Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: At the moment the Titanic hit an iceberg in the north Atlantic, the silent version of the film The Poseidon Adventure was being screened aboard ship.
Origins: Most Titanic buffs are familiar with one of the more remarkable coincidences associated with the sinking of that ill-fated ocean liner: Fourteen years earlier, a writer named Morgan Robertson had penned a novella entitled Futility about the largest and grandest ocean liner of its time — considered to be unsinkable because of her multiple water-tight compartments that could be sealed off automatically in case of emergency — which sank after striking an iceberg. Numerous passengers lost their lives because the liner did not carry enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone. Demonstrating an eery prescience, Robertson had named his ship the Titan. (After the Titanic disaster, the novella was reissued as The Wreck of the Titan.)
The film industry was still in its adolescence in 1912, but it was already taking rapid strides towards maturity. The short flip card films viewed on customer-cranked Kinetoscopes and Mutoscopes in nickelodeons had given way to more elaborate films that were projected onto screens for audiences in movie theaters. These films were short (generally no more than one reel in length), and of course they were both silent and black-and-white, but they had already captured the imagination of a population eager for new forms of entertainment. The White Star line, proudly dedicated to sparing no expense in ensuring that its new flagship Titanic provided every luxury their passengers could desire, did not overlook this still relatively novel one: the Titanic carried its own projector and a complement of movies rented from the British office of a U.S. film
The film industry had not quite shed the somewhat seedy image it had acquired in the days of the nickelodeon, however, which is one of the reasons why this detail of the Titanic story has received relatively little attention. To avoid offending First Class passengers who considered the fad of motion pictures to be less than genteel, movies were screened only in the Second Class dining saloon (where First Class passengers willing to risk their reputations were still free to venture if they so desired). The films were also not run until after
Ultimately, only two films were screened on the Titanic before it met its tragic end less than five days into its maiden voyage. None was screened the first two days out,
The Titanic's passengers, obviously unaware of the doom presaged by the film they were viewing, were so enthralled by the events of the The Poseidon Adventure that they failed to notice the slight shudder that marked the Titanic's fatal encounter with an iceberg at approximately
Ultimately, the grim coincidence of a film about a sinking ocean liner's being shown aboard a sinking ocean liner may have cost some passengers their lives. In the excitement over the two screenings of the movie, few in the enthusiastic audience noted that the Titanic's engines had stopped; even those who did didn't manage to tear themselves away from the flickering screen long enough to go out on deck and inquire. By the time the second screening drew to its conclusion after
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