Though never forgotten, year after year, the anniversary of the RMS Titanic sinking passes without much more than an article buried in the back of your local newspaper, or maybe an internet posting from someone with a video clip of one of the myriad of films made about the worst maritime disaster in history. This year, however, as we commemorate the 100th anniversary, television specials and magazine editorials are coming with much-deserved regularity. The Titanic has always had a place in our hearts, as many tragedies do, because they illustrate moments in our history where something unexpected struck an innocent victim, or in Her case, more than 1,500 souls. Our history is rooted in tragedies and what-if scenarios. The calendar date of April 15 has two of these: the aforementioned Titanic, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and you can expect that in 2015, Lincoln will get the same treatment from the media, as it will be the ultra important 150th anniversary of the murder that shook America to its core.
Whenever something terrible happens, we draw upon what could have went differently, and try to work it out in our minds because hindsight is 20/20. What if the Titanic heeded iceberg warnings? What if there were enough lifeboats? What if the watertight compartments in the hull of the ship were built correctly? Or more simply, what if the Titanic was a couple hundred feet off track from the iceberg, and it merely became a spectator to the passing luxury of the unsinkable ship? You can ask questions of Abraham Lincoln, too. What if he decided to not go to the theater? What if someone stopped Booth out of sheer coincidence and he missed his opportunity? What if, by some miracle, Lincoln survived the assassination? Booth would have become just another would-be assassin or obscure stage actor lost to history, just like the Titanic would have been just another big ship, probably seeing some service in World War I or the Second World War as a military vessel, before being sold for scrap, or to our benefit, docked for eternity as a museum-restaurant in Belfast.
This is what the date of April 15 brings us, reminders of tragedy and how they changed the world. No longer was an American president invincible from assassination, just like unsinkable ships were no longer invincible from sinking. Security for our elected leaders would escalate just as security measures for passenger ships would. Perhaps we really do learn from tragedy, or maybe as a human race, we are so stubborn that we need a tragedy to happen before we will pay attention to the doom-predictors coming from the minority. The Titanic was warned about icebergs, and ignored them. The Titanic was warned about setting sail with not enough lifeboats, but the ship was not going to sink, so what did it matter? Lincoln was warned about assassination twice. Once from his own subconscious, when in a dream, saw his dead body lying in state in the White House, and then by others around him, who urged him not to go to Fords’ Theater to see Our American Cousin. But Lincoln was a fatalist, a believer in that whatever is going to happen is going to happen no matter what, and for a reason. So he headed to the theater, perhaps knowing it would be the last decision of his natural-born life, and the rest is history. The Titanic has sunk, and our 16th president has been assassinated.
I had originally wanted to take a more comical approach to this story, like saying above all, April 15 is Tax Day in America, but as I began typing, I realized no humor could be found. Both of these moments deserve our remembering and commemoration, just like any other world-changing moment of sadness or violence. For those of you looking to enhance your understanding of these events, I must recommend two films. Everyone knows of James Cameron’s Titanic, but if you are looking for the definitive tale of the sinking, one that is historically accurate and lacking melodrama and romance, please check out A Night to Remember (1958), which is a spectacular film that was just released to Blu-Ray through the Criterion Collection, and has garnered rave reviews, including a rare 5/5 rating from Blu-Ray.Com (I’m actually headed over to B & N right now to pick up a copy so I can watch it later). This has long been a favorite of mine, as I was one of those kids that when growing up, was very interested in the Titanic as well as other disasters. I just found a book I had that came out around the release of the Titanic called 882 1/2 Amazing Answers to Your Questions About the Titanic, and as I looked through it, it brought back some memories. For the Lincoln assassination, try to get a hold of a copy of The Day Lincoln was Shot, a TNT made-for-TV flick starring the wonderful Lance Henriksen as Lincoln and Rob Morrow as Booth. It is truly a wonderful film that deserves more recognition than it has received. Enjoy the rest of your day…