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Titanic Revisited
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Titanic Revisited @ National Geographic Magazine
Photograph courtesy of the Institute for Exploration/Institute for Archaeological Oceanography,
University of Rhode Island (IFE/IAO)
By Robert D. Ballard

Fortune hunters, tourists, and time have made the seafloor wreck site a titanic mess. The man who found the famous ship 19 years ago returns to survey the damage.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

The debris field hit me hardest. Here in that ghostly expanse of seafloor 350 miles (560 kilometers) off Newfoundland, the people who died during the frigid early hours of April 15, 1912, spoke to me again.

A case of champagne lay on the bottom, its bottles still corked—a reminder of Titanic's role as a floating palace of the rich and powerful. The box holding the bottles had long ago disappeared, consumed by wood-eating mollusks. Next to them were tiles decorated with a red-and-white design, possibly from a public room. Suddenly my eye was drawn to a woman's shoe, lying on its side. Nearby were three large combs and a pair of smaller shoes that may have belonged to a child. And beside them was a hand mirror.
How did these objects find themselves together on the bottom? Did the larger shoe belong to a mother, who combed her daughter's beautiful long hair? What did the girl's face look like that may once have been reflected in this mirror? A short distance away were more shoes, a pair from a young girl, and another pair near what looked to me like a sailor's black slicker. A pair of shoes cannot fall 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) by themselves and land like this. Their journey was together.
It had been 19 years since I'd discovered Titanic as part of a French-American team. I'd come back to see how she'd changed. I knew that a private salvage company, RMS Titanic, Inc., had dived on her many times, legally removing thousands of objects from what I consider a sacred grave. Russian submarines had taken Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron and others to the wreck, also breaking no laws but reportedly colliding with the hull. Cruise ships had circled the site while RMS Titanic, Inc. tried to raise a 20-ton piece of the ship. A beer company had sponsored sweepstakes to watch the salvagers recover bottles of ale. And a New York couple had even plunked down on Titanic's bow in a submersible to be married. It was all such a comedy—exactly what I had hoped would not happen. I'd urged others to treat Titanic's remains with dignity, like that shown the battleship Arizona in Pearl Harbor. Instead they'd turned her into a freak show at the county fair.

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Titanic Book offer

Online Extra
Zoom in on the decayed deck of the doomed ship and maneuver across it inch by inch, including the grand staircase.

Relive Titanic's collision with the iceberg and its sinking.

Explore the remains of the Titanic in this underwater video.

Robert Ballard, one of Titanic's discoverers, believes its wreckage and debris field should be left undisturbed. How do you think Titanic should be memorialized?

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
One of the greatest marine disasters of all time, Titanic's fate continues to haunt people around the world 92 years after it sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic, leaving more than 1,500 dead. The despair and anger over the loss of life was felt around the world, with many outraged that the ship did not have enough lifeboats. Titanic's lifeboat capacity was dictated by the British Board of Trade's rules, which had been drafted 18 years earlier, when ships of Titanic's size did not exist. By 1912 the regulations were badly out of date. And although the shipping industry was aware that these rules would most likely be updated to a "boats for all" policy, shipowners were hesitant to provide additional boats because they took up space, were expensive, and could suggest to passengers that the ships were unsafe.
The Titanic had only enough lifeboats for a little more than half the people on board, actually exceeding the requirements by more than 17 percent. The ship was required to carry 16 lifeboats, but had four collapsible boats, allowing space for 1,178. Only 705 were saved, however, because of the reluctance of many passengers to leave the ship, believing it was unsinkable and that other ships would soon arrive to help. Almost all of the lifeboats were released with space aboard for other passengers.
—Cate Lineberry
Did You Know?

Related Links
Titanic Historical Society
Learn more about the society dedicated to preserving Titanic's history.
Encyclopedia Titanica
Explore the lives of Titanic's passengers and crew.
RMS Titanic, Inc.
Discover some of the 6,000 artifacts salvaged by RMS Titanic, Inc., and learn more about the company's expeditions to Titanic.


Ballard, Robert D. The Discovery of the Titanic. Madison Publishing, 1987.
Eaton, John P., and Charles A. Haas. Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy. W. W. Norton and Company, 1986.
Lynch, Don. Titanic: An Illustrated History. Hyperion, 1992.


NGS Resources
Ballard, Bob. "The Search for PT-109." National Geographic (December 2002), 78-89.

Mandel, Peter. "What Really Sank the Titanic?" National Geographic World (April 2002), 26-8.
Ballard, Robert D. Adventures in Ocean Exploration: From the Discovery of the Titanic to the Search for Noah's Flood. National Geographic Books, 2001.
Pickford, Nigel. Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century. National Geographic Books, 1999.
MacInnis, Joseph B. "Titanic: Tragedy in Three Dimensions." National Geographic (August 1998), 120-7.
Kirkpatrick, Jennifer A. "I survived the Titanic." National Geographic World (July 1996), 24-9.
Ballard, Robert D. "A Long Last Look at the Titanic." National Geographic (December 1986), 698-727.
Ballard, Robert D., and Michel, Jean-Louis. "How We Found Titanic." National Geographic (December 1985), 696-719.


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