HMS Friday – Titan, Titanic, No, Wait… Titanian

by Mark Lukach

The sinking of the Titanic in April of 1912 is probably the most famous shipwreck of all time. The romantic pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett in the movie rendition helped to cement its notoriety.

For real Titanic buffs, the sinking of the Titan in 1898, though entirely fictional, is equally memorable for the remarkable similarities to the real sinking of the Titanic.

But to dig even deeper and complete the bizarre trinity, consider the near-shipwreck of the Titanian in 1935, also in April, also in the North Atlantic. Unlike the fictional Titan or the real Titanic, the Titanian was able to avoid colliding with icebergs because of the watchful eye of lookout William Reeves, who remarkably enough, was born on April 15, 1912… the day the Titanic sunk.

To back the story up a bit, let’s lay out the well-documented similarities between the Titan and the Titanic…

In 1898 Morgan Robertson wrote Futility, a novella that tells the rise and the fall of the Titan, the greatest man-made boat of all time.

It was touted as unsinkable, and launched from northern England across to the United States. The ship sinks after crashing head-on into an iceberg, and several thousand people perish because of woefully inadequate life boats. Are you seeing the similarities?

The book was intended to be a scathing social criticism of the selfish goals of industrialization, lambasting the fatcat tycoons who championed “progress” while overlooking human suffering. But it’s not remembered that way at all. It is instead forever known as the book that preceded the sinking of the Titanic, with countless, eerie similarities. The Titan was 800 feet, Titanic was 882. Titan had 24 lifeboats (less than half necessary) and lost 2500 passengers, Titanic had 16 lifeboats (also less than half) and lost 2207 passengers. They both crashed into icebergs in April about 400 miles from Newfoundland, traveling too fast at over 22 knots.

Totally weird. Totally, totally weird. There are many websites that treat Robertson like some sort of Nostradamus in his uncanny ability to foresee the disaster of the Titanic, and his book is very well-known.

Far less known is the follow-up story of the Titanian from 1935. While I have given away the main punchline of the story, it is definitely an odd one. A boat is chugging along through the North Atlantic during April, and a novice watchmen is spooked by his inability to see what lay ahead of him. He was worried about crying wolf, but had an unshakable premonition of impending disaster.

A dramatized rendition of the story from the Hemlington Nautical History Society tells us that

“suddenly, he [lookout William Reeves] remembered the exact date of Titanic’s sinking, 15 April 1912. The coincidence was terrible. That date was his birthday! The growing sensation of fatalism dominated Reeves until it became a dreadful certainty. He desperately sounded the alarm, and the quartermaster made full speed astern. The ship stopped in a whirl of spume. A huge iceberg standing menacingly in front of the ship. There were even bigger bergs surrounding the small ship, and it took nine days to the icebreakers from Newfoundland to free the ship from the ice.”

How dramatic! How appalling! If only, oh if only, a similar watchmen aboard the Titanic had listened to his gut!

In another novel, Beyond the Spectrum (1914), Robertson forecast a war between the United States and Japan, including a Japanese sneak attack (on San Francisco). There’s no way to know what more he had in store — he died the following year.The article continues and reveals that this dramatic story, while extremely appealing, is probably total bullshit. Yes, there are many news sources that verify that a boat named the Titanian had to be dug out of icebergs in April of 1935, but telegrams confirm that the boat actually hit one. The blow did not sink the boat, but damaged it. So Reeves did not actually prevent an accident at all. The Titanian very much hit an iceberg, it just didn’t sink.

Far more egregious, the main source for this lovely legend is Reeves himself, in a 1967 story in Sea Breezes magazine. He penned the story that became the reference point for the future legend. There’s no one you can count on more to inflate his role as a hero than the hero himself, and Reeves appears to be guilty of that. He even fabricated the position of the Titanian to further emphasize similarities to the Titanic, moving it almost 400 miles from its actual location…and giving longitude and latitude coordinates that don’t even exist.

A tall tale that is just a tad bit too tall after all.

In the end we still have a fictional story that nearly predicts the Titanic 14 years prior, and a real-life avoidance of a disaster of a similar nature 23 years after the Titanic, both dealing with boats of almost the exact same name. I’d say that on a scale of zero to weird, this is really, really weird.

Edited and original graphics by MonkeyFist – Crow’s Nest stock from pixelperfectdigital.com – inset (above rt) from Futility Closet; The Wreck of the Titan

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