Who doesn’t love the 1997 film Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as star-crossed lovers forced to face an unthinkable fate? It has everything an Oscar-winning movie should: beautiful costumes, high-stakes drama, romance and deadly tragedy. While the characters were fictional, the story is based on a very real tragedy. A supposedly unsinkable ship hits an iceberg and sinks, killing nearly everyone on board. But is this actually the truth? You’d be surprised by the conspiracy theorists that insist other forces – and people – were behind the ghastly event.
April 15, 2018 marks 106 years since the horrific sinking, yet people all over the world are still fascinated by Titanic. To commemorate the anniversary of this tragic event and to honor the way in which it still continues to take hold of our imaginations, we’re taking a look at the surprising alternate theories around how and why the famed ship ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the loss of over 1,500 souls.
1. The “fire in the coal bunker” theory
Ten days before Titanic left Southampton, England, for a voyage to New York, a fire started in one of the ship’s coal bunkers — something that was common on coal-fueled ships because freshly mined coal could spontaneously combust. Irish author Senan Molony claims that the fire weakened the ship’s hull, making it particularly brittle, saying, “The anomaly is exactly the place where it struck the iceberg.” In other words, the ship would have survived hitting the iceberg if the hull hadn’t been weakened by fire damage.
If you’re still skeptical, take a look at further evidence in Molony’s documentary Titanic: The New Evidence.
2. Titanic was switched with her sister ship, the RMS Olympic
In his book Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank? Robin Gardiner refers to Titanic‘s sister ship, the RMS Olympic, which had a nearly identical exterior. The Olympic was a couple years older than the Titanic and had collided with a Royal Navy warship, the HMS Hawke, in 1911, destroying a propeller blade and causing the vessel to tilt to the left. But the insurance company, Lloyds of London, refused to pay for the damages, claiming the Hawke was responsible for the crash.
The White Star Line faced serious financial losses. So, Gardiner speculates, an insurance scam was put into place. He suggests that Olympic was patched up and secretly rebranded as Titanic, whose completion had been delayed. Olympic would set sail as Titanic and be sunk during the voyage so the shipping company could collect the full insurance money. Once the real Titanic was completed, it would then quietly take the name of the Olympic.
Gardner states that witnesses reported the Titanic did, in fact, tilt to the left and that only a few easily removable items like the life rafts bore Titanic‘s name, making for an easy switch. To sink the ship, valves would be opened, allowing the ship to take on water. How would passengers and crew survive? A nearly empty rescue ship, Californian, would be stationed nearby to rescue them.
So, what went wrong? According to Gardiner, something shocking happened. He says the ship disguised as Titanic didn’t hit an iceberg; instead, it hit the Californian, which was resting in the wrong spot with its lights off! That’s why there was no nearby ship to quickly rescue the passengers and crew.
To further support Gardiner’s theory, he points out that several high-profile guests booked on the Titanic — J.P. Morgan, owner of the shipping line’s parent company, banker Horace J. Harding and billionaire George Washington Vanderbilt — all canceled their trips, implying they knew of the plan to sink the ship for the insurance money.
3. J.P. Morgan purposefully had Titanic sunk
Financier J.P. Morgan was a huge supporter of creating the Federal Reserve to implement monetary policy and serve as a lender to banks in crisis. But many wealthy and influential people, such as John Jacob Astor IV, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Straus, were fiercely opposed to having a Federal Reserve. The theory goes that Morgan, after learning that all three men had booked passage on the Titanic, canceled his own voyage and had the ship sunk to eliminate them. Indeed, Astor, Guggenheim and Straus all died in the shipwreck. Sounds extreme, but Morgan was known as a difficult, blustery man. One man said that a visit from Morgan felt “as if a gale had blown through the house.”
Perhaps we’ll never know what actually happened on that frigid night in 1912, but one thing is certain: We’ll never forget the RMS Titanic and the souls lost in the sinking. In fact, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is funding the construction of Titanic II, an exact replica of Titanic that will set sail later in 2018. The new ship will reportedly enforce Titanic‘s rigid class system and provide period clothing for all its passengers to create an eerie re-staging of the doomed voyage. This may be the worst account of tempting fate we’ve ever heard, but thanks to changes in safety practices since 1912, Titanic II will have enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone on board this time around. All aboard!