Off the Press

April 10, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Warren Kagarise Press reporter

A century after disaster, Titanic still captivates

Long before “Titanic” the film — and long before every member of my generation and I thronged to the multiplex for repeated screenings — at age 6, I discovered a book in my school library about the disaster.

Captivated, I sought out everything I could about the doomed ocean liner — a morbid fascination for a first-grader, for sure. Other disasters piqued my interest — Hindenburg, Lusitania, et al — but only the Titanic remained a full-blown obsession.

I leafed through oceanographer Robert Ballard’s “The Discovery of the Titanic” so often the spine started to disintegrate. I used more care to handle the National Geographic issue about the discovery — December 1985, pilfered from my grandparents’ meticulously curated collection.

In Don Lynch, a pre-eminent Titanic historian based in Los Angeles, I found a kindred spirit.

Lynch is due in Issaquah on June 16 to discuss the Titanic at a Kiwanis Club of Issaquah fundraiser. In the meantime, I interviewed him about the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, April 15. (Readers can find the complete account on Page B1.)

Lynch remembered reading the seminal “A Night to Remember” and seeing early films about the disaster.

For the centennial, he is completing a book about Cameron’s expeditions to the shipwreck and plans to introduce the restored 1958 film “A Night to Remember” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for Turner Classic Movies.

I asked Lynch about how the September 1985 discovery changed ideas about the tragedy and the shipwreck.

“It was really exciting to see the ship, for the first time ever, to know what it looked like,” he told me. “We had fantasies of it being in wonderful condition because of the oxygen-free environment.”

Lynch advised filmmaker James Cameron on the blockbuster 1997 film.

Cameron allowed Lynch to explore the sets, a series of spaces unseen since Titanic slipped beneath the North Atlantic a century ago.

“You could walk out of Rose’s suite, down the corridor, down the Grand Staircase, through the reception room, into the dining room and never know you were on a movie set because all four walls, the ceiling, floor, everything was there,” Lynch said.

I listened enviously.

In 2001, Lynch accomplished the ultimate adventure for a Titanic buff and descended the 12,500 feet to the shipwreck. Explorers board cramped submersibles for the slow drop to the bottom. The sunlight fades fast and bioluminescent organisms outside the portholes emit a ghostly glow.

The expedition — to film the 2003 3-D documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” — mingled history and Hollywood. Actor Bill Paxton — no stranger to close scrapes from “Aliens,” “Twister” and “Apollo 13” — settled into the submersible, too.

“He had told Gloria Stuart” — elderly Rose in “Titanic” — “he was diving, and she just lit into him about how he had children at home and how he had no business putting his life in jeopardy,” Lynch said.

The pressure at the same depth as the shipwreck is intense enough to crush a Ping Pong ball flat in less than a second.

“To me, seeing where things landed was spectacular,” Lynch said, “just seeing a suitcase or a washbasin or a doll’s head right where it landed versus seeing them behind glass in a museum.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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