THE TITANIC Lives On 100 Years Later
by Lisa M. McDougald
One hundred years after the Titanic disaster, those who survived struggled to put their lives back together. Canadian passengers Mary Fortune and her three daughters; Ethel, Alice, and Mabel had returned to Winnipeg, Canada still waiting for news of their lost father and son, Mark and Charles. Their bodies were never found among those discovered by the Mackay-Bennett and Minia, the ships assigned the grueling task of recovering the bodies floating off the coast of Nova Scotia just days after that horrific night in the early hours of April 15, 1912.
Prior to boarding the Titanic, the Fortune family set out for a Grand Tour of Europe, as did many wealthy families in that day. Three daughters in their 20s and 19-year-old son, Charles set off for several months of travel. Two daughters were engaged and while in Paris, bought trousseaus for their wedding (most likely in a trunk inside their rooms on C-Deck where the Titanic lies 2.5 miles on the ocean floor). The Fortunes decided to come home early and canceled their initial tickets on the Mauritania to book passage on Titanic.
When I was 7-years-old, I learned of our family’s Titanic connection through my mother, Judy. She wanted to learn about my father’s side of the family. All we knew at the time was that my grandfather, Ivan McDougald (whose father was Mary’s brother), was born in Canada. My mother began writing my great aunts from Manitoba, Canada in the early 1980s. We received a letter from one of the aunts that spoke of Mary (McDougald) Fortune and the Titanic disaster. We had an old copy of Walter Lord’s A Night To Remember in my father’s book collection, and were amazed to find the Fortunes listed in the back of the book.
In the mid-1980s, Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the location of Titanic’s bow and stern over several expeditions and revealed its secrets. For the first time the world had a glimpse of the great ship, rusting and broken, but standing upright at the bottom of the ocean. I was 10-years-old when I read the December 1985 issue of National Geographic. I absorbed the tragic beauty of the fallen giant, imagining what it was like that night for Mary and her daughters to sit in a lifeboat and silently watch the ship go down on a cold, moonless night knowing Mark and Charles were out there.
There are many things we can learn from the Titanic.
Ways to live, ways to love, ways to die; all these are choices we must make. What would you do under these circumstances? Would you be like Ida Strauss who refused to leave her husband’s side? Or like Bruce Ismay, manager of the White Star Line, slipping into a lifeboat at the last moment, turning his head away from the very ship in his charge. Had he agreed to more lifeboats, he would not have had to hear the terrified screams of those left on board as his technological ship of dreams entered her death throes taking over 1,500 souls with her. The dramatic events surrounding the demise of Titanic read like the greatest novel ever written but the kicker is it really happened. A great story never dies and is, therefore, impossible to ignore as it appeals to that which is inherent within each of us – the common thread of humanity.
Titanic resonates through generations, because it was a microcosm of the society where the lines of class distinction were clearly drawn – until an iceberg leveled the playing field. Since then, we have seen other such examples: the Hindenburg, the Challenger and both Pearl Harbor and the horrors of 911 where warnings were casually dismissed or, even worse, scoffed at.
The story of Titanic calls attention to the collective unconscious in each of us reaching back to the ancient oral stories told around primitive fires. Her story strips away all the needless things that bog us down: the fruitlessness of war, the illusion that money is more important than life. All these unnecessary priorities keep us from bettering ourselves. The solitary message that Titanic left for us as she slipped below the surface was – sustain the living.
Hustak, Alan. Titanic: The Canadian Story. Véhicule Press. Montreal, Quebec: 1988.
Lord, Walter. A Night To Remember: Illustrated Edition. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc. New York, New York. 1955.