Journal Entries, Writing

Character’s Corner: Time Travel Journal Entry of Sam Altair, 16 June 1906

When Casey and I decided to keep journals of our experiences in 1906, we had no real plans to try and change our history. We always knew it was a possibility–two people who have moved backwards through time, and are living in the past, will cause changes that affect the future. Just being alive will cause that, no matter how careful we try to be.

But now something has happened, and we are considering:  should we try to deliberately change an event?

In our original history, on 14 April 1912, the RMS Titanic, at the time considered the greatest ship in the world, was on her maiden voyage toNew York City.  Around midnight, she struck an iceberg in the middle of theNorth Atlantic and sank in about 2½ hours. Over fifteen hundred people died, including Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer and builder.

Casey has just met Thomas Andrews.

She didn’t know who he was until I told her. She’d come home a couple of days ago, excited about an errand job she’d picked up that would pay her several shillings. This was good news, we needed the money, but she was also blubbering on about the “seriously hot” fellow who hired her. I ignored most of this; Casey is young and I’m sure she’s lonely. I don’t begrudge her any fantasies.

But when she came in yesterday, she said the fellow had offered her a temporary job at Harland & Wolff Shipyard. Then she told me his name. We had quite a discussion about it, since she had seen that movie about Titanic in 1997. She was only eleven years old at the time, but she remembered Thomas Andrews. She wants to warn him.

I’m tempted.

Thomas Andrews was one of my childhood heroes. The Belfast school system is enamored of him in the future, and in seventh grade we had an entire week-long session on the Titanic and the shipyard. I was intrigued by him and did a lot of research on my own. It’s true what they say: no one ever said a bad thing about him. He was a true gentleman, and certainly Casey’s brief experience bears this out.

There is so much we don’t know about time travel. Are we truly in our own history, with our actions affecting the future we were born into? Or are we in an alternate universe created when we traveled to the past? Some of the same events have occurred: the San Francisco earthquake is one example. We had no way of changing that, of course. It’s a different thing from the Titanic sinking. The Titanic disaster was (is? will be?) the result of myriad human decisions and haphazard actions that put the ship in the path of a large iceberg. There are so many things we could warn Andrews about, so many details he might change to prevent the collision. Or if he can’t do that, then perhaps build the ship with better safety designs. I’m convinced it needs to stay afloat longer. Even if they had more lifeboats, they would need the time to get everyone on them.

We have to be careful who we tell about us. It may be melodramatic, but Casey is right when she says that telling the wrong person might result in our becoming prisoners and pawns of governments or militaries. Whatever is right or wrong about changing history, we both want to remain free. We want a chance to live our lives as well as we can.

Of all the Titanic characters, Tom Andrews is the only one I would really trust with knowledge of time travelers. Lord Pirrie or Bruce Ismay may be better placed to make changes to the ship or sailing schedule, but I don’t quite trust them. Either of them might want to use our future knowledge for personal gain, or might feel it’s in their best interest to turn us over to the government.

What about Captain Smith? Of all people, he’s in the best position to prevent the collision. Simply stop the ship for the night and wait for daylight to navigate the ice field. But I know almost nothing about the man’s character. No, of all of them, Tom Andrews is both the safest and best-placed choice. It may be serendipity that he is the one we have met.

So briefly, here is what happens (happened?) on 14 April 1912:  the ship was sailing at not-quite full speed, it was a dark night and the sea was completely calm. Captain Smith had several warnings about ice, but ignored them. The collision caused gashes along the starboard side for about three hundred feet.

We know some of Andrews’ actions that night, how he sounded the ship and warned the captain that she would sink in about one-and-a-half hours, at most. She lived an hour longer than that. We know that Andrews spent the time helping. He helped the crew with the lifeboats, he helped load people into boats, he encouraged the use of life belts, he distributed blankets. Eyewitnesses place Andrews everywhere that night: the engine room, the decks, throwing chairs and doors to the people in the water, the smoking room.

The smoking room is the most famous anecdote. A steward sees him standing at the real fireplace, staring at the painting on the wall. One sees him there, amid the wood and mother-of-pearl, as the ship tilts downward, eyes on the painting, but thoughts–where? We only have conjecture. Like others, I feel he was thinking of his family–wife, daughter, parents, siblings. He loved his life, the people in it. Did he feel responsible? Did he think of times he gave in to the economic or political demands of others, and failed to insist on important safeguards? They considered the Titanic the safest ship in the world, but did he know they could have improved her? Certainly, he had asked for more lifeboats. Had he asked for a double hull or higher bulkheads? Are these things I can help him with?

I think about him on the deck, concerned about the people in the water. They had life belts on, but the water was so cold, they would die in minutes. They say he loved his ships, but he tore the Titanic apart bit by bit, to give those people whatever aid he could.

Some think he died there in the smoking room. Others say a wave washed him off the deck and into the ocean. We do know he did not have his life belt on. They never found his body.

Casey is right. We have to warn him.