Reflections on the Titanic: Historian Phil Gowan
The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912 on its maiden voyage. More than 1500 lives were lost, people from all walks of life. United Methodist Phil Gowan has been fascinated with the stories of that fateful night since he was a child. Today he is a historian with a wealth of knowledge about Methodist ties to the Titanic, and much more.
My name is Phil Gowan. I'm a Titanic historian, and I've been interested in the subject since I was a little boy growing up in Corsicana, Texas.
My grand-grandmother was a good friend of a lady named Rosa Resion. One day I was staying at my grandmother's and I was playing with a little plastic boat and Ms. Resion looked down at me and said, "You know, when you grow up, you're gonna have to find a big boat with lots of diamonds and get those diamonds for me." She said that her mother-in-law and father-in-law had died on this boat. They had been to South Africa and were looking for diamonds and bringing back a lot of them with them, and then this big boat sank.
Back in the early 1990s is when I really got seriously interested and started some major collections of photographs of the people and some things that were related to the Titanic.
You have the fact to begin with that this boat was heralded as the grandest thing that ever sailed the waters. The publicity surrounding it in the early years 1910, 1911, then as it launched, I don't know that any ship's ever gotten as much publicity. People knew that the wealthy and the famous were traveling on it. People heard about the amenities. It had its own swimming pool. It had its own gym. It was a floating palace of the day on the ocean. There were even telephones and I think that was an innovation. It was one of the very first ships to use the Marconi. So you had something out here that was new. It was exciting. A lot of people were thrilled to have an opportunity to travel on it in the first place.
There are a million different stories that played out that night. Each one is a different drama. Each one has been interesting to me and I think it's those stories that keep most people interested in what happened that night. It's not so much what kind of engine the boat had, how many rivets it had, it's not the fact that it was the largest thing on the water in those days, it's what happened to the people on that individual night.
The other aspect of it that the people make so interesting is you had the ultra-wealthy. You had the Astors and the Wideners who were some of the wealthiest people in the world at that time. And then you had desperately poor people who had never seen indoor plumbing before they got on that ship. And you had this whole microcosm of the entire world that came together that night, 2,208 people on that boat from the most diverse backgrounds anyone can possible imagine. And with the hitting of the iceberg and the sinking of the ship, it didn't matter if you were wealthy, it didn't matter if you were poor, it was all an attempt to try to survive that night. And for the two or three hours from the time that the boat hit the iceberg to the time it actually sank beneath the water, you had a mingling together of people who normally would not have had any contact in their lifetimes.
Also, see: Ties to the Titanic: Methodists on the Titanic
Ties to the Titanic: Methodist Band Members
Posted: April 15, 2011