Tomorrow — the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic — marks a date in history that seems to forever remain fresh in the public's imagination.
Titanic mania has swept the world. We are deluged with TV shows, books, documentaries, memorabilia, and the release of a 3-D version of James Cameron's wildly popular 1997 film, "Titanic." There are Titanic parties, memorial observations, museum exhibits and even "kid-friendly events" at Disney World and other places. And it's all being gobbled up like the sinking occurred yesterday.
"God himself could not sink this ship," a crew member is said to have uttered as the "unsinkable" luxury liner left Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, on her maiden voyage. Less than four days later, the Titanic would be lying at the bottom of the icy-cold Atlantic, ripped in half. Of the 2,227 people aboard, only 705 survived.
There have been worse disasters at sea, but none grab our fascination like the dramatic tale of the Titanic. It's not hard to pinpoint the reasons.
Were it a novel, the Titanic story would probably be among the great works of literature. It's a story that contains many of the traits of humanity that literary giants and great storytellers have long grappled with — arrogance and weakness, opulence and poverty, bravery and cowardice, tragedy and nobility, order and chaos. Even today there remain unanswered questions that will debated for years to come.
In the decades after the disaster, all of these elements of the Titanic story have been told and retold. Then, in 1985, a fresh element was introduced: Massachusetts-based oceanographer Robert Ballard found the ship's shattered remains, and an entirely new saga in the Titanic tragedy opened. His discovery fed our fascination with the mysteries of the wreck through a steady dose of new books, videos, and theories.
The buildup to tomorrow's anniversary clearly shows that our fascination with the tale of the Titanic has not yet waned.
The word "Titanic" has taken on a new meaning in the English language, one that's not reflected in the dictionaries. That meaning was widely understood even in the days immediately after the sinking, as the Bishop of Winchester eloquently noted in a sermon at Southampton shortly after the disaster: "Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption."