of a recharged effort to preserve and protest the sunken ocean liner.
He’s among those working to control access to the ship, especially by submarines from foreign countries.
“It’s the submarines that I believe are doing a tremendous amount of damage, cause i’ve documented it. We have a mosaic on the wall over here and if you look up at the forward mast you can see where those submarines are landing, they’re crushing the deck. We have no trouble or any problem with people visiting the Titanic. But you don’t stick your finger in Mona Lisa when you go to the Louvre,” Ballard told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.
Ballard hopes those who attend the exhibit will imagine the bodies of those without life jackets raining down to the ocean floor from the sinking ship.
“It takes a few years, but the bones just vanished, and what’s left behind, as you see in this display, are their shoes – exactly the way they were attached to the body,” said Ballard.
He added that those shoes are the tombstones of those who perished in the sinking at sea 100 years ago.
The Mystic Aquarium is located at 55 Coogan Boulevard, Mystic, CT 06355. You can find more information at www.mysticaquarium.org or 860-572-5955.
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