Print Page

A Titanic Story


Mark Lach displays a porthole from the wreckage of the Titanic.

The mystery and the intrigue of the Titanic has long been a fascinating topic to millions of people. The people of Emery County are no less interested in the Titanic. Mark Lach, Titanic expert spoke to Emery County school children and presented a program at the Museum of the San Rafael in the evening for parents on Oct. 22. Lach said he has been with the Titanic exhibit for six years and it has been filled with twists, turns and surprises. He first began with the exhibit in Orlando, Fla. just after the movie Titanic was released. Lach said he is always asked how realistic the movie was in comparison with the real life Titanic. Lach said the movie measured up pretty well except the love story portion of the movie which is Hollywood and the company in the movie recovering the Titanic artifacts was more of a treasure digging operation. In real life the effort to recover Titanic artifacts doesn't have anything to do with a treasure hunt for valuables. But, a recovery effort aimed only at recovering items from what Lach described as the debris field around the wreckage.

"I have become completely caught up in the experience," said Lach. Initially Lach wasn't going to take the job offered him to design the traveling Titanic exhibits, but decided to say yes if they called back which they did. Five exhibitions are currently touring the world. The Utah exhibit is housed in the ZCMI center and the host is the Utah Museum of Natural History. It contains a collection of 300 artifacts from the ship. Lach has been touring the world with the exhibit and has visited London and Shanghai recently.

Of the 2,228 passengers on the Titanic the night of April 14, 1912, those dying numbered 1,523. The recovering of artifacts left behind by those people of the Titanic are treated with dignity, honor and respect. On April 10, 1912, the Titanic left South Hampton with many numbered among the rich and famous aboard. Anyone wanting to be seen wanted to be on board the Titanic, it was viewed as the safest ship of its day, practically unsinkable. The interior of the ship was spacious and luxurious. Even the steering passengers in third class enjoyed accommodations much nicer than other ships of the day. The passengers were eager, many traveled with everything they owned in a suitcase and were bound for America the land of opportunity to begin a new life. The industrial age was in progress and opportunity abounded.

The Titanic was as long as three football fields and its construction bill was $12 million. The Titanic stopped at Cherbourg, France to pick up mail and then to Queenstown, Ireland where more passengers boarded the ship. People were excited about the voyage. On the night of April 14, Jack Thayer had been to the captain's party. Upon leaving he stood upon the deck and observed, "It was the most beautiful night of the voyage, the stars stood out of the sky like diamonds, it was a night to be glad to be alive."

There was enough coal onboard the Titanic to power it for two trips from South Hampton to New York City. There was a coal strike going on in England at the time and some other ships were not able to secure coal for fuel, so a lot of passengers had been rescheduled to sail aboard the Titanic. After the captain's party, Capt. Smith talked to his officers and they told him there were ice warnings and unusually high floes of ice in the surrounding water.

Radio messages at this time were mainly used for personal messages between ships. Although some messages of ice in the water were heard by the Titanic crew. Capt. Smith was the most experienced captain on the seas. He was referred to as the millionaires captain and was often recruited to sail the ships of the wealthy. He had told his wife and the White Star Line the company which owned the Titanic, that this would be his last voyage before retirement and ironically it was his last voyage. Capt. Smith had led an uneventful life on the sea until the fateful night of the Titanic. Capt. Smith had full confidence in the Titanic. The ship was built in sections and water tight compartments were designed to seal off if the ship were to sustain a hole in it. The water would be isolated in these compartments and stay afloat. The water could come into just that level and the water tight doors would shut.

The Atlantic Ocean was smooth that night and there was no moon to see icebergs. Crewman Fredrick Lee was in the crows nest on the mast watching for icebergs and reached for the binoculars to aid his watch and discovered the binoculars were not there. Lee found it hard to distinguish the sea from the sky, it was hard to look out and see icebergs. The ship was traveling at 22 knots or 24 m.p.h.. The ship was traveling fast due to a request by the White Star Line in order to promote their company so two additional boilers were started to increase the speed of the ship. So, Capt. Smith made the decision to travel faster.

With a flat ocean, no waves and difficulty in seeing, at 11:38 p.m. Lee spotted something ahead that looked like a black mask. An iceberg was straight ahead, Lee rang the bell three times and then three more times. The phone rang and they asked him if there was a problem and he said there is an iceberg right ahead and directed them to try to turn. They would try this by reversing the engines and turning the ship to the left to avoid the iceberg, but with only a small rudder at the back of the ship, turning was a slow procedure, the ship kept moving straight ahead and started to turn left. People saw the iceberg move and felt a slight shaking on the ship. The iceberg moved along the starboard side and the engines were turned off. The officers assessed the damage and reported to Capt. Smith. The men shoveling coal into the boilers were in the area where the scrape from the iceberg caused damage and water rushed in immediately and covered their ankles.

Some of the iceberg was above the waterline but the majority of it was below, the iceberg cut a hole and the rivets began to pop along the ship's exterior and the water came in. It began to fill the water tight compartments and passed the level where the ship could stay afloat. The ship's designer, Thomas Andrews said nothing could be done and the ship would sink, "It is a mathematical certainty."

The Titanic only carried 20 lifeboats with 60 person capacity. A ship called the California was near enough to see the lights from the Titanic and saw the flares the Titanic sent up, but did not come to the aid of the Titanic. The captain of the California said they saw the flares but quite honestly thought it was the rich and famous having the time of their lives. The California also did not have its radio on. The California would have had time to come and rescue the Titanic, but the California moved away. A ship, the Carpathia heard the distress signals of the Titanic on the radio and came as quickly as it was able. It took four-five hours for the Carpathia to arrive and it took the Titanic two and one half hours to sink. The people were told to put on their life jackets and the lifeboats were prepared and lowered into the water. The ship wasn't showing any signs of distress and many people did not see the need to board the lifeboats and decided to take their chances with the ship, consequently many of the lifeboats left the ship only half full. Women and children were put in first.

With the 300 foot gash in the front of the ship, the front began going down and the stern up. With the bow down and the stern up, the propellers were lifted up out of the water. The great ship broke in half with the bow down. The boilers began to explode and it was a beautiful and tragic moment as the explosions from the boilers lit up the night sky amid the cries and screams of 1,500 people.

The people tumbled into the frigid waters of the Atlantic where they froze to death in approximately 30 minutes. Some of the lifeboats went back, but very few people were picked up out of the water.

When the Carpathia arrived, it began picking up the people in the lifeboats and then returned to pluck the frozen dead from the water. Of the 113 children on board, 53 were lost. Most of the deaths were among the third class passengers. Many of the bodies recovered were buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia cemeteries.

Lach said he has heard so many of the human stories in the last six years since joining the exhibit. He said not many events can compare to the sinking of the Titanic. Lach shared his experiences on the ocean floor at the site of the shipwreck.

He traveled in a submersible for two and a half hours to reach the wreckage. "I was very excited and I did suffer from a bit of anxiety because I had never done this before. People who had already been down on the dives tried to assure me as to its safety. One other guy said 'there is no reason to have anxiety, the submersible is the cutting edge of technology.' When you start the descent the ocean is bright blue and it fades to black, total darkness. It is hot to start with and at the ocean floor the temperature drops to 38 degrees," said Lach.

The first thing Lach saw was the bow of the ship. The ship is in two pieces and a mile and a half apart on the ocean floor. The bow is recognizable as part of a ship, it landed upright. "I looked out into the blackness and the bow was towering with the anchors still hanging. I was very excited. We moved portside, by Capt. Smith's cabin and the exterior wall has fallen and we looked inside the cabin, the bathtub is still there and part of the bed and hallway. I had some very human moments. This is the site of a great tragedy and that came through to me and it comes through in the exhibition. We do not dig into the ship or destruct in anyway to get the artifacts," said Lach.

Lach showed the audience the items he had borrowed from the exhibit to bring for display. He showed the porthole from a third class deck, much smaller than the other portholes on the upper decks.

He showed a leather coin purse in remarkably good condition. Lach explained that the ingredients used to tan leather act as a repellant for the microorganisms which eat away at everything and destroy items. Any items which were encased in leather bags such as clothing, shoes, letters, money and other things are in remarkable condition for having been submersed for 92 years.

He also displayed a $10 bill from a bank in Colorado. The other item was a wooden handle from a tool. Lach also brought some of the coal from the Titanic gathered from the ocean floor. Lach encouraged the audience to visit the exhibit at the ZCMI Center in Salt Lake which is running through Jan. 8, 2005.

Lach told the story of Howard Ervin whose trunk was aboard the Titanic, but he was not. His partner Henry Sutehall, was to meet Ervin at the dock the morning the Titanic was to sail, and Ervin never arrived so Sutehall boarded the ship and carried on the trunk belonging to Ervin. Ervin missed the sailing of the Titanic and Sutehall met his death onboard. Ervin went on to lead a full life. Lach was filled with such tales of the people aboard the ship.

He said a leather satchel had been found and it was rolled up, upon unrolling it revealed 65 small glass vials with corks and paper labels containing fragrance perfume samples. Ado Sawfel was a perfume manufacturer and intended to sell his perfumes to the shops in New York. He survived. "The stories of these people are the same as you and I," said Lach. "There are only two survivors left from the Titanic. I met one lady, Melvina Dean who is 92 years old and lives in England. She was 7 weeks old aboard the Titanic. Her father placed 7 week old Melvina in a canvas bag and handed her to her mother and 4-year old brother onboard the lifeboat and then he stepped back. Her father perished. Melvina's mother told her the story and through her whole life she was always known as the little girl aboard the Titanic."

Lach explained how safety measures for sailing ships have changed since the Titanic disaster. Safety flares now mean something and are clear signs of distress. Ships are required to have enough lifeboats for passengers. Radios must always be working and turned on so distress signals will be heard. The Coastal Guard has been established to watch for ice floes and to render aid to ships in distress.

People have been concerned with whether any artifacts should be picked up at all from the site. Lach explained that all artifacts are treated with dignity and respect, recognizing that many people lost their lives onboard the ship.

Most of the people dying on the Titanic were on the surface of the water. Very few in fact, went down with the ship. The crewmen working the boilers shoveling the coal to keep the electric lights lit were the only ones actually going down inside the ship.

The stern is unrecognizable as it went through twisting, turning and the explosions, but one propeller is visible and is 23.5 feet tall.

The story of the Titanic will be told and retold throughout time. The fascination people have with the story can never be satisfied.

There is no answer for the profound tragedy, too many things that just went wrong. Too many things to be overcome for a different outcome. Whatever the reasons, the stories will not die, the people will not have died in vain. They will live on.

Capt. Smith went down with his ship standing on the bridge staring straight ahead.

Print Page