The sinking of the Titanic on April 14 1912 became one of the greatest disasters the world has ever seen. Over 1,000 people lost their lives and floods of survivors shocked the rest of the world with recounts of that dreadful night. Their tales inspired film and television adaptations of the sinking, until over 80 years later, James Cameron gifted the world with Titanic, a haunting love story set on the doomed ship. Cameron’s film remains one of the most commercially successful of all time, but was it based on fact or fiction?
We know there really was a Titanic on which passengers perished in 1912, and we know that a few of the true victims and survivors even made their way into the film. The film’s effects, which brought to life the detailed interior of the ship, its fateful collision into the iceberg and its eventual icy destruction, are no doubt world class, but just how realistic were they?
Read on to find out!
15 Was Jack & Rose’s Relationship Based on Reality?
Sorry to disappoint literally everyone, but the answer to this question is absolutely not. Though James Cameron drew some inspiration from real figures when creating these characters, Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater themselves were purely fictional. Sadly, their relationship could not have taken place because in reality, the third class passengers were kept away from the first class passengers the majority of the time, for hygiene and administrative reasons. The film wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting if they left those details in there! Rose is based on a real American artist named Beatrice Wood, but she wasn’t a passenger on the Titanic, nor did she have any connection to its history. There was a J. Dawson who perished on the ship, leading many fans to rush to his gravesite in Nova Scotia. However, this J is for Joseph, not Jack, and the real Mr. Dawson was a member of the crew.
14 Was It Mr. Ismay’s Fault?
In the film, we get the idea that Mr. Bruce Ismay was really the one responsible for the sinking. He encourages the Captain to light the last four boilers to speed the journey up, all with the aim of making headlines around the world. Is that the way it really happened? Well, Ismay himself released a statement that confirmed it was his intention for the ship to carry on at full speed, but that was planned for the days following the sinking; they hadn’t sped up yet. Ismay was still treated as a scapegoat and condemned by papers all around the world thanks to survivors’ testimonies that he did pressure the Captain to increase the speed. However, surviving officers have since confirmed that these sources were unreliable and it was impossible to put the blame on one person. It is true that he got on a lifeboat when there were other passengers still stuck on the ship, and some even say that he disguised himself as a woman in order to gain access to the lifeboat and save himself.
13 Did They Really Lock the Third Class Behind Gates?
Sadly, it’s true that the third class passengers were locked behind gates. However, it wasn’t for the reason that the film shows. In the movie, those in the lower classes are kept down in the lower decks so those in first class have a chance of getting on the life boats first. In real life, the gates were operating all the time, not just during the sinking, in order to stop the “less clean” passengers from passing on infections and diseases to the other passengers. They were planning to save time in New York by only forcing the third class behind the gates to have a health inspection, and letting the others go immediately. During the real sinking, some of the gates were kept closed, since the stewards didn’t understand how bad the situation was, while others were opened to allow women and children from third class a chance at getting a lifeboat.
12 What Really Happened to the Captain?
We see Captain Smith decide to give his life to the ship and go down with her in the movie. Realizing he has no other choice, and no hope for his passengers, he goes to the bridge and holds onto the wheel as a wave of water comes to smother him. But did it actually happen like that? There are varying accounts from survivors as to what happened to the Captain, but a few have claimed that they saw him enter the bridge just before the ship went down, which is where James Cameron got his inspiration from. Others state that they saw the Captain jump in the water while wearing a life jacket, and one boy swears he saw the man end his own life with a pistol just before the sinking. Some survivors completely deny this theory, so we’ll never really know what happened to the Captain. We do know for certain that the man went down with the ship.
11 Women & Children First?
“Women and children” first has caused a lot of controversy throughout the years, with many complaining that the chivalrous concept first coined in the 1800s is grossly unfair to men in disasters. So did this actually apply on the Titanic, or is it a slight embellishment? It’s true that the order of “women and children first” was given when the Captain ordered the lifeboats to be uncovered, but not all the crew interpreted this in the same way. For example, First Officer Murdoch decided that the order meant women and children should get in each lifeboat first, before the men in the close vicinity. So men were able to get on the boats that he loaded, just after their wives, sisters, mothers, and children. Over on the port side, Officer Lightoller took the order much more literally, and would not allow any men on the boats, even if there was space and no more women left in the vicinity.
10 How Accurate Was the Sinking?
The sinking that we see in the movie is pretty intense. In what must have taken enormous effort to film, the ship is shown to tilt as it fills with water, eventually snapping in half from the pressure and then vertically descending into the ocean. Several survivors have confirmed that this was exactly what happened in real life, while others maintain that the ship was still intact. Researchers weren’t sure whose account was accurate, but in 1985, the wreck of the Titanic was discovered on the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. And from the wreckage, it is obvious that the ship split at some point, since it now lies in two parts. Well done, Cameron! Survivors have also confirmed that much like the movie, all the lights stayed on until the very last moments before the sinking. There was a series of explosions before the final plunge, and then the remaining passengers were in darkness.
9 Was Molly Brown Real?
One of everyone’s favorite characters in the film is Molly Brown, played by the very talented Kathy Bates. In short, yes, Molly Brown was a real first class passenger who was friends with the millionaire John Jacob Astor, who’s also depicted in the film. Molly had been traveling with Astor and his wife Madeline in Cairo, and booked passage on the Titanic so she could return to America and tend to her sick grandson, Lawrence. Her real name was actually Margaret Brown, and she was given the nickname “Molly” in the 1930s, after the media developed a fascination with her. When asked how she survived the disaster, she said, “Typical Brown luck. We’re Unsinkable.” This led to the nickname and musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” which were both coined after Margaret’s death. In the film, some of the passengers call her “Molly”, which was an error: they would only have known her as Margaret!
8 Were Passengers Really Rescued from the Water?
Although she is given multiple chances to get on a lifeboat, Rose chooses to stay with Jack on the ship. While he freezes to death in the water, Rose survives by floating on a wooden door (which she could have shared with Jack, but whatever), and eventually gets pulled up into a lifeboat passing through. In reality, two lifeboats of the 16 returned to the scene to pick up survivors, and as we’re told in the film, they really only saved six people. The first boat pulled five people from the water, but only three ended up surviving. The second boat pulled four, losing one before they reached the Carpathia. It is thought that the temperature of the water would have been around 28° F, and those in the ocean would have started to lose consciousness and suffered from heart failure. The boats may have been able to rescue more, but waited a significant amount of time before returning.
7 Did Someone Really Take Their Own Life?
The film depicts Officer William Murdoch putting a gun to his own head after unfairly shooting two passengers to stop them from rushing into a lifeboat. Witnesses say that they’re pretty sure something like that did occur with one of the officers, but they weren’t certain it was Officer Murdoch. To this day, nobody knows what happened to him that night. This portrayal of the man, who is remembered fondly as giving his own life to help the passengers, angered his relatives, people from his Scottish hometown, and historians who believed it was unfair to show him killing people and then taking his own life when there were still passengers to help. Studio execs apologized for including this in the film, and made a donation of $8,500 to Murdoch’s memorial fund. The film also shows Murdoch accepting a bribe from Cal, but this was likely to illustrate Cal’s lack of morals, not Murdoch’s.
6 Does the Titanic Wreck Really Look Like That?
One of the most impressive parts of the film was the underwater shots of the shipwreck, and much to the delight of history fanatics everywhere, most of them are real shots. James Cameron hired a Russian vessel in 1995, and dove down below the North Atlantic to a depth of 12,500 feet. He went down 12 times, so you can’t say that the man wasn’t committed to his project! Only 12 minutes of footage could be shot per dive, since although they were down there for 15 hours at a time, the cameras could only store 500 feet of film. For this reason, a few of the underwater shots were fake. In order to get the real ones, Cameron had to have special cameras designed that could withstand the pressure at such a depth—6,000 pounds per square inch, to be exact. Some tour companies have briefly run deep dive expeditions to Titanic in the past, and it’s said that more will be available in 2018.
5 How Dedicated Was the Band?
One of the most tear-jerking moments in the film (and there are a few!) is the scene when the band decides to keep playing amongst the chaos, surely giving up their own lives to bring a sense of calm and have one more jam together. The real violinist was called Wallace Henry Hartley. After the collision with the iceberg, Hartley and his eight-man band gathered on the Boat Deck near the famous Grand Staircase and played waltzes. Newspapers reported that the last song they played before the ship went down was “Nearer, My God, To Thee” which is played in the film (the one that makes us cry every time!). Some survivors deny that this is the song they played, but most can agree that there was live music to accompany the horror. The whole band lost their lives in the sinking, and Hartley’s body was recovered and given a funeral procession that attracted thousands of mourners.
4 Are the Victims All Real People?
During the incredibly tragic shots of the passengers who decide to give up and try to sleep through the sinking, we see two elderly people embracing on a bed as their cabin fills with water. These are actually Isador and Isa Straus, who were real passengers on the ship. Isador was a co-owner of the Macy’s department store, and together with his wife, was offered a place on Lifeboat Number 8. It is said that Isador refused to get on the boat, after seeing that there were still women and children remaining on the ship. Ida would not leave her husband, and witnesses on the deck heard her say, “We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go.” While the film shows them lying on the bed, they were actually last seen sitting on a pair of deck chairs. Isador’s body was later recovered and identified.
3 Is The Heart of the Ocean Really Under the Sea?
If there ever were a fine piece of jewelry, it’s the Heart of the Ocean, the rare diamond that Cal gifts to Rose and she refers to as a “dreadful, heavy thing.” Sadly for treasure hunters, nobody threw the diamond necklace into sea because it never existed in the first place. Rather, the Heart of the Ocean was a mere plot device, inserted so that Brock Lovett had a reason to listen to Rose’s story. The necklace was based on the real Hope Diamond, given to Marie Antoinette by France’s King Louis XVI. Unlike the Heart of the Ocean, the Hope Diamond is safe and sound in Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and not at the bottom of the ocean. A real Heart of the Ocean was made after the film’s success, crafted from 170-carat sapphire and five 30-carat diamonds. It was worn by Celine Dion and later sold for 2.2 million.
2 Did Those Funnels Really Crash?
There are a lot of awful deaths in the film, but one of the saddest has to be that of Jack’s loveable BFF Fabrizio, who is crushed by one of the crashing funnels. Unfortunately, the first funnel did indeed fall into the water as the bridge of the ship began to sink below the surface. While Fabrizio is just a fictional character, the funnel was actually reported to have fallen on swimmers. Many believe that John Jacob Astor, called the richest man on the ship in the film, was really crushed by the funnel, thanks to evidence on his recovered body. The death of Mr. Astor and other wealthy passengers proves that although the first class passengers had much more chance at survival than the third classes, sometimes, it just comes down to luck and fate. In the film, we know that JJ perishes in the sinking, because he’s present at Jack and Rose’s afterlife wedding ceremony.
1 Did Ice Land on the Deck?
Straight after the ship collides into the iceberg, we see several large chunks of ice fall onto the deck. A few minutes later, some of the passengers even have a game of soccer with it, obviously not realizing how severe the situation was about to get. And according to survivors, this is totally accurate. “"The first thing I recall was one of the crew appearing with pieces of ice in his hands,” said Mrs. Churchill Candee, a survivor from Washington. “He said he had gathered them from the bow of the boat. Some of the passengers were inclined to believe he was joking. But soon the situation dawned on all of us." Another survivor, William Lucas, recalled seeing “about a couple of tons” of ice on the starboard deck, and one of the officers, Joseph Groves, confirmed that pieces of ice had fallen onto the ship after the collision.
Sources: www.chasingthefrog.com, www.premierexhibitions.com