Last week when I was a visiting author at an elementary school, a second grader raised her hand and asked, “Is your Titanic book based on the movie?”
For many kids, James Cameron’s movie (being re-released in 3D for the Titanic’s 100th anniversary) is the only Titanic story they know. The romance in the film is fictitious. But I think Cameron was right to make it the heart of his film. For the actual disaster was full of so many real, heartbreaking love stories.
Take Harvey and Charlotte Collyer, a young couple with an eight-year-old daughter, Marjorie. The family was setting out for a new life on an Idaho farm to help improve Charlotte’s health. After the Titanic left Southampton on April 10, it stopped briefly the next day in Queenstown to pick up more passengers – and drop off any mail passengers had written. Harvey sent a cheery postcard to his folks back home in England, and you can just feel his excitement:
“My dear Mum and Dad, It don’t seem possible we are out on the briny writing to you. Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent…like a floating town. …We will post again at New York…lots of love don’t worry about us.”
When the Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday night, April 14, Harvey left the cabin to investigate and returned to tell Charlotte, “’What do you think…We have struck an iceberg, a big one, but there is no danger, an officer just told me so.’”
But soon they heard footsteps scurrying in the passage and went up on deck. As the lifeboats were being loaded, Charlotte hung back, clinging to Harvey’s arm. All around her the sailors were shouting, “Women and children first!”
The words “struck utter terror into my heart and now they will ring in my ears until the day I die,” she said later.
Finally a sailor grabbed Marjorie and threw her into a boat. Charlotte had to be physically torn from her husband. “A man seized me by the arm then another threw both his arms about my waist and dragged me away…”
Harvey tried to reassure her: “Go Lotty, for God’s sake be brave and go! I’ll get a seat in another boat.”
These were the last words Charlotte heard him say. The next morning on the rescue ship, the Carpathia, she searched desperately among the 712 survivors for one face. “He was not there.”
It would be up to Charlotte to write to Harvey’s parents. A week later she addressed her mother-in-law, “My dear Mother, I don’t know how to write to you or what to say. I feel I shall go mad sometimes but dear as much as my heart aches it aches for you too for he is your son and the best that ever lived…Oh mother how can I live without him…he was so calm…The agony of that night can never be told…I haven’t a thing in the world that was his only his rings. Everything we had went down.”
Charlotte died from tuberculosis two years later.
- Deborah Hopkinson
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, a non-fiction book for Young Adults published 4/1/2012 by Scholastic, as well as several other books for children. To learn more about Deborah, please visit her website.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Critically acclaimed nonfiction author Deborah Hopkinson pieces together the story of the TITANIC and that fateful April night, drawing on the voices of survivors and archival photographs.
Scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the TITANIC, a topic that continues to haunt and thrill readers to this day, this book by critically acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson weaves together the voices and stories of real TITANIC survivors and witnesses to the disaster -- from the stewardess Violet Jessop to Captain Arthur Rostron of the CARPATHIA, who came to the rescue of the sinking ship. Packed with heartstopping action, devastating drama, fascinating historical details, loads of archival photographs on almost every page, and quotes from primary sources, this gripping story, which follows the TITANIC and its passengers from the ship's celebrated launch at Belfast to her cataclysmic icy end, is sure to thrill and move readers.