My reading slowed to a crawl during our recent European trip, but I did manage to finish a couple of books – each has been a struggle, collections of evidence portending to exciting conclusions. I dutifully struggled through them. Each was intriguing.
Today: The Titanic Conspiracy: Cover-ups and Mysteries of the World’s Most Famous Sea Disaster, by Robin Gardiner and Dan Van Der Vat (1995).
Later down the road: The Thirteenth Tribe, by Arthur Koestler (1976)
The Titanic: The famous movie starring Leonardo and Kate did not come out until 1998, and of course, in true Hollywood fashion, told us nothing. Worse, all of the scenes involving water in that movie lead to my unwillingness to suspend disbelief: The water temperature that night was 28 degrees Fahrenheit (salt water freezes at a much colder temperature than regular water), and so offered only a few minutes of consciousness to those who went into it.
The authors, Gardiner and Van Der Vat, here take us through a tedious summary of eyewitness testimony and the hearings that were held by the US Senate and British Court of Inquiry, all necessary. They are thorough.
Then they jump ship on us. They lead us with a string of confusing clues that point towards something far more sinister than a massive naval clusterf***. They refuse to follow the evidence because it might lead towards a conspiracy theory. They instead take the trampled path of moral cowardice, concluding that everything went down just as official history says.
A far more enticing scenario, not even far-fetched given what we know of public hoaxes these days: Insurance fraud. JP Morgan, the true owner of the Titanic, had another ship, [a virtual twin named] the Olympic, that had struggled at sea, endured two costly accidents, and cost him a fortune. Damages to the ship appear to have been repairable, but that is not really clear from scant evidence. Morgan was mostly self-insured on that vessel, but fought his way through the British legal system seeking compensation for one incident involving a British navy ship. He lost at every level.
Morgan was in Florence at the time of the disaster. He was scheduled to take the maiden voyage, but backed off claiming ill health. Instead, he was shacked up with a mistress. He also held back some valuable works of art that were scheduled to be shipped aboard Titanic to New York City.
The authors detail how easy it would have been to switch vessels, as it all works out timing-wise. There was very little aboard either ship that directly identified it, and the scant evidence recovered from the deep does little to reassure us – that is, even though two items of hardware can be tied to Titanic, they could have been easily switched as both ships were in dry dock prior to the disaster.
There appears to have been a rescue ship in the area, the Californian, but it sat in the water as the Titanic went down. Was it supposed to be on hand after a deliberate collision with an iceberg? Controversy swills about Californian’s location that night, from eleven to fifty miles away.
Also, there was a fire in one of the [coal] bunkers, allowed to burn even as the ship was in Southampton in the week prior to its voyage and throughout the journey. It was even going on during boat drills to test seaworthiness. Such a fire would not sink the vessel, but would weaken the steel – allowing it to go without remedy seems insane.
I don’t know what is true, of course, but the point is that we need more and better research than these two authors could muster. They got scared off by the old CIA bugaboo from the 1960s, that speculation on anything outside official truth leads to a “conspiracy theory,” and they are just too sane and stable to go that route.
But there is a catch 22: Had they gone that route, given Intelligence control of the publishing industry, the book would never had seen light of day. Self-publishing in 1995, unlike today, was a vanity affair. Maybe the authors came face to face with the censors, and engaged in the noble art of smuggling truth.
Here’s a titillating detail they included but did not investigate:
“The rest of the day [Monday, April 15, 1912] yielded twenty-seven bodies, including one identified as Colonel J.J. Astor, whose initials were on the collar of its shirt. Mysteriously, there was also a handkerchief with the initials “A.V.” as well as $2,440 and £250 in notes plus several gold items (belt buckle, watch, pencil, cufflinks and diamond ring). His estate exceeded $100 million. Many of the bodies had two or more layers of clothing; Astor had a blue serge suit and brown boots with his brown flannel shirt. How strange that Astor, unquestionably on the ship after the last boat left, should turn up dead near a lifeboat. He undoubtedly died in the disaster, but was the body really his?” (pp 163-4)
In fact, Astor’s final minutes of life read like a bad novel – he steps forward and asks to be included on a life boat only 2/3 full, but is denied the request. He stoically accepts the verdict on his life by the lowly Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, and goes to his quarters to release his dog to enjoy a few moments of freedom before they both perish.
I don’t know, that just reads like fiction, you know. What do they call it? Oh yeah … it sounds like bullshit.