ROBINS — In the cold, damp stillness of the early morning — the sky filled with stars and the sea dark as midnight — Barbara and Ron Ritchie of Robins felt a chill race up their spines. It wasn’t just the 41-degree air temperature hovering above the North Atlantic, but the fact that at that exact moment 100 years ago the HMS Titanic was about to become history.
“Silence prevails, interrupted only by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer,” wrote Ron in his own 2012 log. “Wreaths are dropped into the water and small bouquets of flowers are set adrift. As with the Titanic, at 2:17 a.m. our ship’s lights go out. Titanic is breaking apart, her stern rising. She is poised for her final plunge. An eight-piece orchestra, comprised of young German music students carrying instruments duplicating Titanic’s orchestra, comes forward and plays ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’ Silence. It is now 2:20. Titanic has slipped away.”
At that moment Barbara, 65, and Ron, 66, felt eerily like ghosts at sea. They had visited the graves of Titanic victims in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and sailed on the Azamara Journey to the exact longitude and latitude of the Titanic’s demise. They had studied the ship’s history before leaving from New York City; listened to lectures and watched videos on the cruise. Her in a dark blue floor-length dress, he in black tails and bow tie, they had never felt more a part of history.
The sea waves calmed to a gentle swell. The waning quarter moon rose just after 3 a.m. The couple was drawn to the story of the Cedar Rapids couple on the Titanic — Walter Douglas who died on the ship and his wife, Mahala, who survived in one of the lifeboats.
“We didn’t even think about going to bed until 4 a.m.,” Barbara says.
Veterans of 15 cruises including one that took them from Canada to China, the retired Linn-Mar teachers (he in high school social studies; she in the talented and gifted program at Wilkins Elementary) happened upon this one by accident three weeks before it set sail.
“I remembered that this was happening, so on the off chance there might be something available I went on the Internet, “he says. “There it was.”
The original $5,000 per person cruise had been discounted to less than $1,000. They couldn’t resist, especially Ron whose teaching specialty was European History leading up to World War I.
In preparation, the couple visited the Brucemore mansion’s Titanic exhibit, researched copies of The Gazette online and read up on the Titanic. Ron had read Walter Lord’s “A Night to Remember” in the 1950s.
In Halifax, the Ritchies relived the scene of a century ago when the bodies were brought ashore for burial, turning public buildings into temporary morgues. They were fascinated by the gravesite and story of the unknown child (tombstone at right) which was identified last year through DNA testing as 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin who died with his English family. They learned that Walter Douglas’ body had been tagged No. 62 before he was identified and entombed at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.
“As the evening progresses,” Ron wrote, “all on board sense a narrowing of the distance between April 14, 2012, and April 14, 1912.
At 11:40 that night, the ship’s whistle sounded to signify the Titanic hitting the iceberg. For 90 minutes, into the wee hours of April 15, the names were read of the 1,503 people who died. In the chill of the darkness it seemed so real.
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