By Gregory Mone
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic is on April 15th, and the wave of events and films and commemorations has already begun. A luxury cruise will soon take passengers to the site of the ship’s demise. Kate and Leo, leaning out over the bow, will return in 3D. At some parties, guests will be served the same dishes that Titanic passengers enjoyed on their journey.
A few years ago I would have thought this was all a little much. I wasn’t a Titanic fanatic. Initially I was more interested in the fascination itself. Why did kids and adults become so obsessed with this tragedy? As I started reading more and more about the great ship, its passengers and crew, and that fateful night, I quickly found myself transformed into another passionate consumer of Titanic lore. I bought too many books, settled into chat rooms to discuss the details of the boilers, and read hundreds of passenger biographies. At one point I spent a whole day studying blueprints. Or maybe it was two days.
In my new book, Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on Titanic, there aren’t any blueprints, but the ship itself is a character. A mythic, unbeatable hero that proves to have a fatal flaw. The story follows a boy named Patrick Waters as he journeys from the steaming hot boilers in the bowels of the ship to the elegant reading and smoking rooms on the upper decks.
Patrick also becomes friends with a passenger named Harry Elkins Widener, a wealthy collector of rare books. Harry isn’t one of the better known passengers – his father scores a passing mention in the Titanic movie, but not Harry himself – yet he was easily one of the most intriguing.
Before boarding Titanic, Harry visited a London dealer named Bernard Quaritch and purchased a number of expensive books. Quaritch offered to ship them all back, but Harry insisted that he wanted to take one with him. He said he’d want it with him in case he was shipwrecked.
I was amazed when I read about this true story – how eerie! And when I found out that the author of that precious book was Sir Francis Bacon, a philosopher with a fondness for codes and secret societies, my imagination got the better of me. What if Bacon had hidden some kind of message inside? And what if certain villainous, unscrupulous individuals were after that message as well?
Oh, the villains. I’m extremely fond of Rockwell and Berryman, the eccentric bad guys in Dangerous Waters, even if they do make life difficult for young Patrick. But I’m not certain I really could have brought them to life without the help of the ship itself, with its contrasts of sumptuous state rooms and simple crew quarters, its hidden passageways and labyrinthine interior.
This 100th anniversary commemoration shows that Titanic herself lives on through the continued fascination of adults like me and the innumerable kids who rush up to their librarians demanding to know more, more, more about the ship. I’ll admit: I won’t be going to the theater to watch Leo and Kate. And I won’t be sailing across the ocean to pay my respects at that tragic site. But as the 15th approaches, I will be thinking of Titanic, Harry Elkins Widener, and the unfortunate passengers and crew who met their end that fateful night.