Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Look Out! Titanic Books Ahead!

16 x 65 = ?

You might consider this the most tragic multiplication problem anyone has ever had to solve. Of course members of the crew knew the answer. They knew there were not enough lifeboats to save everyone on board the ship that cold April night on the North Atlantic.

It has been 99 years, 7 months, and 21 days since the Titanic was lost. On April 15th, 2012, the 100th Anniversary of this tragedy will be acknowledged around the world. The legends, the mysteries, the quest to find her, are just a few of the reasons we are still fascinated with her a century later.

“The Titanic had been built to be the largest, safest ship in the world. It was as long as four city blocks and as tall as an eleven-story building.” [show pic] Many declared the ship unsinkable. It even had a double skin in case the outer layer was ever pierced by anything resembling something like a small iceberg. So why did it happen? Why did the unsinkable ship meet with such a tragic end?

16 x 65 =

The original plan for the Titanic called for 48 lifeboats. This number was later trimmed to 32. Since no one could imagine any circumstance that would cause the massive ship to sink, the number was later reduced to 16. [show pic] Fewer lifeboats meant additional space for more luxury suites in 1st class. [show pic] Just one 1st class ticket on the Titanic could bring in over $100,000, in today’s dollars. One of the men responsible for placing monetary concerns over safety was Bruce Ismay. He was the managing director of the White Star Line-the company that owned the Titanic.

[use masking tape to show outline of a lifeboat, 30ft. by 9ft] [ask for volunteers to sit inside the lifeboat]

Bruce Ismay probably tried to block the answer to 16 x 65 from his mind the night the Titanic sank. After hitting the iceberg, the Captain had given the order: "Women and Children First!" Yet, Ismay somehow found a seat in one of the few lifeboats available. While the ship’s musicians bravely played on, sacrificing their lives to comfort the souls of those left behind, Ismay deliberately sat facing away from the sinking ship. As lifeboats were ordered to row away from the Titanic, wives and children watched in horror as their husbands and fathers clung to life. Ismay refused to watch as the struggle over life and death played out behind him.

16 = number of lifeboats available.

65 = number of people each lifeboat could hold.

16 x 65 = 1,040

1040 was the total number of people all 16 wooden lifeboats* were certified to carry, but there were over 2,000 people on the ship. This is why 16 x 65 is so tragic. The answer to 16 x 65 equaled certain death for at least half of those on board, if not more.

After hearing news that icebergs were in the vicinity some of the survivors later claimed that Bruce Ismay had ordered the Captain to go faster. Some believe that Ismay was more concerned with showing off the Titanic’s speed than with protecting the lives of those onboard. In 2010, a granddaughter of one of the crew members even claimed that Ismay was the one that told the Captain not to slow the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. If the Titanic had stopped immediately after the collision she might have stayed afloat much longer. This would have saved many more lives.

The more you learn about the sinking of the Titanic the more you might be surprised by how many things had to go wrong in order for this tragedy to occur. Could a simple pair of binoculars avoided the disaster completely? Could more lives been saved if someone on a nearby ship stayed awake a little longer? Ironically, the waters of the North Atlantic were so calm the night of April 14, 1912, that this factor alone may have led to an unstoppable chain of events.

16 x 65 = 1040, but did you know only 726 people survived.

Why weren’t the lifeboats filled to capacity? Why were some of the lifeboats actually ordered to row away from the Titanic instead of staying to rescue more lives? And, what about Bruce Ismay? Should we really hold him responsible for what happened that night?

If you like dramatic stories of survival, if you would like to try to puzzle out for yourself who or what was really to blame, then I would start with: Iceberg Right Ahead! By Stephanie McPherson, and, Titanic Sinks! By Barry Deneberg. Both books will convince you that it really was a night to remember.

*There were also 4 collapsable lifeboats onboard as well, but the total number of lifeboats still fell far short of what was needed.
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