After 100 years, Titanic still fascinates

The centennial of the Titanic's sinking provides an opportunity to look back at a disaster that, at the time, made waves in Barnes County and around the world.

When the world's largest ocean liner struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic on the night of April 14, 1912, an ongoing fascination was sparked with both the human aspect of the tragedy, and the failures and successes of the ship's technology.

Valley City resident Irma Ness recalled a family story about her grandfather, George Chapman, perishing in the sinking shortly after he and his wife abandoned their large family.

"He went off and left seven children, including my mother, on a farm near Casselton," Ness said. "All the brothers and sisters were taken to orphanages in Fargo.

"He went back to England, and was back on his way to the United States when the Titanic went down. My aunt said he deserved it, he was not a nice man."

Several harrowing firsthand accounts were also gathered, as several newspapers in Barnes County followed up on the tragedy.

From the Weekly Valley City Times-Record, Thursday, July 31, 1913, was the account of Edward Dahl, who had just finished a residence of 20 years in Australia and was on his way to the United States to visit his sister in Fingal. He engaged a third class passage on the Titanic, he says. Sunday night April 14, 1912, he was awakened when he was thrown from his berth.

"A grinding noise outside the ship’s hull was the first noise he heard. He went about and was unable to reach the rail until all but the last boat had been lowered. The men had all gone to the other side of the ship, after the last boat was lowered from the port side, he said. As the last boat was being lowered away a priest on the starboard side asked the men to pray. I went over and knelt down with the rest. ... Then I went back to the port side. An officer – a tall fellow in a long coat with two or three stripes on his arm called to an under-officer, 'you ought to fill those boats; there aren’t near enough people in them.' I asked the officer if I would be allowed to get aboard the boat and he said I would and ordered the sailors to stop lowering away.
"I had on a life preserver I had got from my cabin and decided to take a chance at it, for it was too far to bring the boat up again. I braced myself and took a good jump. I succeeded in getting hold of the rope leading from the davit to the life boat and then I twined my legs around it and let myself down. When I reached the deck of the small boat, three sailors tried to throw me overboard, saying the boat was too heavily loaded. There was a big block fastened to the deck of the boat and I seized that and managed to hold on until they left me. Then I got into the boat."

Dahl gave a graphic picture of the happenings aboard the Titanic as the life-boat pulled away. He told over again the story of the shrieks and cries, the band playing “Nearer My God to Thee” and the explosion that preceded the sinking of the boat, and the awful five hours that preceded the rescue of the life boats by the Carpathia.

Another account taken from the Fingal Herald, Thursday May 2, 1912, read, "Carl Dahl, a brother of Mrs. Iver Baardson, arrived the latter part of last week. Mr. Dahl was a passenger on board the ill-fated Steamer, the Titanic and is one of the few who were saved in this terrible accident. He was only about a mile from the great steamer and saw her when she exploded and went to the bottom."

Lessons Learned
Current exhibits at the Allen Memorial Library and the Barnes County Museum showcase the effect the Titanic has had on popular culture both then and now.

"It was the Edwardian era where technology was bigger and better, and the Titanic kind of flew in the face of that logic," said Wes Anderson, director of the Barnes County Historical Museum. "We suddenly learned to mistrust."

Valley City State University Science Professor Gilbert Kuipers has taken an interest in the technological aspects of the Titanic saga, recently implementing them into his physics curriculum.

To tie in with his class's lessons on optics, Kuipers is using the movie 'Titanic' being re-released in 3D to demonstrate how polarization makes images jump off the screen, and the spark gap induction coil transmitter in the Titanic's radio room was used to teach students about radio waves, electricity and magnetism. The radio made it possible to broadcast up-to-the minute news of the disaster to every media outlet in the world.

"Globally, the story was being covered in the press in real time because of radio, which is the first something like that had ever happened," Kuipers said. "It was the 9/11 of that time."

Kuipers said teaching from an actual historical event helps generate interest and provides tangible examples for his students to learn from.
Anderson added that even though interest in historical events can ebb, after 100 years, the legacy of the unsinkable ship still seems to fascinate because it was "A story of human faults and heroism all within one little microcosm and flashpoint in history."