Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2015-05-12.
The RMS Titanic, the largest and one of the most luxurious ocean liners afloat at the time it entered service was said to be unsinkable. It would collide with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sink on April 15, 1912. One year after, the Seamen's Church Institute would dedicate the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse atop their facility in New York City.
The RMS Titanic was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners built by the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland for the White Star Line. The other two were the Britannic and Olympic. Although all three ships were ordered at the same time, each ship had very different fates.
The Olympic was the first of the three ships to launch and was commissioned on June 14, 1911. Within a year, the ship had collided with the HMS Hawke in the port of Southampton. During World War I, the Olympic was credited with sinking U-103, a German submarine, by ramming it.
On May 15, 1934, the Olympic, while navigating in heavy fog in the trans-Atlantic shipping lanes, collided with LV-117, the Nantucket Lightship, sinking it. The White Star Line would pay the U.S. Government $500,000 restitution, some of which would go towards the construction of LV-112.
The Britannic was launched on February 16, 1914 and with the onset of World War I, was pressed into military duty in 1915 as a hospital ship. While on duty near Greece, it struck a German mine near the island of Kea on November 13, 1915 and sunk.
The Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911 but her commissioning was delayed due to repairs the Olympic. The Titanic left the port of Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York City with some of the most affluent and prominent people of the time. The passenger list included such names as millionaire John Jacob Aster IV and his wife, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, and the owner of Macy's, Isidor Straus.
After a stopover in France and another in Ireland, the Titanic, under the command of Captain Edward John Smith, followed the Irish coast south, past the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse, and headed into the Atlantic Ocean on its way to New York City.
After four days at sea, the vessel received numerous ice warnings in the area off the coast of Newfoundland, but proceed full steam ahead, which was common practice at the time. Despite many close calls with ice, collisions with icebergs weren't usually disastrous.
On April 14, 1912 at 11:40 p.m. (ship's time), the lookout spotted an iceberg ahead and notified the bridge. By the time the information was relayed, and corrective actions were taken, it was too late. The starboard side of the Titanic struck the iceberg, tearing a series of holes below the waterline.
Although the vessel was constructed with a series of watertight compartments which could be sealed off, it could only stay afloat with four compartments compromised, the iceberg had breached five. As the water started flooding in, the Titanic began sinking bow-first.
As the ship was equipped with a wireless communication system invented by Guglielmo Marconi nearly a decade earlier, radio operator, Jack Phillips began sending out "CQD" followed by "MGY." British vessels still commonly used "CQD," which was intended to mean "All stations - Urgent." However, may people interpreted it as "come quick: distress." MGY was the radio call sign of the Titanic.
The signal was received at many lighthouses along the eastern seaboard of North America and as far south as the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The first station to pick up the signal was Cape Bear Lighthouse in Newfoundland, Canada.
Thirty minutes later, the signal was received again, this time it was upgraded to the international distress signal, "SOS." Again, followed by the Titanic's call sign, MGY. Although the wireless operators initially thought it was a hoax, they followed the protocol and began sending out messages to every ship in the area.
As it became clear that the ship was sinking, passengers began moving towards the lifeboats. Due to outdated maritime safety regulations, there were enough lifeboats for 1,178 people, about half the number of passengers aboard.
To make matters worse, the ship's crew hadn't been adequately trained to carry out an evacuation and didn't know how many passengers the lifeboats could safely handle, thus many ended up being launched barely half-full.
At 2:20 a.m. (ship's time), the Titanic slipped below the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean. Anyone not aboard a lifeboat was plunged into 28° water, most likely leading to cardiac arrest. Those in the lifeboats weren't guaranteed survival as the air temperature was near freezing that night, and as it was the overnight hours, most would have been ill-prepared for extremely cold weather.
The RMS Carpathia received the Titanic's wireless distress call and arrived on scene around 4 a.m. The ship was able to pick up 710 survivors and transport them to New York, the Titanic's destination. With the sinking of the Titanic, just over 1,500 passengers and crew would lose their lives, making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.
Ironically, the following day in New York City, at the corner of South Street and Coenties Slip, the cornerstone of the Seaman's Church Institute was being laid for their new 12-story headquarters. As the building was under construction, it was decided that a memorial lighthouse would be erected atop the building, overlooking the harbor where the Titanic would have docked, had it arrived.
One year later, on April 15, 1913, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse erected atop the Seaman's Church Institute was dedicated. The lighthouse displayed a fixed green light and was visible for twelve miles. It was said to be visible at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
A time-ball was later added and became operational on November 1, 1913. This was a way for ships to synchronize their chronometers while in port. At 11:59 a.m., the 200 pound, 4-foot diameter, bronze-framed ball was hoisted to the top of a 16-foot hollow rod atop the lighthouse. Once at the top, it was held in place by an electric magnet.
At that same time, a series of electric time signals started to come through the telegraph lines from the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. At exactly noon, the final signal would cut the current to the magnet, releasing the ball to glide down the shaft.
For almost fifty years, a memorial service was held at the Seaman's Church Institute every April 15th. The Seaman's Church Institute moved out of the building in 1965 in favor of a smaller office. The new owners decided to take the building down. In July of 1968, the demolition began.
On July 24, 1968, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was lowered to the ground. Kaiser-Nelson Steel and Salvage Corporation, the company hired to the do the demolition, donated the lighthouse to the South Street Seaport Museum.
The lighthouse sat on its side at the museum for numerous years until funds provided by the Exxon Corporation allowed the museum to have it erected at its current location at Pearl and Fulton Streets in Lower Manhattan in 1976.
In a city the size of New York, you have to wonder how many people walk by the lighthouse daily, never giving it a second thought, or thinking of all the people that perished that fateful night.
Directions: The lighthouse stands at the corner of Pearl and Fulton Streets in Lower Manhattan.
Access: The lighthouse is owned by the South Street Seaport Museum. The grounds are open, tower closed.View more Titanic Memorial Lighthouse pictures