Conspiracy Theories- Titanic Urban Legends
The first wave of Titanic mania, the immediate aftermath of the disaster, was impelled by the puzzles and unanswered questions and inquiries into the affair. Some of these hardened into conspiracy theories
, and such theories can be an oblique expression of collective anxiety or of the need for scapegoats.
That J. Bruce Ismay
conspired with Captain Smith
recklessly to sail the ship at maximum speed was one such theory. That crew members conspired to prevent steerage passengers from reaching the lifeboat deck was another. Ismay’s motive has not been proven, while steerage passengers who testified at the American Senate investigation thought that one locked gate did not amount to systematic obstruction of steerage passengers’ right to life.
That the Marconi Company may have conspired to suppress eye-witness accounts of the tragedy that did not emanate from its own news service is likelier.
The second wave of Titanic mania that occurred in the 1950s (impelled by Walter Lord’s classic book, A Night to Remember, and the movie it inspired) had more to do with an American and British nostalgia for the alleged certainty and glamour before the modern age than with scepticism or recrimination.
With the third wave, which appeared during searches for the wreck, and its successful discovery in 1985, has come the return of conspiracy theories. It has been suggested that the ship-builders knowingly worked from flawed designs and with inadequate materials.
One of the more bizarre conspiracy theories, concocted in 1995, was that the owners of the ship had switched a damaged Olympic for Titanic and deliberately scuttled Olympic (through collision with an iceberg) in order to secure the larger insurance compensation should Titanic sink. True, there was a brief suspicion that a cruelly untrue cable from the White Star Line to its owners claiming that Titanic was steaming towards Halifax with all its passengers safe was a stalling device so that the ship could be re-insured.
But by 1995, conspiracy theories had become media sales pitches rather than serious investigative journalism or scholarship.