Saturday, April 14, 2012

RIP: The 1,514 Titanic Passengers Who Lost Their Lives 100 Years Ago Today

Today Cape Cod National Seashore, beneath a blue sky and within a sun's warmth, memorialized the Titanic tragedy.  The event took place a mile down the road from where I work, at what is called The Marconi Site.  It was from the high bluff there that, in 1903, Guglielmo Marconi accomplished the first back-and-forth trans-Atlantic wireless telegraph transmittal, a giant step in communications; and it was an operator at Marconi's station on this site who nine years later, on April 15, 1912, tried to get in touch with the Titanic because he had many messages for various passengers on the liner. Unable to reach the Titanic because they didn't have their equipment set to receive certain wave-lengths, he tapped out a message to another ship, RMS Carpathia, asking its radio operator to relay a message to the Titantic that he wanted the Titanic's operator to adjust his radio to receive messages from Wellfleet.  A response was quick in coming to RMS Carpathia from the Titanic: "Send help!  We've struck a berg!" Thus the lives of some 710 people were saved; the crew of the Carpathia having plucked them from lifeboats to the safety of its deck.

It was a very moving ceremony.  I'd gone partly because I'd read that a wreath would be placed in the water and I wondered just how that would be done ... tossed from the 80-foot high bluff, hoping for high tide so that the wreath could reach water rather than plopping onto the sandy beach below?

Park Historian Bill Burke was one of four people who addressed the crowd.  I liked it that in thanking us for coming to the ceremony he said we had chosen to come to an actual historical site, a real place; we weren't cruising the Internet; we weren't watching television; we weren't driving madly from yard-sale to yard-sale; we'd chosen to come stand in a place where something historical had occurred; and we'd come to help commemorate an historical tragedy.  He also spoke of the gigantic leaps that had been made around the turn of the last two centuries ... first flight, first wireless, telephone, automobiles .. on and on.

Meanwhile, during the speeches, cadets from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, flanking a wreath, stood at ease outside the gazebo which stands at a high point of the bluff.

At the beginning and at the end of the ceremony a lone bagpiper played mournful tunes.

At the end of the speeches the cadets, bearing the wreath, marched down to the edge of the bluff.  And, no, they did not toss it water-wards.  Someone in history had come up with a dignified method; at a synchronized time, as the cadets lifted the wreath into the air, a 42-foot long U.S. Coast Guard boat not far offshore placed an identical wreath in the water.

Google Image

 At 42-feet, the Coast Guard boat was eight hundred and forty feet short of the length of the Titantic.

The ceremony ended with the bagpiper walking away as he played "Amazing Grace".  To hear the beautiful hymn dwindling away -- fainter and fainter into a distance -- until it could not be heard at all, as the crowd stood silent and respectful, stirred my soul.

The cadets, handsome in their uniforms, posed for pictures and shook the hands of any who offered their own.  I walked up the sandy hill to the parking lot with Bud Hall, the late-eighties-aged man who is our go-to-guy for his ability to explain the mechanics and engineering of Marconi's communications feat.  "Catch me if I fall!" he said.  "I'll do my best," I said.  And I snapped a picture of Bud's hand reaching for the gold-plated telegraph key of a radio set provided by a group of ham operators who'd set up a gigantic antenna at the site just for the occasion.

The ham operators attending this event will have been in touch with other operators all around the world; there is a protocol to this: those who make contact with the Marconi Site will send a card with their QSL designation confirming the contact; the park then will eventually mail its own QSL card to all those whom they'd heard from.  Lo saluto, Guglielmo!


  1. Enjoyed your article George. G

  2. the sea the sea the sea...

    sand buckets of love to life 'n all