Captain Edward Smith
By Stephanie Merry - Washington Post
Here’s a lesson in how to avoid being a popular teenager in 1997: Tell all your friends that the swoony romantic drama they’re giddy over is actually a garbage movie; that, really, a 1958 black-and-white film called “A Night to Remember” is more worth their time; that the whole romance between Leo and Kate is insipid compared with what really happened.
I was 16 when “Titanic” came out and became a colossal hit, and sometimes I felt like the only naysayer. I was right in the bull’s eye of the target demographic: What adolescent girl didn’t want to see a tear-jerker starring Romeo himself, with a plucky heroine and sweaty love scenes? So I saw it in the theater 20 years ago, like everyone else.
But unlike just about all of my female classmates, I wasn’t impressed. Or maybe I should say I wasn’t impressed with the story — you can’t deny that the movie had some seriously special effects. The problem was that, knowing the real tales of some of the survivors put me at a disadvantage for appreciating the manufactured love story the mass tragedy revolved around.
The sinking itself on April 15, 1912, was dramatic enough.
What was the point of inserting a bunch of made-up melodrama into an event that was already so harrowing? Even before I knew I had a distant relative on the Titanic, I was instantly and deeply fascinated by the disaster.
I must have been 6 or 7 when I stumbled upon a couple of old National Geographic magazines in my childhood basement about the recent discovery of the ship’s wreckage.
(In the days before Marie Kondo, my parents, like every parent I knew, hung on to every last issue, neatly lining up the yellow spines in a bookcase in chronological order.) I found myself paging through a worn copy from December 1985 with a story by Robert Ballard, the explorer who discovered the ruins that year.
The article was accompanied by underwater photos like I’d never seen of the rusted hull of a sunken ship that had been sitting on the ocean floor, undisturbed, for decades.
I can’t say what could possibly draw a little girl to such a nightmare — shouldn’t I have been playing with my Pound Puppy or something? — but I was transfixed and immediately took the magazine to my dad, who I presumed had never heard of this massive historical event. That’s when he told me we had a family connection, albeit a distant one.
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