My newest YA sci-fi novel, Invictus, follows the adventures of a crew of time traveling thieves, who steal antiquities from history and fence them on the futuristic black market. Of course, time traveling is a risky endeavor, since changing history could have unpleasant ramifications. In an attempt to leave no footprint, Farway and his team only steal items that won’t be missed, ones that were destroyed by people or acts of God. These parameters meant that the RMS Titanic was a perfect place for my characters to pull a heist.
As I write in Invictus: “The sinking of the Titanic was tragic in the most magnetic of ways.” I think this holds true for many people. (Why else would James Cameron’s film gross over $2 billion dollars worldwide?) I felt this draw even as a child, reading everything I could on the ocean liner’s demise. When I decided to send my time travelers back to April 14th, 1912, I thought nothing in my Titanic research would surprise me.
Spoiler: history always holds surprises. Here five facts—sad and weird and strange—I learned about the Titanic while planning my heist.
The “cursed” Rubaiyat: My characters needed to steal something valuable and irreplaceable that went down with the ship, and the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” fit the bill perfectly. This particular version of the Persian poem collection was bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe bookbinders in London, and was valued at £4000. It sold at auction for half that, and its first attempt to be shipped to the US saw it rejected at customs. The second attempt was on the Titanic. After this edition sank with the ship another was made, but destroyed in London during the Blitz in World War Two. Thus, many people claim the book was cursed.
Who needs binoculars? Not the Titanic’s lookouts, apparently. Neither Frederick Fleet or Reginald Lee were in possession of binoculars during their shift in the crow’s nest on the fateful night of April 14th. Fleet later testified that if he’d had a pair, they might have seen the iceberg soon enough to get out of the way.
The Titanic was running drugs: The only items recorded in the Titanic’s Specie Room (where the ship’s most valuable luggage is supposed to be held) were four parcels of opium. It was made illegal in the US around 1909.
Booze saves lives: The Titanic’s chief baker, Charles Joughin, stayed on the ship with a bottle in hand until it was completely submerged. When he was plunged into the Atlantic’s icy waters, there was enough alcohol in his blood to ward off the onset of hypothermia. By the time daylight broke, he was still alive, and was rescued by one of the returning life boats.
Chorus of the Damned: There were eight musicians employed by the Titanic, who, up until the night of the sinking, played in two separate groups. When the severity of their situation became apparent, they retrieved their instruments and began performing on the deck to keep passengers calm as they boarded the lifeboats. All eight players went down with the ship, their songs continuing until the water claimed them.
Bio: Ryan Graudin is the author of six novels, including the Carnegie nominated Wolf By Wolf duology. Her most recent book Invictus chronicles the adventures of time traveling thieves. She resides near Charleston, South Carolina with her husband and wolf-dog. You can find her online at www.ryangraudin.com.
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