Saturday, March 17, 2012

Titanic Centennial: Stranger Than Fiction?

From the preface to Walter Lord's A Night To Remember:
In 1898, a struggling author named Morgan Robertson concocted a novel about a fabulous Atlantic liner, far larger than any that had ever been built. Robertson loaded his ship with the rich and complacent and then wrecked it one cold April night on an iceberg. This somehow showed the futility of everything, and in fact, the book was called Futility when it appeared that year, published by the firm of M F. Mansfield. 
Fourteen years later, a British shipping company named the White Star Line built a steamer remarkably like the one in Robertson's novel. The new liner was 66,000 tons displacement; Robertson's was 70,000 tons. The real ship was 882.5 feet long; the fictional one was 800 feet.  Both vessels were were triple screw and could make 24-5 knots. Both could carry about 3,000 people, and both had enough lifeboats for only a fraction of this number. But, then, this didn't seem to matter because both were labelled 'unsinkable.'
Robertson called his ship the Titan; the White Star Line called its ship the Titanic. This is the story of her last night. 
Robertson's uncanny story is linked here. Futility was republished in 1912 as the Wreck of the Titan. Interestingly, Robertson also "invented" the periscope, and predicted a Japanese sneak attack on the US. He died of apparent suicide in 1915.


  1. The poor guy went to the trouble of figuring out time travel, wrote a book that seemed sure to warn the White Star Line of its folly, then upon returning to 1915 he became distraught when all his efforts proved to have been for naught.

    © 2012, Chip Silicon

    All rights reserved

  2. Uncanny indeed. Read this line the other day, Much of life can never be explained but only witnessed.

    Did you see the newspaper article?

    On a side note regarding central nervous system depressants, our youngest, when he was small, picked a bottle of Visine out of our bedtable drawer and proceeded to "drink" some of it. There was less than a teaspoon gone from the bottle when I found him, but Poison Control had 30 cases on record with coma being the worst case scenario. They sent us to the hospital for the charcoal treatment, and there he became very lethargic and sleepy, but thankfully did not lapse into the coma predicted. I had no idea how powerful it was.

  3. Wow. Scary story, MamaM. Glad it all turned out ok.

  4. thanks Chip S. The link to that story was the mention in the wiki article that Robertson may have died of an overdose of paraldehyde, a CNS depressant he was using as a sleep aid.

  5. When I first saw paraldehyde I thought formalin, which is polymerized formaldehyde. Turns out some doctor had him huffing acetaldehyde trimer, which is the cause of hangovers.

    Turns out, I've whiffed the stuff, so might you have too. Acetaldehyde has a very pleasant "fruity" odor and is found in nature.

  6. Visine is packaged in small bottles but still there's enough in there to whack a polyp.

  7. I suspect that his "clone" committed suicide and that he's onboard the "mother ship".