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Throwback Thursday: The Titanic and HSU by: Marlee Sorrells

April 14, 1912 at 11:40 p.m., the “unsinkable”  R.M.S. Titanic crashed into an iceberg and, despite its reputation, sank in only 2 hours and 40 minutes at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912.

            Only 706 of the 2,240 people on board survived and were rescued by the R.M.S. Carpathia at 4 a.m. The Titanic was lost at sea until Dr. Robert “Bob” Ballard discovered its wreckage on September 1, 1985. A few years after his discovery, Dr. Ballard came to Hardin-Simmons University to be a Cullen speaker. At the time he was the senior scientist of the Deep Submergence Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass. His visit to HSU happened almost on the anniversary of the sinking on April 23, 1990. Over 500 people showed up to listen to Dr. Ballard speak in Behrens Auditorium about the R.M.S. Titanic and the value of education.

“To my knowledge, no scientist of Dr. Ballard’s caliber has ever been in Abilene before now,” Dr. Charles Lane, assistant professor of geology at HSU in 1990, said. “He is a world-renowned geologist who should interest every age group.”

Dr. Ballard’s visit to HSU has connected our community to him and his amazing discovery, but even more so, the Titanic has been an interest that transcends generational gaps. For Millennials and Gen Z, the intrigue began with James Cameron’s 1997 movie, Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. There have been eight movies and documentaries made about the Titanic.

            The R.M.S Titanic may have only been on its maiden voyage for just over 4.5 days, but the ship has remained of intense interest to people around for almost 125 years. This fascination  with Titanic has influenced museums to curate exhibits of the ship, people to take expeditions down to the deteriorating luxury liner and the media and entertainment industry to create products based on the voyage or its passengers. There are five Titanic museums across the United States (Las Vegas, Pigeon Forge, Branson, Orlando and Indian Orchard). Cameron has descended the depths to visit the Titanic 33 times from 1995 to 2005. He even used footage from his dives in the movie he directed. Adding to the entertainment, HSU alumnus Wallace Sherertz performed in the first national tour of “Titanic” under the name Michael Shelle in 1999. 

There are ways for the public to take their own voyage to the R.M.S. Titanic, that is if they have $250,000 to spare. However, this does not come without its risks.

On June 18, 2023, a submersible owned by the company OceanGate went to show five passengers the wreckage. The people aboard the submersible were Stockton Rush, the chief executive officer of OceanGate, Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a deep-sea explorer and Titanic expert, Hamish Harding and Shahzada Dawood, both businessmen, and Dawood's son Suleman Dawood.

At approximately 3,500 meters, the submersible dropped its weights, kickstarting an aborted dive protocol, but it soon lost communication and tacking. On June 22, 2023, the U.S. Coast Guard found the imploded submersible. After recovery of the wreckage, they released a statement that the investigation would be ongoing, but the implosion was so violent and comprehensive that they may never find out exactly what caused the disaster.

The fascination in the R.M.S. Titanic seems like it may never fade from the  collective memory. Every disaster and victory surrounding it shows the failures and feats of engineering and advancing technology. One can only hope that this infamous maritim disaster will keep history from repeating itself.


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