15 April 2009 was, besides being Tax Day for us in the US, the 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Sometimes the date is given as 14 April 1912, which is because in local time the ship struck the iceberg before midnight, but sank after midnight, so the whole event spans two days with the sinking itself on 15 April 1912.
Didn't see a thing about it all day, except notes in the two historical widgets I have on my iGoogle page. Closest thing other than that was some TV ads for Macy's during the great new show The Unusuals, after Lost -- Isidor Strauss, the Macy's guy, died on the Titanic. Oddly enough, so did Emil Brandeis, a member of the family that owned Omaha's leading department store of the time.
On 17 April 2009, up early due to the proverbial summons of nature, I refreshed my Twitter page for the hell of it, and saw a tweet from CNN that the last living survivor of the Titanic will have to auction off her remaining memorabilia of the sinking to retain control of her nursing home situation.
Her name is Millvina Dean. She's 97 now, and was 9 weeks old when the bleeder sank. She, her older brother and her parents were on their way to America. The plan was to go to Wichita, Kansas, where her dad had family already, and open a tobacco shop. Strange thing is, they weren't supposed to be on the Titanic at all. However, with a coal strike on, they were transferred to it as third class, aka steerage, passengers at Southhampton.
Her father felt the impact of the collision, checked it out, and got his wife and two kids up and on deck, and got them, but not himself, into one of the lifeboats. There was this idea of "women and children first" wherein a man's duty was to ensure the well-being of his woman and children, then other women and children as needed, before himself. It wasn't being a hero, just being a man. Bertram Frank Dean was a man. His body was not identified among those recovered at sea.
Millvina Dean's mother, brother (also named Bertram) and herself were among the first to board Lifeboat 10, which had 31 people aboard including two Able Seamen from the deck. Lifeboats had a capacity of 65. They were supposed to stop at different deck levels on the way down, but as there had been no drills, this did not happen and they were lowered straight into the sea.
Under regulations of the time of the British Board of Trade, the number of lifeboats was determined by the ship's tonnage, not the number of passengers. At the top end, boats over 10,000 tonnes were to have 16 lifeboats of 5,500 cubic feet each, with rafts for 75% of lifeboat capacity. These regulations had been drawn up in 1894 when the largest ship was 13,000 tonnes, Cunard Line's Lucania. Titanic's tonnage was 46,328 tonnes. Titanic's provisions exceeded the regulations of the time, though nothing like ships of Titanic's size existed when the formula was drawn up.
When the ship that rescued them, the Carpathia, arrived in New York, she like many survivors, particularly in steerage, had lost everything but what they were wearing. New Yorkers poured out help in generosity, and her mother, after considering going on to Kansas as planned, decided instead to return to England thinking it would be easier to handle being a new widow with two small children back home. Among the items Millvina had were a suitcase that carried the clothes New Yorkers had given them, and a canvas postal bag, which is either the one in which she was lifted from the lifeboat to the Carpathia, or one like it.
After a long working life, in 2006 she broke her hip in a fall at her home. She had hoped to be in nursing care a short time, but an infection set in and she remains there yet. The monthly cost of her nursing home care is 3,000 pounds, about $4,480 in USD. That's 36,000 pounds a year, or about $53,760 USD. When she runs out of money, the government will pay her costs, but of the care they, not she, choose for her. The Golden Rule: he who has the gold, rules.
In October 2008, she had to auction off the suitcase, some letters to her mother from the Titanic Relief Fund, and other items. It brought a little over 30,000 pounds, roughly $45,000, not even enough for a year. This Saturday, she will auction off the canvas bag and correspondence between her and Barbara Dainton (West), a 10 month old at the time of the sinking who passed away October 2007 at 96, leaving her the last living survivor.
The ins and outs of "the system" are determining her last years as they determined her first, at the end taking away from her what is left of what was taken away from her at the beginning. In many ways, the Titanic is a metaphor for the passing of one age and the energence of another, oddly enough, both based on a misplaced confidence in the achievements of Man.
Her story illustrates one of those misplaced confidences, that a society can be achieved wherein moral outcomes will happen by virtue of the structure of the society, as if there were no Fall or Original Sin, let alone our own actual sins, or a Gospel to announce redemption from all that. One of our most cherished illusions, sometimes expressed in various forms of the idea that government can regulate and control everything into happiness, and sometimes in various forms of the idea that people will do it themselves in "free markets" etc., and both tied by varying parties to the Gospel as its social application.
Two seemingly opposite forms of the same illusion, both as shipwrecked by the facts of human history as the Titanic itself, except that wreck lies under two miles of water whereas the other continues to form our political discourse, on the way to future literal and figurative Titanics. It's kind of freaky that her brother Bertram, who also survived, died on 14 April 1992, the 80th anniversary of striking the iceberg. But freakier yet that two days after the 97th anniversary of a Night To Remember, the last survivor of a literal Titanic becomes another figurative one. Again.
From a Night To Remember, a survivor to remember. And learn from, if we can, or will.
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