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The Titanic and the Paranormal

There are many supposedly haunted places in this world, and most of us may think that these spectral forces gravitate towards dilapidated old houses or scary forests in the middle of nowhere. We have this image of what haunted should be, and most often it all comes down to a place or thing with a tragic history and death orbiting it, through whatever means producing these alleged haunted phenomena. The seas also have plenty of this, and there is perhaps no greater tragedy on the ocean than the deadly sinking of the now infamous Titanic. Here thousands of people died a horrible death, and it should go without saying that this doomed vessel has generated its fair share of strange phenomena over the decades.

When the RMS Titanic set out on its maiden voyage it was considered to be a grand wonder of engineering and the pinnacle of passenger liners, unparalleled in opulent luxury and comfort for its time. A British ship operated by White Star Lines and designed by the architect Thomas Andrews, the RMS Titanic was the largest ship on the seas at the time, just about the largest ship ever, and had the most cutting edge technology and facilities ever seen on a passenger liner. The colossal ship was fitted with all manner of bells and whistles, including fancy radio transmitter equipment, and it was actually one of the fist ships ever to start using the new SOS distress signal, which would replace the signal CQD (come quick, danger). The imposing ship featured revolutionary safety features for its time, including an ingenious system of interlocking compartments and remotely operated watertight doors, among others, and when it inexorably set out from Southampton to New York City on its very first voyage the Titanic was widely touted as being wholly unstoppable and “unsinkable.”

When this behemoth of a ship departed on April 10, 1912, under the command of a Captain Edward Smith, it was to much joyous fanfare and publicity. The Titanic departed with over 2,200 passengers, many of them some of the wealthiest people in the world, and others were emigrants from all over Europe eager to go off to start a new life in the faraway, promised land of the United States. It was a truly historic event, demanding attention, and at the time no one would have thought anything of the fact that despite its advanced safety features it was woefully short of lifeboats, with only enough to carry around 1,178 people under ideal conditions. After all, the lifeboats were just a formality, right? Surely nothing could ever sink the mighty Titanic. Or so they thought, and the rest is history.

The RMS Titanic

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic was making its way through the Atlantic at high speed around 375 miles from the coast of Newfoundland in the early hours of morning when it struck an iceberg that promptly robbed the ship of its popular title of “unsinkable.” Many of the watertight compartments that had been hailed as groundbreaking technology immediately were smashed wide open, and the crippled giant began to sink at a steady rate. In the ensuing panic and chaos, the problem of the lifeboat shortage became painfully apparent, and many of these had the added problem that they were difficult and time consuming to launch. Indeed, many of the scant lifeboats went out into the frigid seas only partially loaded, leaving others to their impending doom. Eventually the gargantuan ship broke apart and plunged down below the waves with an estimated approximately 1,500 people still aboard.

When the another ship called the RMS Carpathia came to the ship’s aid, it was able to rescue around 700 of the survivors, with the rest disappearing down into a watery grave to rest at the bottom down in nearly 13,000 feet of water, where the ship remains to this day. Indeed, for decades the exact location of the wreck remained a mystery in and of itself, with it not being discovered until 1985. The sinking of the RMS Titanic is one of the worst, most tragic maritime disasters in history, and at the time it shocked the world. Since that fateful morning, the Titanic has gone on to become one of the most famous ships to ever ride the seas, and has been the subject of countless films, books, and documentaries. It is by far one of the most well-known wrecks in the world, and it is perhaps no surprise that it has drawn its fair share of tales of the paranormal as well.

Weirdness seems to have hovered around the vessel even before it was even launched. According to an April 12, 2012 Associated Press article, in 1898 the American author Morgan Robertson wrote a novella called Futility, which features in its first half a ship called the Titan, and which besides the similarity of the names of the vessels displays a wide variety of spooky, seemingly prophetic details and uncanny parallels between the fictional Titan and the real Titanic. For instance, both were nearly the same size and could go the same maximum speed of over 20 knots, and both of the ships were deemed unsinkable and were subsequently sunk by hitting icebergs, in mid-April no less. In addition, both lacked enough lifeboats to save all of the passengers, and even the novella’s opening sounds as if it could easily be talking about the Titanic, saying:

She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men. In her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession, and trade known to civilization.

When Futility was first released, it was met with a resounding lack of interest, due to the fact that it is actually not seen as being very good, and Robertson was mostly considered a bit of a hack. The book itself mostly devolved into an improbable tale of survival for the alcoholic protagonist, with Titanic historian Paul Heyer saying of Robertson and his work, “He’s not exactly a great literary stylist. Moralistic tone, implausible situations, poor character development. The only saving grace of the novella is intriguing information about the ship and her fate.” Indeed, it was not until after the historic disaster that the book got any sort of fame or recognition at all. Considering all of these eerie details in a book written years before the real Titanic set sail, in the wake of the disaster it did not go unnoticed, and Robertson was widely hailed as having prophesied the sinking of the ship with some sort of precognitive abilities. This has been explained away by skeptics as being pure coincidence, as Robertson was an avid writer on ships and the sea and Heyer has said of this:

He was someone who wrote about maritime affairs. He was an experienced seaman, and he saw ships as getting very large and the possible danger that one of these behemoths would hit an iceberg.

Whether Robertson was really psychic or not is unknown, but what is known is that this is just the beginning of the weirdness surrounding the Titanic. Considering the sheer loss of life and the traumatic circumstances of the disaster, along with the fact that hundreds of these bodies were never recovered and remained lost at sea, it is perhaps no surprise at all that the very wreck of the Titanic is said to be haunted. There have been numerous reports of ships passing the area of the Titanic’s resting place off Newfoundland seeing glowing or flickering orbs of light both above the water and darting about beneath the waves. This phenomenon is reportedly often accompanied by inexplicable radio interference, and even submarines passing the area of the wreck have apparently had such interference, as well as phantom SOS signals that seem to come from nowhere.

One ship that was passing the site of the wreck even had a sighting of a ghostly apparition said to be a victim of the RMS Titanic. In 1977, the liner SS Winterhaven was passing through and on this evening Second Office Leonard Bishop was showing a passenger around the ship who seemed to be absolutely obsessed with every detail of the vessel. As the tour went on, Bishop noticed that besides this intense interest in his ship there was something off about the quiet, soft-spoken man he was guiding around, but he wasn’t sure what at the time. After the tour, he did not remember seeing the man again, but the strange aura of something not quite right made him memorable, and Bishop would not forget the mysterious stranger’s face. It would not be until years later when Bishop by chance saw a picture and claimed to know the man in it, much to the shock of the person who had showed it to him. It turned out that unbeknownst to Bishop the picture was of Captain Edward John Smith, the captain of the Titanic, who would have been long dead during their tour.

Captain Edward John Smith

The ghost of Titanic captain Edward Smith actually seems to get around, as he has been reportedly seen from time to time on other vessels passing the area of wreck as well, and he is even said to haunt his childhood home in Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, England. The previous house owners, Neil and Louise Bonner, rented the house out for over a decade, and they say that there had been numerous reports from tenants over the years of paranormal activity at the house. Banging, whispers, and other anomalous noises were common, as well as roving colds spots, inexplicable floods in the kitchen, and most shocking of all a full-bodied spectral apparition of Smith himself seen in the bedroom.

In addition to the hauntings of the wreck site and the home of the Titanic’s captain are the numerous hauntings that seem to revolve around artifacts and relics from the wreck, and museum collections with such items tend to be magnets for inexplicable ghostly activity. One of the more active of these is the “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” at The Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, which houses a large array of over 300 items from the sunken ship and is ground zero for a whole plethora of unexplained phenomena. Visitors and staff alike supposedly frequently report strong feelings of being watched or followed, as well as disembodied voices or footsteps, or being poked, prodded, or pushed by unseen hands, in addition to sightings of shadowy apparitions lurking in the halls and corridors. The attraction’s artifact expert Joe Zimmer seems to be particularly tormented by these wayward spirits, claiming that he constantly experiences having his hair or clothes yanked on or his name whispered when no one is there, and he says he has even heard phantom music playing.

One of the more well-known of the apparitions of the Luxor exhibit is apparently the ghost of Frederick Fleet, who was the lookout on the RMS Titanic who had spotted the iceberg that sank the ship and had warned the crew. Although Fleet was one of the survivors of the tragedy, he would forever have feelings of guilt afterwards, and this plus the death of his wife in 1964 drove him to commit suicide by hanging himself at his home in England. Fleet’s spirit has been reported as haunting the Promenade Deck of the exhibition, although why this ghost should appear all the way over in Las Vegas remains unclear. There is also the apparition of a young woman in a black old-fashioned dress and with her hair in a bun who is regularly seen on the premises.

One strange incident with a ghost allegedly happened on the very opening day of the exhibition, when a photographer was getting ready for the event. He claims that as he was setting up he was surprised to see a woman in period clothes come walking down the grand staircase, which was odd because as far as he knew, no one else was supposed to be there and he had not seen anyone else arrive. Thinking that perhaps it was an extra dressed up in period clothing for the purpose of the grand opening he asked her if he could take her photo on the staircase, but she did not say a word, merely standing there in an apparent trance before vanishing into thin air.

Some of the strange incidents at the Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition have apparently been caught on film and audio as well. One example is a strange sequence of events concerning a photo of Bruce Ismay, who was the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line. One morning the staff opened the exhibition to find the photo inexplicably lying on the floor of the entryway and carefully propped against the wall, reportedly still pristine and undamaged. Baffled by how the photo could have possible gotten there during the night, surveillance footage was reviewed, which showed the photo appearing to shake on its own before being taken down and put against the wall as if by unseen hands. Paranormal investigators to the exhibit have captured orbs of light and shadowy images as well, and there have been several EVP recordings made of what appear to be the voices of Titanic victims.

Another collection of Titanic pieces that seems to be haunted is the Titanic Aquatic exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium, in the United States, which also has intense paranormal activity similar to what has been experienced at the Luxor exhibit, including ghost sightings, strange noises, period music from nowhere, and phantom hands grabbing, nudging, or pulling clothes or hair. Spookiest of all is a creepy ghostly old lady who is said to dwell within a replica of one of the Titanic’s cabins in the exhibit, and is not shy about suddenly appearing to startle visitors before blinking away again. Paranormal investigator’s and the Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters have examined the exhibit and found definite signs of paranormal activity, as well as made recordings of EVP phenomena at the site. As to why these ghosts should latch onto these relics from the Titanic, Dianna Avena, founder of Georgia Paranormal, has said:

It just makes sense that, especially with the Titanic exhibit, there would be residual paranormal energy. When you have a strong emotional imprint, there could be some energy attached.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

Perhaps the strangest tale of a haunting related to the Titanic has to do not with any artifact from the doomed ship, but rather a replica of it. Retired architectural draftsman Wyatt Jason Moore, from Portsmouth, Virginia, managed to painstakingly build a 200 lb. model of the RMS Titanic over the course of 9 years and an estimated 17,368 hours of work, which was an ambitious project he became obsessed with after watching the 1958 film A Night to Remember. He began studying numerous old photographs of the Titanic, incorporating every detail he could into his grand vision, and he found himself spending hours and hours a day toiling away on his creation.

The end result was a lifelike replica of the famous ship, accurate right down to each individual stairway and hall. When his masterpiece was finished he decided to take some photos of it and that was when strange things began to happen. As he took his photos, he could hear anomalous noises coming from the massive model sitting in his home, and later mysterious entities began to appear in his shots. He would say of one of the startling images he took:

I couldn’t make it out until I looked at it very carefully and I found it was a bald headed man with a handle bar mustache, and I said to myself, what’s he doing there?

The haunted Titanic replica

In addition to this creepy ghostly man were a spectral man and woman looking out of another porthole just above the lifeboats. At around the same time as these events, Moore says that doors around the house began to mysteriously slam shut or open even when no one else was there, but he says he is not scared of the entities, he just thinks they are lost souls, saying “Maybe it was someone that was aboard the Titanic that found a new home for himself.” Skeptics have been quick to point out that the photos are nothing more than a reflection and trick of light, but Moore insists that the portholes on his model don’t feature glass. Moore has tried to sell the haunted Titanic model on Craigslist, but found no takers, perhaps because of the exorbitant $263,000 asking price, but he hopes that a museum will take it at some point. They might as well, because it seems any museum with genuine paraphernalia from the actual Titanic is haunted anyway.

The fate of the RMS Titanic is one of the worst seagoing tragedies of all time, and it seems somewhat fitting that it too should have its own odd tales of ghosts and hauntings. It is an aspect of the tragedy that does not get much coverage but is nevertheless still out there, lurking in the shadows. Does the fateful sinking of this once glorious vessel and its rusted, decomposed remains infused with the paranormal just as any old haunted house would be? What is going on with these rumors and scary stories? These are perhaps mysteries that we will never really understand, confined to the dark just as the hulk of the Titanic lies sitting down in the murk beyond the light of day.