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04/15/2013

Live-tweeting the Titanic disaster 101 years later

Aldridge
Auctioneer Alan Aldridge of auctioneers Henry Aldridge & son holds the violin of Wallace Hartley, the instrument he played as the band leader of the Titanic, on the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the ship, April 15, in Devizes, England. The auction house, which specializes in Titanic memorabilia spent seven years proving the violin was genuine and belonged to Wallace Hartley, who with his orchestra, famously played on as the ship sank in April 1912. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The heart does go on.

Well, at least the story does.

On the 101st anniversary of the greatest maritime disaster in the history of popular culture, the RMS Titanic -- already immortalized in a Hollywood film, theatrical performances and countless books -- is being re-told in the most modern of mediums.

A British historical publisher has taken to Twitter (@TitanicRealTime) to document the up-to-the-minute narrative of an unsinkable ship’s inevitable sinking.

While there’s little suspense remaining in the story for most of us, there is intrigue in the storytelling technique here: a real-time sequence of unfortunate events -- told from multiple perspectives -- unfolding relentlessly towards horror.

Some among the Twitter followers have been posting heartfelt expressions of tears and grief witnessing through serialized messages the tragedy as it happened.

It was April 15, 1912 when ice carved through Titanic steel as the ship journeyed from Southampton, England, to New York.

And while the Titanic tweets began in March, it was last night and today that The History Press posted the most gripping of the messages which it bills as “historically accurate” and “drawn from reliable research.”

If the Titanic happened in today’s age of Twitter, this is what we might all be reading:
“COLLISION WITH ICEBERG,” the captain tweeted last night at 11:40 p.m. “Just been woken by a tremendous crashing sound, what is going on out there?”

Messages of water beginning to pour in follow from engineering staff, crew and passengers.

“How can this be happening,” writes one crew member at 12:13 a.m. “The ship is unsinkable!”

By 1:22 a.m. an officer tweets, “We are going down fast at the head, the captain's predictions may not turn out to be accurate. God help us all.”

Minutes later, as lifeboats are being filled, another tweet from the officer: “Major panic is beginning to set in and guns being pulled out by officers to control the crowds. Women and children first!”

Classism reveals itself minutes later in a tweet by a “thirdclass” passenger who writes: “Why won’t they let my wife and son on board a lifeboat? They have as much right as those in first class!”

At 1:47 a.m., the engineering room gave up the ship, posting to Twitter: “The engine room is beyond saving, it is severely flooded with more water coming in by the minute. We need to save ourselves.”

The most poignant moment in the hundreds of tweets comes at 2:20 a.m. 

“She is gone…The unsinkable ship…Lost in the depths,” writes someone on the first lifeboat. “All around check their watches 2.20a.m. –- exactly.”

An officer’s tweet follows: “No one knows what to say or do. Some sit quietly, others weep, some are inconsolable. I can barely believe it.”

Around them all, chaos.

“The ocean is awash with screaming people and bodies,” tweets a “firstclass” passenger. “It is an unimaginable sight.”

Those eventually rescued post the final fictional tweets at around 11 a.m. this morning, including this one from an officer: “They say there are around 700 of us -- that adds up to around 1,500 lives lost.”

READ OUR STORIFY POST ON THE LIVE-TWEETING

Titanic
In this April 10, 1912 file photo, the Titanic departs Southampton, England on its maiden Atlantic voyage. (AP Photo, File)

Robert Cribb is an award-winning investigative reporter at the Star. In 2012, he was the recipient of both the Massey Journalism Fellowship and the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy Reporting.  Follow him on Twitter: @thecribby

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