NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shipwrecks and maritime disasters have always captivated the public imagination and none more so than the luxury liner RMS Titanic, which sank on her maiden voyage one hundred years ago this year.
With the loss of 1,517 lives on April 15, 1912, three hours after the ship struck an ice berg, the real life tales of love and heroism spawned a legend and fascination which shows no sign of abating.
“TITANIC: The Tragedy That Shook the World,” by the editors of LIFE at Time Home Entertainment Inc, includes photos and stories of the ship and many of those characters that have kept the public enthralled since the sinking.
“Some of the richest people in the world board in France, some of the poorest people in the world board in Ireland, and a mix survive,” said Robert Sullivan, managing editor of LIFE Books in New York City. “It turns out to be an extraordinary variety of stories.”
The book begins with the construction of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic as one of three sister ships built by the White Star line to usher in a new era of opulent sea travel.
It offered the finest accommodations to first-class passengers such as New York notables John Jacob Astor IV, his pregnant wife Madeleine, and Benjamin Guggenheim on its first sailing from Southampton, England to New York, via Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland.
They were joined by lesser lights such as Margaret, now popularly referred to as “Molly”, Brown. Born in Missouri to Irish immigrants, Brown’s husband, from whom she had separated by the time of the voyage, had made a fortune in mining.
Other people traveled in less luxurious quarters, including Clear Annie Cameron, a 35-year old personal maid in London seeking her opportunity in America.
For many, the separation of class and wealth ended when the Titanic sank beneath the waves. There are no photographs of the Titanic’s final moments.
But included in the book are remarkable images taken by an Irish Cleric Father Frank Browne who boarded the boat in Southampton, traveled to Cherbourg and then disembarked in Queenstown, the ship’s final departure point before it headed across the Atlantic.
They offer perhaps the only public glimpse into ship board life aboard the Titanic.
The book also details the ill-fated and random rendezvous with the ice berg, the attempts to get help using then state-of-the-art radio, and ultimately the horror as hundreds of passengers realized there were too few lifeboats and in allowing women and children first, many men would die.
Among them Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s department store. Alongside him his wife of 40-years, Ida, who decided they should die together.
“What do you do in the moment of truth?,” said LIFE‘S Sullivan. “These stories, you can’t make them up.”
Hundreds of passengers in the few available lifeboats were rescued by the Carpathia, captained by Arthur Henry Rostron, only hours after the sinking. But too many died in the icy Atlantic.
The book concludes with photographs from various expeditions taken after the wreck was discovered after 73 years in 12,460 feet of water.
“Its durability is to do with how true much of it is.” said Sullivan. “It will be remembered not for 100 years but for 200 years.”
And of those souls who set sail on the Titanic’s only voyage.
New York society lost Astor and Guggenheim, the latter according to lore accepting his fate in high style in wearing his finest dinner wear as he smoked a cigar and drank cognac.
The rags-to-riches “Molly” Brown gained further fame for taking an oar of her life boat.
And Clear Annie Cameron? The London maid arrived in New York where she did indeed find new opportunity, as a maid.
Reporting By Nick Olivari; editing by Patricia Reaney