We’re all familiar with the heartbreaking romance that Jack and Rose shared in the 1997 blockbuster hit Titanic. But believe it or not, there were plenty of real people who lived to tell the tale of the most infamous shipwreck in history.
While it’s common knowledge that an iceberg ultimately put an end to the “unsinkable” ship’s ill-fated journey, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding what it was actually like to be on board before the ship went down. These stories from real survivors of the RMS Titanic shed new light on that doomed voyage.
Many third-class passengers were locked in their quarters as the Titanic took on water. According to third-class passenger, Elin Hakkairanen, she found many of the passageways locked as she desperately struggled to escape.
Eventually, Elin was allowed onto a lifeboat, but her husband wasn’t so lucky. After watching the sea for hours hoping for him to arrive at the rescue ship, she realized she’d never see him again.
A single, 53-year-old feminist, Helen Churchill Candee, was amazed at the heroism of many of the ship’s workers in the face of utter disaster. Even as they feared for their own lives, they were willing to sacrifice it all to rescue others.
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Helen vividly remembers a group of steam engine workers making it out of the labyrinth of submerged decks below only to be ordered back down to save several passengers from drowning. Unfortunately, many of them never returned.
After Michel Navratil, a young Frenchman, was separated from his wife, he bought himself and his two children second-class tickets on the Titanic. Even though things between Michael and his wife were strained, some of his last words included a heartfelt message to her.
One of Michael’s boys recalls his father instructing them to remind their mother just how much he cared for her. “Tell her I loved her dearly and still do,” he said to his two and four-year-old sons as the ship went down.
“Women and children first” isn’t just an old saying. According to Annie McGowan, it was one of the rules the workers on the Titanic used to sort out which passengers would get priority on the lifeboats.
Only a teenager at the time, Annie remembers seeing several men putting on dresses so they’d be mistaken for women and allowed onto the lifeboats. Some even threatened to tip whole lifeboats over if they weren’t allowed on.
When the Carpathia ultimately arrived to save the passengers from the icy ocean waters, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. A young British secretary, Laura Mabel Francatelli, still had to make it up the side of the massive ship on rope swings.
Laura could barely hang onto the rope swings, and she wasn’t sure she’d make it all the way to the top as they hauled her up. Ultimately, she had to close her eyes and wait for an arm to pull her aboard.
Getting onto the lifeboats was a mission in itself, but once aboard, chaos ensued. A 40-year-old governess, Elizabeth Schutes, recalls the sound of drowning passengers surrounding the boat as they rowed.
With ordinary passengers in charge of navigating the frigid water, Elizabeth wasn’t sure they’d make it to their rescue ship. Before long, two of their oars had been lost in the black waves.
Even though the wreck of the Titanic was full of tragedy and horror, some passengers like Ruth Becker recall a strange beauty as the ship slowly sank below the surface of the dark sea.
Only 12 years old at the time, Ruth never forgot the sight of the Titanic as the lights dipped into the ocean and illuminated the surface for just a brief moment before disappearing into the abyss.
It wasn’t immediately apparent that the Titanic would go down after it hit the iceberg. A 33-year-old fashion stylist, Edith Russell, saw the side of the iceberg towering over this ship without realizing just how bad of a situation she was in.
Edith blissfully took off chunks of the iceberg and made snowballs, even having a little snowball fight with her fellow passengers before calls to abandon ship were raised all over the deck of the Titanic.
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One of the most devastating parts of the sinking of the Titanic is how many people were separated from their loved ones in the tragedy. Newlywed Charlotte Collyer experienced that pain as she lost her husband during the shipwreck.
Though Charlotte was stricken with grief over the loss of her husband, she pointed out that there was hardly a soul on the ship who wasn’t separated from their spouses, friends, or children.
While many of the survivors of the Titanic went on to be haunted by the shipwreck for the rest of their lives, passengers like Eva Hart, who was just 7 years old at the time, didn’t let the trauma drag her down.
Though her family expected Eva to be scared of travel — whether by plane, train, car, or boat — she never gave in to fear. “Life has to be lived,” she’d said. Director James Cameron even included a small character based on Eva in his 1997 flick, though there were plenty of details he got wrong.
Although this wouldn’t make for a very good romance for Titanic, in reality Jack and Rose would never have met, since she was in first class. This separation was meant to curb the spread of diseases from lower class passengers.
Speaking of Rose’s privileged background, her proper upbringing meant that she likely wouldn’t have worn makeup, and definitely wouldn’t have donned that signature red lipstick. At the time this look was associated with lower-class female protesters, not prim English ladies.
While Rose’s makeup was slightly off, she was based on a real person (albeit one not at all associated with the Titanic). Jack didn’t exist at all in real life, and there’s no records of anyone with his name on board the ship.
Regardless of his existence or lack there of, fans are obsessed with one Jack-related theory that claims he could have survived had Rose only moved over to give him some room on the door. Unfortunately, the added weight would have sunk them both.
In fact, Rose wouldn’t likely have survived either. The paper-thin dress she wore would have been way too skimpy to protect her from the icy chill of the water. She’d have been better off wearing Jack’s clothes.
But forget the famous death scene. Given that they had to escape from the third class, there’s no way that the doomed love birds would even have made it. They would have met their ends while still on board the colossal boat.
One scene particularly beloved by those who appreciate a little romance is the part when Jack and Rose share a steamy kiss inside the boiler room. In reality this little tryst would have left both of them covered in soot. Not a great look.
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In the same vein, the scene where the two get to canoodling in a stranger’s car was impossible. While there were cars stored aboard the Titanic, they would have been locked away and not free to access for any random person.
The film took liberties to highlight the class divide. While Titanic shows the chairman of the White Star Line masquerading as a woman to sneak into a lifeboat, in real life, he exhibited bravery and helped save many lives.
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Another detail that alleviates a little blame from those in charge was that the boat technically did have enough lifeboats, contrary to how it was portrayed. Not nearly enough to save everyone, but they did have the legal minimum.
One misconception that plays a large role in the movie was that people at the time believed the Titanic was in fact unsinkable. Although the ship was undoubtedly impressive, this infallibility was a myth that arose years after its sinking.
Another plot hole was discovered by famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He noticed that the constellations were not consistent with what passengers would have witnessed, so he provided the director with an accurate version for the 3D release of the movie.
On the subject of appearances, the water also would have looked different. Rather than clear and blue, it would have been dark, murky, and filled with nasty sea creatures. While the latter is more accurate, it likely wouldn’t have made for as great cinematography.
At one point, things get dark as Rose considers committing suicide. Jack talks her down in part by telling her a story that never could have happened: he speaks of going ice fishing on a man-made lake that wouldn’t be built for another six years.
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Another piece of nonsense that comes out of Jack’s mouth happens when he speaks longingly of his plans after arriving back on land. Among them? Riding the rollercoaster at the Santa Monica pier, an attraction that also didn’t exist back in 1912.
A true fact that the movie neglected to mention was that the creator of Hershey’s chocolate, Milton Hershey, nearly sailed on the ill-fated vessel. Luckily, for those of us with a sweet tooth, he ultimately decided to take a German liner instead.
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While James Cameron’s rendition is the one everyone remembers, the first Titanic movie was actually way earlier — it was released a mere 29 days after the event itself. Too soon?
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Even earlier, a book was released with some eerie similarities to the deadly crash. It told of a luxury cruise ship that met a devastating fate in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. And this was written before the Titanic was even built!
One thing that wasn’t lost to the wreckage were famous paintings by Monet and Picasso. Although the movie depicts these works of art being on board the liner, in reality they were safe at home with the artists who created them. Phew.
In the movie version of the event, crew members are depicted using flashlights when loading people onto lifeboats. In actuality there were very few lights, and any that were available would have been the property of lucky passengers.
To make the movie feel authentic and true, Cameron gave all of the extras on camera backstories based on the real characters they played and gave them directions on how to react to certain situations.
Reports claim Cameron became very strict while filming the post-ship sinking scenes, even forbidding the actors and actresses from going to the bathroom. Apparently, DiCaprio and Winslet ended up going to the bathroom in the water.
Kate Winslet was not a contender to play the iconic Rose Dewitt Bukater. After reading the script, Winslet begged Cameron to let her play the leading lady. As a thank you for letting her audition, she sent him roses.
In the film, Officer William Murdoch, under extreme pressure, shot several passengers before taking his own life. There are pieces of historical evidence surrounding his existence on the ship, but not of those specific events. James Cameron publicly apologized on Titanic DVD commentary edits to the family of the real-life character.
During the last night of shooting, someone thought it would be funny to play a prank on their crewmates. So naturally, this person laced the clam chowder with PCP. More than 80 people were sent to the hospital with hallucinations. To this day, no one knows who was behind the prank.
For the scene where the water comes rushing into the Grand Staircase room and corridors of the ship, the crew actually released an astronomical amount of water and filmed the destruction. If they messed it up, they would have had to rebuild the entire the set.
The men in the engine room were cast to be around five-feet-tall. They wanted the actors to be on the shorter side so the engine room appeared to be bigger and grander than the set actually was.
During filming, Winslet wore a size-four dress, but during the ship sinking scenes, the costume crew made her wear a size-eight coat. They wanted her to look small in her coat, which would make her appear more vulnerable.
Gloria Stuart played the elderly version of Rose. She was two-years-old when the Titanic sank in 1912, and she passed away in 2010 at the age of 100, which was just one year shy of her character’s age.
The famous scene when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack Dawson, stands at the bow of the Titanic yelling, “I’m king of the world!” was improvised. It was just DiCaprio’s authentic, excited reaction to the moment. The director, of course, kept it.
The wood panel Rose climbs up on in the frigid waters — while leaving poor Jack to freeze to death — is historically accurate. There were real pieces of wood recovered from the wreck; they’re housed in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Nova Scotia. Whether there was actually room for two on that panel is still up for debate.
It cost more to produce Titanic than it did to actually build the infamous cruise liner. In 1912, the RMS Titanic cost around $7.5 million, the equivalent of $120-150 million in 1997. Meanwhile, the production of the movie cost $200 million, which, at the time, was the largest movie budget ever.
Cameron was very particular about every aspect of the movie down to the credits. He wanted an instrumental ballad playing over the credits, but composer James Horner had a different vision that involved Canadian pop star, Céline Dion. The result was the classic song “My Heart Will Go On.”
At the time, DiCaprio had a pet lizard named “Blizzard.” He brought it to set with him, which may not have been the best idea. In a freak accident, Blizzard was hit by a truck on set, but don’t worry — DiCaprio nursed him back to health.
Before the final casting was set, Robert De Niro was offered the role of Captain Smith before dropping out due to an illness. Lindsay Lohan was considered to play the child, Cora. Most importantly, Matthew McConaughey was up for the role as Jack.
During the scenes where Jack is drawing Rose, the hands you see on camera are actually director Cameron’s hands. In fact, Cameron is left-handed and DiCaprio is not, so the footage had to be mirrored in post-production. (If Leonardo DiCaprio was a talented artist, we’d probably know it already).
Anyone who’s seen the movie knows there’s a scene where Rose poses naked while Jack draws her. Knowing this ahead of time, Winslet thought it might be best to get rid of any awkwardness ahead of time. Upon meeting DiCaprio, she flashed him! To this day, the pair is still the best of friends.
To visit the final resting place of the Titanic, Cameron, got funding and organized dives using an unmanned mini-submarine equipped with cameras. He wanted to obtain footage of the ship’s details so that he could perfectly recreate the Titanic.
Although, they did not film in the North Atlantic Ocean waters, the water in which they filmed the scenes was still extremely cold. The reactions the actors had when getting into the water were raw. Winslet declined to wear a wetsuit while filming and ended up getting pneumonia.
When the movie hit theaters, it grossed about $1.84 billion at the box office. The movie was so widely loved and watched that Paramount had to send out replacement reels to theaters because the original ones were worn out.
Sometimes, the mythology surrounding a historical event can overtake the actual facts—and, naturally, our memories of it become confused. When a particular interpretation of events becomes iconic enough, it can be easy to forget what really happened.
1. The Titanic was equipped to carry 64 lifeboats, but it only carried 20: Most people are probably aware that the Titanic was ill-equipped for emergencies—it was “unsinkable,” after all. Yet there’s no excuse for why it didn’t store enough lifeboats.
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2. Chief Baker Charles Joughlin reportedly swam for two hours in freezing waters before he was rescued: Joughlin attributed his survival to the generous amount of whiskey he drank before the Titanic sank.
3. After sideswiping a massive iceberg, it took two hours and 40 minutes for the Titanic to sink beneath the surface: Considering the number of people who lost their lives on that doomed ship, this must have seemed like an agonizingly long time.
4. Thirteen couples were on their honeymoon when the Titanic went under: It’s tragic that what was supposed to be one of the greatest experiences in these couples’ lives turned into a gruesome nightmare. Hopefully more than a few of them managed to survive together.
5. Fourteen years before the Titanic sank, Morgan Robertson wrote a novella, called Futility, about a large, unsinkable ship—the Titan—striking an iceberg in the Northern Atlantic: Even more eerie was the fact that neither ship had enough lifeboats.
6. Musicians played for more than two hours as the ship sank: The fact that the ship’s band continued playing as the doomed liner sank has been well documented, but few realize that, in the effort to boost morale, they were simultaneously awaiting their own deaths.
7. A lifeboat drill was scheduled the day the Titanic sank, but was canceled by Captain Edward John Smith for unknown reasons: This is just one of many examples of how the story of the Titanic was full of fate’s cruel sense of irony.
8. The 15 bulkheads on the “unsinkable” Titanic were individually watertight: The fatal flaw? Water could spill from one compartment into the next, with the weight of the water pulling the ship under.
9. There was a true love story on the Titanic: Isador Straus, co-owner of Macy’s department store, and his wife Ida were first-class passengers. They were married 41 years before passing away arm-in-arm on the sinking ship.
10. The length of the Titanic was 882 feet and nine inches: That’s approximately two-and-a-half football fields from bow to stern! The Titanic was not only notable for being “unsinkable” but for being massive. Still, it’d seem tiny compared to today’s cruise ships.
11. First-class amenities included a Parisian cafe, tea gardens, gymnasium, library, reading and writing rooms, squash court, barbershop, kennel, elevators, smoking room, and a heated swimming pool.
12. A new rust-eating bacteria, Halomonas titanicae, will consume what is left of the Titanic within 20 years: Two decades isn’t a very long time from now, is it? In just one generation, there will hardly be anything left of the Titanic—at least, physically speaking.
13. A passenger who lived through the traumatic fire and sinking of a ship in 1871 faced his fears and boarded the Titanic in 1912. He died with the ship: You’d think karma would’ve rewarded this man for finally overcoming his traumatic experiences, but it was not to be.
14. After striking the iceberg, 60 minutes passed before the first lifeboat was finally released: It’s shocking that it took such a long time before somebody finally decided that this was an emergency situation. It just goes to show how everyone was convinced the ship was “unsinkable.”
15. When the Titanic sank, the temperature of the ocean water was only 28 degrees: That’s four degrees below the freezing point! It’s easy to speculate that more people may have managed to survive had the water not been literally below freezing…
16. The remains of the Titanic were lost for 73 years: The shipwreck wasn’t found until an expedition in 1985 when it was located a whopping 12,500 feet below the surface just off the coast of Newfoundland.
17. The first newspapers to release the story of the Titanic initially reported that no lives were lost: It took two days before an accurate report was released. It may seem shocking, but it’s important to remember that, before the days of the Internet, information was difficult to verify quickly.
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18. The opulent Turkish Bath was designated for first-class passengers only, while more than 700 third-class passengers had to share two bathtubs: The relationship between the rich and the poor was a contentious one, especially in 1912 when the Titanic sank.
19. The richest passenger on board the Titanic was John Jacob Astor IV: Astor’s net worth was around $85 million, or $2 billion today. Astor perished with the ship; he was last seen smoking a cigarette on deck with American journalist Jacques Futrelle.
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20. More than 1,500 passengers died during the sinking of the Titanic, but only 306 bodies were found: There have been plenty of other tragedies throughout history, yet few can match the story of the Titanic when it comes to the grandeur and cruel irony.