By Chris Helgren
The weather was calm, the stars and crescent moon shone and the water lapped gently against the hull as three wreaths were tossed into the sea above the Titanic wreck, 100 years after she went down.
It seemed every one of the MS Balmoral’s 1300 guests, dressed against the cool night air, was crammed onto its terraced decks aft, craning for a view of the event. And at 2:20 when the wreaths went in, all was silent. As Philip Littlejohn, the Titanic historian later noted, these details mimicked what would have been happening during the disaster itself – a black night, no light bar that of the doomed liner, and when she went under, silence.
Taking it all in was Belfast writer Susie Millar, who wept at the handrails over the stern, watching as the wreaths floated into the blackness out of sight. She told me, “I thought of people in the lifeboats as Titanic sank, who didn’t know whether they would be rescued or not. It all happened (the memorial) in real time and I thought that people wouldn’t have had time to say all their goodbyes, it happened so fast. It was a night I’ll never forget”.
Concert pianist Ronan Magill of London said that it hit home when they read out the names of the victims on the Balmoral’s intercom. “All you can do is stare at the sea and imagine”, he said. “I thought of the foreigners and how their bewilderment would have been magnified by all the activity going on around them as the ship sank”. Adam England, of Huntington Beach, California said, “We stayed up until dawn and saw what the Carpathia (rescuing ship) and the lifeboats would have seen as the rescue operation was underway”. Wine merchant Rick Noble of Austin, Texas, whose grandmother’s first cousin Dan Marvin disappeared when he went to fetch a warm coat for his newlywed wife Mary from their cabin, told me that the Titanic had always been a part of the family’s history. “Since my grandmother passed away in 1976 it was a type of closure”, he said.
By the late morning, life had returned to normal –for a cruise ship. Under a warm sun, as we continued on to Halifax, my fellow passengers were making good use of the outdoor hot tubs and sun beds.