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10 Things You May Not Know About the "Unsinkable" Titanic

Royal Museums Greenwich, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Royal Museums Greenwich, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Royal Museums Greenwich, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

We all know about Jack and Rose and their brief-but-intense relationship aboard the Titanic. But which details did director James Cameron get right, which ones did he exaggerate, and what did he leave out altogether? Here are 10 things you may not know about what went down on the Titanic.

1. Two ships warned the Titanic about icebergs in its path.

Seems like this ship was doomed. Captain Edward Smith actually changed course a little bit in response to iceberg warnings he received over the wireless, but icebergs were in the Titanic's future anyway. Two boats, the Amerika and the Mesaba, both sent messages to the Titanic to warn the captain that despite changing course, huge icebergs were still in the ship's path. Neither message made it from the wireless operator to the bridge. Around 11 p.m., the Californian sent word that they were stopped for the night because of the ice. Like the others, this message never left the wireless room.

2. The Titanic's passenger manifest listed some notable names.

Being the first to ride on the luxury ocean liner was a big deal—and some very rich and prominent people called the first-class cabins home on the Titanic's maiden voyage. Millionaire John Jacob Astor and his wife, Madeleine, had been on their honeymoon when she became pregnant, which is why they booked tickets on the Titanic. Socialite Molly Brown, who was friends with the Astors, decided to return home with them when she learned that her grandson was ill (she survived the sinking). Benjamin Guggenheim, the son of mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim and the father of museum founder and art collector Peggy Guggenheim, reportedly said, "We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen." Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy's department store, and his wife, Ida, refused to leave each other's side even though she was offered a spot on a lifeboat. One survivor was Dorothy Gibson, who, after Mary Pickford, was probably the best-known and highest-paid film actress of the day. She made a film about her escape from the Titanic, even wearing the same clothes she wore on that fateful night: a white silk dress with a cardigan and polo coat. She may have been the inspiration for Rose in the 1997 movie.

3. Reservations on the Titanic did not come cheap.

Third-class passage cost between £3 and £8 (about $405 to $1080 today), which was quite a bit of money in those days, especially for a large family. A second-class berth cost £12 (about $1619 today) and a first-class berth cost £30 (about $4050 today). The highest priced accommodations, a parlor suite, cost £870 or a whopping $117,132 today. That's probably why they called it "the millionaire's suite."

4. Two Gilded Age tycoons had Titanic tickets—but didn't use them.

Banker J. P. Morgan and chocolatier Milton S. Hershey had reservations on the Titanic and surely could have booked the millionaire's suite. But Mrs. Hershey fell ill before departure, so the Hersheys booked passage on a different ship, the Amerika. The Hershey Museum displays a copy of the check Hershey wrote to the White Star Line as a deposit for his first-class room on the Titanic. The White Star Line was owned by J.P. Morgan, who was scheduled to be staying in his own private suite. He canceled for unknown reasons.

5. A Titanic survivor urged safety improvements for ocean liners.

Commander Charles Lightoller was the highest-ranking crew member to survive, but even his was a narrow escape. When water washed over the bow of the ship, Lightoller decided that he might as well jump in the water voluntarily before it took him unexpectedly. He surfaced from his dive only to be sucked back under as water flooded one of the ventilators. He was pinned to the grates until a blast of air from the ship pushed him back up to the surface. He then helped passengers cling to an overturned lifeboat until they were rescued. After getting back to dry land, his testimony and recommendation spurred safety improvements such as basing lifeboat numbers on passenger numbers (instead of the weight of the ship), 24-hour radio communications in all ships, and lifeboat drills for the passengers.

6. The Titanic wasn't really cursed.

People thought the ship was cursed from the start. The Titanic was supposedly assigned the number 390904. Read that backward in a mirror and it vaguely resembles the phrase no pope. The Titanic was actually assigned the number 401, so there's really no truth to the curse at all.

7. The Titanic's whereabouts remained unknown until 1985.

The doomed ocean liner wasn't found until 1985, when oceanographer Robert Ballard rediscovered it near Newfoundland using sonar. Soon after sighting debris on the seabed, the crew spotted a boiler and then the hull of the ship. The biggest mystery the team solved was whether the ship split into two parts. American and British inquiries had determined that the ship sank intact, but Ballard found it in two pieces. Ballard and his crew didn't take any artifacts from the ship at the time; he considered it graverobbing. Eventually, though, more than 6000 items were recovered and put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, and in other museum collections.

8. The youngest Titanic passenger was only 2 months old.

Millvina Dean was a 2-month-old baby when her parents embarked on the Titanic. The family was moving from England to Wichita, Kansas, and managed to get third-class tickets. They never made it to Wichita—her father didn't survive the sinking and her mother, being left with two small children, wanted to go home to England to be with her surviving family. Strangely enough, Millvina's brother, Bertram, died on April 14, 1992, the 80th anniversary of the Titanic striking the iceberg.

9. The Titanic sinking bore a striking resemblance to an 1898 novel.

Maybe Morgan Robertson was psychic. About 14 years before the Titanic sank, Robertson wrote Futility, a novel about the largest ship ever built hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on a cold April night. The ship, the Titan, sank and left only 13 survivors out of 3000. The Titan was also billed as "unsinkable," and was a British ship on its way to New York.

10. The last meal served on the Titanic gave no hint of impending disaster.

What did Titanic passengers dine on before going down with the ship? Offerings in the first-class dining room on the night of April 14, 1912 included oysters, filet mignon, lamb with mint sauce, roast duckling, chateau potatoes, roast squab and cress, pâté de foie gras, Waldorf pudding, peaches in chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs, and French ice cream. Second-class passengers didn't fare quite so well—their dinner was achoice of haddock, chicken, lamb, or turkey; boiled rice, boiled potatoes, plum pudding, American ice cream, fresh fruit, biscuits and coffee. Third-class passengers received Irish stew, stewed apricots, fresh bread and butter, and tea.