The Titanic sank more than a century ago, but its story of tragedy and heroism haunts us to this day. From the ship's most incredible artifacts to the real stories behind the classic 1997 film, the legacy of the Titanic lives on.
Though the fateful journey of the Titanic came to an end more than 100 years ago, on April 15, 1912, its story did not.
In the century-plus since its sinking, the Titanic has become a legend in both history and popular culture — in no small part thanks to James Cameron’s 1997 film. Jack and Rose were, of course, entirely fictional, but the film did feature some of the key figures from the ship’s story, including Captain Edward Smith, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Charles Joughin, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, and violinist Wallace Hartley.
So where did the film and the real-life story diverge?
In truth, the film stayed true to many of the Titanic‘s stories. In one scene, viewers see an elderly couple holding each other in bed as water fills their cabin. This couple is based on the tragic true story of Ida and Isidor Straus. Isidor was the co-founder of Macy’s and a former U.S. Congressman, and he and his wife died on the Titanic. As the wealthy couple stood on the deck during the evacuation, Ida’s turn came to board a lifeboat. But when she was told that her husband wouldn’t be allowed to join her, she gave her fur coat to her maid and refused to leave him, saying: “Where you go, I go.”
The film also included a scene in which Jack breaks down a door, and a Titanic steward tells him he’ll have to pay for it. This too was based on a real-life incident. During the actual sinking, a young passenger named R. Norris Williams broke down a stuck door, freeing passengers who were trapped on the other side. Just like in the film, a Titanic steward told him that he would report him to the White Star Line for damages.
And just as the film depicts, the Titanic left a trove of remarkable artifacts on the seafloor. They include bandleader Wallace Hartley’s violin and the elusive binoculars, allegedly locked in a cupboard, which may have helped the ship avert disaster if the lookouts had had them.
Also recovered was the whistle of Officer Harold Lowe. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Lowe sprang into action. He warned people of danger, got passengers into lifeboats, and even became the only officer to turn back toward the sinking ship in order to rescue more people. In the end, he became widely known as the “hero of the Titanic.”