When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort. - Captain E.J. Smith, Captain of the RMS Titanic
Questioning the Story:
Were Jack and Rose based on real people?
No. Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, portrayed in the movie by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, are almost entirely fictional characters (James Cameron modeled the character of Rose after American artist Beatrice Wood, who had no connection to Titanic history). The movie's love story is also fiction. It was created by Titanic screenwriter and director James Cameron. In addition to Rose and Jack, a handful of other characters associated with them are fictional as well. They include Rose's fiancé Caledon 'Cal' Hockley (Billy Zane), her mother Ruth (Frances Fisher), Cal's valet Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner), and the third class passengers, who include Jack's friends Fabrizio (Danny Nucci) and Tommy (Jason Barry). Some of the third class passengers were modeled after real people.
I heard there was a J. Dawson on board the Titanic, is that true?
Yes. A man who signed his name J. Dawson did board the Titanic. However, the J. stood for Joseph, not Jack. Born in Dublin, Joseph Dawson was a member of the Titanic crew. He worked as a coal trimmer (it was his job to even out the piles of coal that were shoveled into the ship's furnaces). James Cameron said that he was not aware of Joseph Dawson until after finishing his Titanic screenplay. Still, lovestruck fans of the 1997 movie ventured to J. Dawson's grave in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they left cinema stubs, personal photos, and pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio (the exact burial location is Grave 227 in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia). Another coincidental character created by James Cameron was Jack's Irish friend Tommy Ryan (Jason Barry). The ship's manifest lists a Thomas Ryan, a 27-year-old steward from third class whose body, if recovered, was never identified.
Who sketched Jack's drawing of Rose that we see in the movie Titanic?
Director James Cameron did the sketch of Rose (Kate Winslet) wearing the necklace. It is actually Cameron's hand, not Leonardo DiCaprio's, that we see sketching Rose in the movie. James Cameron also drew all of the pictures in Jack's sketchbook.
Were the movie's underwater shots of the Titanic wreckage real?
Yes. Most of the underwater shots of the Titanic wreckage are real. In 1995, James Cameron hired the Russian vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh and its two submersibles. He made a total of twelve dives to film the underwater close-ups at a depth of 12,500 feet below the North Atlantic. Special cameras and housings were designed to withstand the 6,000 pounds per square inch of water pressure. Each dive lasted approximately fifteen hours, but the cameras could only store 500 feet of film, which meant that only twelve minutes of footage could be shot per dive. As a result, a few of the underwater shots had to be faked.
Were any of Pablo Picasso's paintings lost with the Titanic?
No. After Rose (Kate Winslet) boards the ship in the movie, we see her displaying authentic paintings by the then barely-known painter, Pablo Picasso. Cal (Billy Zane) comments that the artist will never amount to anything. This is an obvious point of humor in the movie, but it also raises the question as to whether or not these paintings were in fact part of Titanic history. The answer is no. One of the paintings shown in the movie is Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" ( shown here), which depicts five prostitutes in a brothel. It is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Were there any black passengers on board the Titanic?
Yes. Joseph Phillippe Lemercier Laroche was the only black man to perish in the Titanic sinking. Laroche, shown on the right in a family photo, was on board with his pregnant wife Juliette and their two young daughters. The story of this interracial family did not become widely known until three years after the movie's release, when the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry and the Titanic Historical Society featured the information as part of a Titanic exhibit. Joseph Laroche was born in Haiti in 1889 into a powerful family — his uncle, Dessalines M. Cincinnatus Leconte, was the president of Haiti. When he was fifteen, Joseph Laroche left Haiti to study engineering in Beauvais, France. Several years later, he met Juliette Lafargue, the 22-year-old daughter of a local wine seller. The two eventually married. Despite having an engineering degree, Joseph's skin color left him unable to find employment in France. The Laroches decided to return to Haiti and booked second-class reservations on the Titanic. After the ship struck an iceberg, Joseph loaded his wife and children onto a lifeboat and he went down with the ship. His body was never recovered. Shortly before Christmas of that year, Juliette Laroche gave birth to their son, Joseph Laroche Jr. Juliette never remarried.
During the U.S. Senate's Inquiry into the disaster, Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, said the following, "I understand it has been stated that the ship was going at full speed. The ship never had been at full speed. The full speed of the ship is 78 revolutions. She works up to 80. So far as I am aware, she never exceeded 75 revolutions. She had not all her boilers on. None of the single-ended boilers were on." Ismay said that it was their intention to work the ship up to its full speed of 80 revolutions either on the next day (Monday) or two days later (Tuesday), depending on the weather.
Surviving passengers stated that they heard Bruce Ismay pressuring Captain Edward J. Smith to go faster, with one passenger even stating that he saw Ismay flaunting an iceberg warning during dinner. However, none of the surviving officers supported these accusations, and survivor testimony from some passengers was considered unreliable and at worst imaginative. Bruce Ismay was crucified by the newspapers for leaving the ship, and he quickly became a common target upon which to place blame. Yet, it is also possible that the testimony from the surviving officers, exonerating Ismay, was given in the best interest of White Star Line.
Did pieces of ice from the iceberg really land on the promenade deck?
Yes. Mrs. Churchill Candee, of Washington, said the following about the ice, "The first thing I recall was one of the crew appearing with pieces of ice in his hands. He said he had gathered them from the bow of the boat. Some of the passengers were inclined to believe he was joking. But soon the situation dawned on all of us." Survivor William Lucas reported seeing "about a couple of tons" of ice "on the forewell [deck] on the starboard side" of the ship. Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall said that he found "a little ice in the well deck covering a space of about three or four feet from the bulwarks right along the well deck, small stuff."
Did the Titanic's band continue to play as the ship went under?
Yes. 33-year-old Wallace Henry Hartley, a violinist, was the bandleader on the Titanic. Hartley (left) had a fiancée in Boston Spa, near Wetherby in Yorkshire, and he had spent time with her before leaving on the Titanic. After the ship struck an iceberg, Wallace Hartley assembled his eight-man band, and they eventually ended up on the Boat Deck near the entrance to the Grand Staircase. There, they played ragtime and waltzes. Specifically, survivors reported them playing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "In the Shadows". No one is certain what the last song was that the band played as the ship went down. Newspapers reported that it was "Nearer, My God, To Thee" while some survivors said the tune was "Song d'Automne". All of the band members perished in the Titanic sinking. Wallace Hartley's body was recovered on May 4, 1912 by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett. Thousands of mourners lined the streets during his funeral procession in Colne, Lancashire, north-west of England. See a picture of Wallace Hartley's funeral procession. Jonathan Evans Jones, the actor who portrayed Wallace Hartley in James Cameron's Titanic movie, is a professional violinist.
Yes, but not exactly in the way that the film implies. Titanic history tells us that gates did exist which barred the third class passengers from the other passengers. However, these gates weren't in place to stop a third class passenger from taking a first class passenger's seat on a lifeboat. Instead, the gates were in place as a regulatory measure to prevent the "less cleanly" third class passengers from transmitting diseases and infections to the others. This would save time when the ship arrived in New York, as only the third class passengers would need a health inspection.
At the time of the sinking, some stewards kept gates locked waiting for instructions, while others allowed women and children to the upper decks. As a result of poor communication from the upper decks, the dire reality of the situation was never conveyed. The crew failed to search for passengers in the cabins and common areas, and the fact that some third class passengers did not speak English, also presented a problem. As a result, many of the third class passengers were left to fend for themselves. Only 25 percent of the third class passengers survived the disaster.
Did Officer Murdoch really commit suicide after shooting passengers and accepting a bribe?
After the release of James Cameron's 1997 movie Titanic, Officer William Murdoch's surviving relatives, other historians, and people from Murdoch's hometown of Dalbeattie, Scotland were angered over Cameron's decisive portrayal of First Officer Murdoch (right). In the film, he turns his gun on himself after shooting two passengers who are rushing a lifeboat. Based on witness testimony, historians are fairly certain that an officer did commit suicide, but it can't be said with absolute certainty that it was First Officer Murdoch. Also, there is no evidence to suggest that Murdoch ever took a bribe. James Cameron likely put the bribe in the film to show Cal's (Billy Zane) lack of integrity rather than Murdoch's. Studio executives flew to Murdoch's hometown where they issued an apology and made an $8,500 donation to Murdoch's memorial fund.
Did one of Titanic's giant funnels really crash down into the water?
Yes. This scene in the movie accurately depicts Titanic history. As the bridge of the ship sunk below the surface, the first funnel fell forward into the water, crashing onto some of the swimmers (in the movie, we see it crash down onto Jack's fictional friend, Fabrizio). The rush of water from the funnel's splash washed collapsibles A and B away, thrusting their occupants into the icy waters. It is believed that millionaire John Jacob Astor was killed by the falling forward funnel. When his body was found, it was badly crushed and covered in soot. Authorities used the initials "J.J.A." on the collar of his brown flannel shirt to positively identify him. He had been on board with his nineteen-year-old bride Madeline, who survived the disaster. See a collage of John and Madeline Astor. While traveling on their honeymoon, Madeline became pregnant with their son, and she wanted to return home to have the baby in the United States. They booked a first class passage on the RMS Titanic.
Did some of the passengers choose to go down with the ship?
Yes. Near the end of the movie Titanic, we see an old couple embracing in bed as water pours into their cabin. The couple is first class passengers Isador and Ida Straus (left). Isador was the co-owner of Macy's department store. In real life, Isador and Ida were both offered a place on Lifeboat No. 8, but Isador chose to stay on the Titanic so long as there were women who remained on the ship. Ida refused to abandon her husband. Witnesses on the deck and in Lifeboat No. 8 heard Ida tell her husband, "We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go." The couple was last seen sitting on a pair of deck chairs (not lying in bed like in the movie). Only Isador's body was recovered and identified.
Did Captain Smith really go into the bridge to await his fate?
In Robert Ballard's book, The Discovery of the Titanic, he claims that Captain Smith went into the bridge to await his fate at 2:17 A.M., three minutes before the ship went under completely. View a photo of Captain Smith. This may have been partially based on the account of Philadelphia banker Robert W. Daniel, who claimed that just before he jumped into the water, he saw Captain Smith on the bridge, which was slowly being swallowed by the icy sea. James Cameron supports this account in his 1997 movie Titanic by showing Captain Smith enter the bridge and grasp the wheel as water crashes in. While some survivors testified that they saw Captain Smith enter the bridge, other Titanic survivors said that they saw Captain Smith in the water with a life jacket. It is possible that he may have jumped from the bridge area as the ship went down. A boy who was one of the last children to leave the ship told Dr. J.F. Kemp, a passenger on the Carpathia, that "Captain Smith put a pistol to his head and then fell down." Other witnesses reported having seen Captain Smith commit suicide as well. Surviving crewmen vigorously denied the possibility. His body was never recovered.
Did the Titanic's lights continue to burn until just before the ship went under?
Yes. Dr. Washington Dodge, a Titanic survivor who observed the ship's final moments from a lifeboat, said the following in an April 20, 1912 San Francisco Bulletin article, "We saw the sinking of the vessel. The lights continued burning all along its starboard side until the moment of its downward plunge. After that a series of terrific explosions occurred, I suppose either from the boilers or weakened bulkheads." This account is nearly identical to what is shown in the movie.
Did the Titanic really break apart as it sunk?
Yes. For years, whether the Titanic broke apart as it went under was a highly debated element of Titanic history. Some survivors testified that the ship did break apart as it sunk, while others said that it went under intact. Much of the uncertainty surrounding this was put to rest in 1985 when the wreck of the Titanic was discovered in two separate portions on the sea bottom. It is very likely that the ship broke apart much like the movie's depiction.
Were any of the passengers rescued from the water like Rose?
Yes. Only two of the sixteen lifeboats went back to pick up survivors, and they ended up saving six. The first was Quartermaster Perkis in Lifeboat 4, who was able to pull 5 people from the water but only 3 survived. The second boat was Lifeboat 14 headed by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe (right), who had gathered nearby lifeboats together to free up room in one of them. When Lifeboat 14 returned to where the Titanic had sunk (approximately 150 yards away), Officer Lowe and a working crew of six men picked up four survivors from the water. One of the four men found in the water, a William F. Hoyt from New York, died in the lifeboat. A British Inquiry asked Officer Lowe why he didn't return more quickly to help the people in the water. In his testimony, Harold Lowe responded by saying, "Because it would have been suicide to go back there until the people had thinned out." Lowe further stated, "...it would have been useless to try it, because a drowning man clings at anything." Lowe feared that the large number of people in the water would have swamped or overturned the lifeboat. It is Officer Lowe's boat that saves Rose (Kate Winslet) in the film.
How did Margaret Brown get the nickname "Unsinkable Molly Brown"?
When the Carpathia arrived at New York's pier 54, over 30,000 people, including reporters, clamored to interview the Titanic survivors. When reporters asked Margaret Brown to what she attributed her survival, Margaret replied, "Typical Brown luck. We're unsinkable." Reporters began referring to her as the "Unsinkable Mrs. Brown". See a photo collage of Margaret "Molly" Brown. The nickname of "Molly" was a Hollywood invention created years later in the 1930s. It was part of a highly fictional tale that became the basis for the 1960 Broadway musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In the movie Titanic, we get a glimpse of the friendship between Margaret Brown and John Jacob Astor. Before boarding the ship, Margaret had been traveling with J.J. Astor and his wife Madeline in Cairo, Egypt. Margaret booked a First Class passage on the Titanic after learning that her grandson Lawrence was ill.
How long could the people have remained alive in the water?
On the night of the Titanic sinking, the temperature of the salt water was likely around 28° F. The human body loses heat to the water about 30 times faster than it does to the air. When the core body temperature falls to approximately 89° F, a decrease in consciousness occurs. If the core temperature cools to below 86° F, then heart failure becomes a major concern, as it is the most common cause of hypothermia-related deaths. The people in the bone chilling 28° water above the sinking Titanic would have had anywhere from several minutes to an hour to live, depending on their physical condition and how much they flailed. Some people in the water might have believed that swimming would help their body to generate heat. In reality, people who swam or moved around a lot would have lost heat 35-50% faster and been susceptible to exhaustion. There were even several people who died from hypothermia in the Titanic lifeboats, because they were open and gave no protection against the cold. Regulations have since been put in place that require lifeboats to be fully or partially enclosed.
How many people were rescued by the Carpathia?
The Cunard liner Carpathia, under the command of Captain Arthur Rostron, was only fifty-eight miles away when Titanic sent her distress call at 12:25 A.M. It took the Carpathia four hours to reach the Titanic's position. View a photo of the Titanic's lifeboats approaching the Carpathia. In all, 711 passengers were rescued and over 1500 perished in the disaster. Among the passengers rescued were 58 men; all of whom came under public scrutiny after news broke that approximately 150 women and children died (mostly from Second and Third class). Titanic survivor Adolphe Saalfeld said of the Carpathia, "The Captain and Officers of the Carpathia did all that was possible to make us comfortable, and to those that were sick or injured; they gave their most tender care. The icebergs were huge and the weather extremely rough on the voyage to New York."
Did Bruce Ismay really sneak into a lifeboat like in the movie Titanic?
No. There are no reports of Bruce Ismay disguising himself as a woman to sneak into a lifeboat as he does in the movie. However, First Class Passenger Jack Thayer said that he saw Bruce Ismay pushing his way into Collapsible C. Thayer "did not blame him," because from what Thayer could see, "It was really every man for himself." Of the 58 men who survived, Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, received the most criticism, and in 1913, Ismay resigned from his job and from public life. London society labeled Bruce Ismay one of the biggest cowards in history, and both the American and English press ruthlessly attacked him. Some papers even published cartoons of Ismay deserting the ship.
Was the Heart of the Ocean (Coeur de la Mer) a real diamond?
No. The Heart of the Ocean diamond is a fictional device that James Cameron added to the plot in order to give Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) a reason to hear Rose's story. The Heart of the Ocean is based on the famous Hope Diamond that King Louis XVI of France gave to Marie Antoinette to add to her jewelry collection. The Hope Diamond is currently on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. It holds no place in Titanic history. As a result of moviegoer fantasies surrounding the fictional Heart of the Ocean, the Asprey & Garrard jewelry company decided to make a real Heart of the Ocean diamond necklace. The 170-carat sapphire, surrounded by sixty-five 30-carat diamonds, was worn by Celine Dion during her performance of "My Heart Will Go On" at the 1998 Academy Awards Ceremony. The necklace later sold at a benefit auction for $2.2 million.
Can I visit the Titanic movie set?
Yes. The set, located at Fox's Baja Studios in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, still exists. The nearly full-scale Titanic replica created for the film was badly damaged when the filmmakers submerged it underwater to recreate the sinking. It was dismantled after filming wrapped. However, several of the Titanic interiors are still there, including Rose's 1st class stateroom, Jack's 3rd class stateroom, the purser's office (where Jack was handcuffed to the pipe), the outside deck, and the Palm Court (dining) room. Tours are available to the public.
Like the original ship, the replica (when it existed) was 60 feet from the boat deck to the water. Certain repetitive lengthwise sections of the ship were omitted, which made it shorter than the original 882.5 foot ship. The movie ship had only been completed on one side. As a result, there are several scenes in which the ship is reversed, such as in the "I'm the king of the world" scene where the crew galley skylight gives the reversal away. Very few of the ship's interiors were built into the replica's framework itself. Most were built on neighboring sound stages. The set designs, costumes and the ship itself were meticulously recreated. View a comparison photo of Titanic's Grand Staircase. In several cases, James Cameron even hired the original manufacturers to reproduce such things as carpets and lifeboat davits.
Listen to Titanic Survivor Accounts:
Survivors from Southampton, UK talk about their experiences on the night of the Titanic disaster. The last audio clip features Southampton local Iris Lee telling her story of how her father gave up his position on the Titanic. She explains that he was too shook up to go after discovering a human head floating by while at work in the docks.
Edith Haisman, 7, Traveling to Canada with Parents - 3:32
"There was a lot of lifeboats and people on rafts, some of them frozen dead, it was terrible. ... You heard the screams, it was terrible, the screams of the people. ... I hoped my father would get off the ship. That's all I was hoping for."
Eva Hart (7) Recalls Her Memories of the Sinking - 13:06
"We were offered a birth on the Titanic. ... My mother had this dreadful premonition. She never had one before and she never had one after. But she said, 'No, we can't do this. It's quite wrong. Something dreadful will happen.'"
Iris Lee, local resident, Southampton - 1:17
"...he wasn't able to take his position on the Titanic, so that's why my parents used to say they were thankful to God."
Video Footage of the Real Titanic
In our first selection below, take a journey into history by watching a compilation of real Titanic video footage. See the actual ship and the real Captain Edward J. Smith on the bridge prior to leaving. Witness the aftermath as the Carpathia returns with survivors.
Historic Titanic Video Footage
Pics from the Titanic Movie Set (Slideshow)
Titanic - Carpathia (Deleted Scene)
Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On
- Survivor Testimony at the Titanic Inquiry Project
- Titanic Passenger List at Encyclopedia Titanica
- Read The Sinking of the Titanic by Logan Marshall
- Photos of the Titanic's Interior, Exterior, and Construction
- Dr. Washington Dodge Gives Story of Rescue | Dodge's Wife's Account
- Letter From Survivor Mary Sloan to her Sister
- Letter Written from Richard Geddes to his Wife (Richard did not Survive)