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April 4, 2012

Titanic's sinking began world's fascination with disasters

(Continued)

For decades that burial spot was unknown, but the discovery of the Titanic in 1985 brought Titanic back to the world's attention. Then a dozen years later, another man raised the Titanic to an even greater fame with a multi-Academy Award winning movie and follow-up documentaries. This was, he said, a parable that the storyteller in him could not ignore.

"It's this great sort of metaphorical novel that actually happened," said "Titanic" director James Cameron. "You can go and visit the wreck and go and see this monument to human folly."

The 882-foot long Titanic steamed from Queenstown, Ireland, on Apr. 11 toward New York, carrying more than 2,200 passengers and crew, more than 130,000 pounds of meat and fish, 1,750 pounds of ice cream, 400 asparagus tongs and only 20 of the 32 lifeboats designed to be on board. The ship ignored more than 30 different ice warnings. At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, The Titanic hit an iceberg and stalled. At 2:20 a.m., it sank.

Before the Titanic, the great Chicago fire, the Galveston hurricane and the San Francisco earthquake attracted America's attention, but "the Titanic hit a nerve in a different way," said Kevin Rozario, a professor of American Studies at Smith College. "It's the dramatic quality of the Titanic."

Everything about the sinking — its speed and the fact that everybody was in one place — added to the drama.

In fact, the Titanic's sinking took about as long as a stage play of that era, noted John Wilson Foster, a Queens University Belfast professor who wrote several Titanic books. "The survivors did say during the sinking it seemed like a play," Foster said.

The public, especially in the past century, has become increasingly fascinated with disasters, especially technological ones. That's because it helps us cope with increased mechanization, risk and deep-rooted questions about what it means to be human, said Rozario, author of the book "Culture of Calamity." He said disasters reflect everyday fears that at we often ignore. When a catastrophe happens, "we see ourselves" in the storylines that play out.

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