The Fiction That Came True

 Strange case of the two Titanics

R.M.S. Titanic

A floating palace sailed from Southampton in 1898 on her maiden voyage. It was the biggest and grandest liner ever built, and rich passengers savored its luxury as they journeyed to the United States. But the ship never reached its destination: Its hull was ripped open by an iceberg, and it sank with heavy loss of life.

That liner existed only on paper, in the imagination of a novelist named Morgan Robertson. The name he gave to his fictional ship was Titan, and the book’s title was Futility.
Both the fiction and the futility were to turn into terrifying fact. Fourteen years later a real luxury liner set out on a similar maiden voyage. It too was laden with rich passengers. It too rammed an iceberg and sank; and, as in Robertson’s novel, the loss of life was fearful because there were not enough lifeboats. It was the night of April 14, 1912. The ship was the RMS Titanic.

Passenger’s preview of doom
In many other ways than the similarity of their names the Titan of Robertson’s novel was a near duplicate of the real Titanic. They were roughly the same size, had the same speed and the same carrying capacity of about 3,000 people. Both were “unsinkable.” And both sank in exactly the same spot in the North Atlantic.

But the strange coincidences do not end there. The famous journalist W. T. Stead published, in 1892, a short story that proved to be a preview of the Titanic disaster. Stead was a spiritualist: He was also one of the 1,513 people who died when the Titanic went down.

Backward recollection
Neither Robertson’s horror novel nor Stead’s prophetic story served as a warning to the Titanic’s captain in 1912. But a recollection of that appalling tragedy did save another ship in similar circumstances 23 years later.

A young seaman named William Reeves was standing watch in the bow of a tramp steamer, Canada-bound from England in 1935. It was April-the month of the iceberg disasters, real and fictional-and young Reeves had brooded deeply on them. His watch was due to end at midnight. This, he knew, was the time the Titanic had hit the iceberg. Then, as now, the sea had been calm.

These thoughts took shape and swelled into omens in the seaman’s mind as he stood his lonely watch. His tired, bloodshot eyes strained ahead for any sign of danger, but if there was nothing to be seen; nothing but a horizonless, impenetrable gloom. He was scared to shout an alarm, fearing his shipmate’s ridicule. But he also was scared not to do so.

Then, suddenly, he remembered the exact date of the Titanic accident-April 14, 1912. The coincidence was terrifying-it was the day he had been born. He shouted a danger warning, and the helmsman rang the signal: engines full astern. The ship churned to a halt-just yards from a huge iceberg that towered menacingly out of the night.

More deadly icebergs crowded in around the tramp steamer, and it took nine days for icebreakers from Newfoundland to smash a way clear.

The name of the ship that nearly shared the Titanic’s fate was, ironically, the Titanian.


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