Thursday, March 28, 2013

SPECIAL = The "Titanic" Violin?

(Above: Wallace Hartley plays to the last in the 1997 film "Titanic")

"Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
 E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
 Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
 Nearer to Thee!"

This is the tune which many of the survivors of the sinking of the R.M.S. "Titanic" recall being played by the ships "Band" as that ill-fated luxury liner sunk beneath the icy waves of the North Atlantic Ocean that night, April 15 in 1912.  And recently news reports stated that the very violin upon which Band Leader Wallace Hartley lead his fellow musicians in that final, sorrowful selection  had in fact surfaced, been authenticated, and was soon to be auctioned.  As I was busy with other things when this story was first reported on March 15 (and because my computer was being serviced at that time), I was unable to make this Special Posting at that time.  So now that I have my computer back, I sat down to write out the story for you. all of my "Today in History" readers. But this just goes to demonstrate that History is constantly alive, constantly being revised, rewritten, and re-hashed. Because no sooner had I "Googled" in search of an account of this story than I found myself looking at an article calling the whole thing into question.  So, in order to update you on the situation, here is the relevant portion of an article on the find in the New York Post :

"The instrument was found inside a leather valise, engraved with Hartley’s initials, that was strapped to his body.  The violin, an engagement gift from Hartley’s fiancĂ©e, Maria Robinson, was submerged in the salt water for 10 days, until his body was recovered.  After Robinson died, her sister donated the valise, with the violin and Hartley’s cigarette case and gold ring, to the Salvation Army.  From there, it was given to a music teacher, who then gave it to another amateur musician, the mother of the current seller.  Her son — the current, anonymous owner — found the cracked violin in her attic in 2006.Philadelphia lawyer Craig Sopin, 55, who owns the largest collection of Titanic memorabilia, said he’s interested in buying the relic.“I am satisfied that it is the violin that was on the deck of the Titanic,” he said."

Here now is the relevant portion of an article by Norman Lebrecht on his Blog "Slipped Disc" :

"The Titanic in Lancashire Museum has poured a bucket of iced water on widespread claims that Wallace Hartley’s violin was saved from the Titanic, an assertion made by British auctioneers and repeated by much of the world’s press.
Nigel Hampson, curator of the Colne museum, says: ‘The historical record does not show that Wallace was recovered with his violin strapped to his body – it actually proves the opposite. The inventory of items recovered on Wallace’s body makes no mention whatsoever of a violin or music case or anything similar being found with him.’ "

The article by Mr. Lebrecht goes on to discuss the fact that no violin was listed among the personal effects found with Mr. Hartley's remains.  And a look at that listing does indeed lack any listing of a  violin: ; one can see the jewelry, the cigarette case, the coins.. even the clothes right down to the socks.  But no violin is listed. Nevertheless, Andrew Aldridge spent seven years researching the violin, and indeed has a leather case in which the violin was carried, which was then said to have been strapped to Wallace Hartley, and which is said to have been recovered with Mr. Hartley's remains.  And the leather (pictured above) case has Hartley's initials on it.

Questions About the Violin.....
In the ensuing discussion on Mr. Lebrecht's Blog, several very interesting points are raised, including one that had occurred to me: wouldn't a violin that had been soaked in water for ten days (the amount of time it took after the disaster to recover Mr. Hartley's remains), have fallen apart?  Stringed instruments are afterall held together by water soluble glue.  But perhaps the freezing temperature of the water counter-acted this.  I suppose that I would have to read Mr. Aldredge's report to have these questions answered.  
But in researching this posting right here on my computer I ran across a whole lot of information about the working conditions under which the "Band" played, such as the fact that they were listed as second class passengers, and given third class accommodations.  Also that the families of the musicians had little success in acquiring death benefits for their loved ones.. in fact they received a bill for their uniforms which they lost along with their lives when "Titanic" went down!! These and other details of the musicians life aboard the "Titanic" are included in an excellent article by Holy Mulcahy which along with the other articles quoted in this posting can be found in their entirety at the web addresses listed in the "Sources' below.  

In the End, Does It Really Matter?

(Wallace Hartley, pictured right) Ms. Mulcahy raises an excellent point in the discussion which follows Mr. Lebrecht's Blog. And this is that the actual facts add far more poignancy to the musician's part of the "Titanic" tragedy than can be found in movies or myth.  As I myself said in my posting of April 15, 2012, the centennial of the disaster:

"My guess, as a musician is that they were aware that women and children were being taken off the ship first, that they were unlikely to find a spot for themselves.  And they therefore elected to spend what were clearly going to be their last hours on earth playing rather than in a panic about their inescapable fate.  Frankly, I've often thought that had I been Mr. Clarke, I may have given some thought to making my Double Bass into a floatational device.  But Fred Clarke (I've read his name listed that way in at least one source) evidently decided to help his fellow musicians in the selfless task of calming their fellow passengers in their final moments.  Every survivor's account testifies to the fact that the orchestra played throughout the final crisis; clearly they were made of sterner stuff than I can imagine finding in myself."


New York Post article, "Musician's salt-stained violin emerges as the most important relic from the Titanic":

Norman Lebrecht's Blog "Slipped Disc":

Holy Mulcahy's Article,   "It’s Black and White; the hidden effects of cutting corners" :

Brian T. Bolten's Blog, "Today in History", "R.M.S. Titanic Sinks":