Fact meets fiction at Titanic spot- Centenary tweet from the Balmoral deck: Cold and quiet
London, April 15: Just after 6am British Summer Time today, a Twitter message from on board the Balmoral informed the world that the cruise liner had got to the coordinates 41°43'57"N, 49°56'49"W in the North Atlantic. This was the precise spot where RMS Titanic went down 100 years ago.
The sea was eerily calm just as it had been on April 14, 1912, 740km from Newfoundland, when the Titanic hit an iceberg at 23.40 according to the ship's time.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the Titanic, which had been hailed as the ship that could not sink, cracked in two with a resounding sound, with the bow going under water.
The Titanic's 20 lifeboats could carry only 1,178 people, with preference given to women and children and first-class passengers; 1,512 died in the icy waters of the Atlantic.
However, The Sunday Times, London, cited new research that suggested this heroic behaviour occurred only because the captain threatened to shoot any men who tried to save themselves first.
But fact and fiction have combined to make a compelling khichri as illustrated by James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster, Titanic, starring Kate Winslet as the rich girl and Leonardo DiCaprio as the poor boy very much in love.
She made it, he didn't, as millions of cinemagoers will be reminded by the just released 3D version of the movie.
Just as most people around the world have learnt about the Mahatma from Richard Attenborough's Oscar-winning Gandhi, so also Cameron's film appears to have become more real than any amount of history.
The film has certainly helped to keep alive the legend of the Titanic.
To be sure, fact and fiction have got a bit mixed up in the voyage of the good ship Balmoral which left Southampton on April 8, 2012, for a 12-day cruise with some of the passengers dressed up in period costumes to "experience" the Titanic's first and final outing.
Some critics have questioned whether such dressing up in celebration of a tragedy is in good taste. However, as the Balmoral positioned itself today 4km above the wreck of the Titanic, the mood on board was sombre. Only 50 of the passengers on board have a direct family connection to those who either survived or perished on "A Night to Remember" — the name of one of many films inspired by the sinking.
One of the passengers is Denis Nightingale, of County Antrim, Northern Ireland, who said: "My grandfather worked at Harland & Wolff (in Belfast) so he helped to build the Titanic, but it wasn't ever spoken about much when I was growing up. Those who worked on building the ship took the disaster very personally and it was like a death in the family."
Patricia Watts, 81, a retired teacher from Bristol, who is travelling with her husband David, 80, remembered her grandfather, George MacKie, 34, from Southampton, who was a second-class steward on board the Titanic.
She said: "When we get to the wreck site there will be some sadness, but I think also some sense of release. I shall feel a sense of accomplishment that I have achieved what I set out to do. I think the service will be a very memorable occasion, slightly sad, but also for a lot of people it will be the event of the cruise."
A tweet from the Balmoral at 6.10 BST reported: "Cruise passengers and crew gather on the deck of the Balmoral above the Titanic site. Cold and quiet."
The names of the victims were read out. Three wreaths were tossed into the sea, followed by a Christian service. The band played the evocative hymn, Nearer, My God, to Thee. This was apparently played by the musicians who refused to leave the Titanic as it went down.
Keeping the Balmoral company was another ship, the Azamara, from the same company but this had made the journey, in the opposite direction, from New York.
The Titanic anniversary was marked all over the world with ceremonies big and small but none as genuine as those in Belfast. A number of events are being held in the city, which has seen the opening of a new £97m Titanic Belfast exhibition centre.
There was a Requiem for the Lost Souls at St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast, which featured elements of the original memorial service in the days after the disaster.
The Dean of Belfast, the Rev. John Mann, recalled the events of 100 years ago: "The tales of heroism and self-sacrifice of self-preservation and social advantage have been frequently rehearsed in these recent weeks, but for us today it is in the separation of fact from fiction, from movie to reality is what is required if we are to remember in sincerity and commemorate in the true spirit of acknowledgement of both the nobility of humanity and its inner frailties."
Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who discovered the Titanic wreck in 1985, delivered a memorial lecture in Belfast yesterday.
Standing in front of a replica of the grand staircase on the Titanic, he told his audience: "There was no staircase, it was gone, a big giant elevator shaft, the clock was gone. We saw the cemetery there, marked by shoes. My vision is to turn the Titanic into a museum, accessible by Internet."
He advocated painting the hull with preservative to prevent corrosion and hold the ship together. "If we can hold it together you are creating an underwater museum."
Some 300 people, including local residents and city officials, gathered in Lichfield's Beacon Park where the statue of Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic, has stood since 1914. More than 1,500 candles were laid last night at the foot of the statue in memory of the man who went down with his ship.
Class divisions are emphasised in the four-part drama, Titanic, scripted by Julian s of Downton Abbey fame, which reaches its conclusion on the ITV network tonight.