They built a massive, extravagant ship full of money, rushed its construction, filled it up with tony people and ran it into an iceberg. It’s still unbelievable, 93 years later.
I’m standing in the Titanic Exhibit among the ship’s remains, inside the Luxor, on the south end of the extravagant Strip, in the middle of an icy recession, shaking my head about those poor, witless seafarers. Most of them didn’t even see it coming.
Particularly not the lookouts, who, the $6 audio wand tells me, had so hurried to get this jewel out to sea that they forgot their binoculars.
It’s just a little icy out there, the reports told them. We saw an iceberg, said the crew of a ship the night before. We are stopped and surrounded by ice, was the message from a ship that morning.
Bon voyage! And with that, the Guggenheims and Astors and hordes of second- and third-classers hit the seas. I paid $30 to be aghast at this display of mankind’s arrogance, all the while thinking it’s so pleasant to have these exhibits here in our fancy city’s forward bow.
Little by little, some things start to stand out. Little similarities, perhaps, between the Titanic and Vegas. Nah, probably just alarmist ice-storm warnings ...
• The exhibit describes the ship’s captain as “charismatic and quietly flamboyant.” Oscar Goodman: charismatic and deafeningly flamboyant. Just coincidence.
• The Titanic used an unprecedented amount of electricity when compared to the ships of its era. Electric lighting in passenger cabins—unheard of until the Titanic. And it consumed tons and tons of coal—one pound per foot traveled, meaning they carried 6,000 tons of coal with them into the Atlantic. Fortunately, Vegas is absolutely not known for being excessively lit nor voracious in its appetite for natural resources. Whew.
• The shipwreck’s artifacts, combed off the bottom of the sea, include diamond rings and platinum pendants, a pair of men’s pants with no owner in them. I see nothing Vegasy in that.
• One of the passengers was John Jacob Astor IV, a 48-year-old aristocrat who had just divorced his wife and married an 18-year-old. Hmm. Another passenger was the Rev. Thomas Boles, a priest en route to officiate at a wedding in America. Quick weddings and fly-by-night wedding officiators? Nope. Not here.
• “The whole world was talking about the Titanic” and its unprecedented, absurd luxuries, like “fancy strawberries in April in mid-ocean—the whole thing was positively uncanny!” says one account in the exhibit. Fortunately, Vegas strives for a super-low profile and does nothing uncanny with fruit.
• Mrs. Margaret Brown, a first-class passenger, was a suffragist and a human-rights organizer. An exhibition placard says, “Her two causes were literacy and women’s rights.” And the Titanic tried to kill her. You draw the parallels. (But note that she survived—the unsinkable Molly Brown.)
• Not enough lifeboats. Not enough lifeboats?! So does that mean that if the whole thing sinks because of the arrogance of some, a lot of people will suffer unnecessarily? Yes. Yes it does.
• Here’s how it occurred, when the Titanic hit a large, obvious mountain of ice that everybody surely could’ve seen coming had they not been hurriedly basking in their own wealth: “Through portholes we saw ice rubbing up against the sides,” says one passenger. Like Donny Osmond writ giganticus outside the portholes of the Flamingo. Nothing ominous in that.
“Crash! Then a low rending, crunching, ripping sound, as Titanic shivered a trifle and her engines gently ceased,” recalls another survivor. That’s definitely not the sound of a wrecked housing market, multiple casinos on the verge of bankruptcy and the slow cessation of a once fuel-gobbling economic system. Nuh-uh.
Another survivor says the collision was “just a dull thump.” Was Jim Gibbons aboard?
And lastly, you may have figured that those who died with the Titanic drowned in the chilly Atlantic. Nope. They suffered “rapid physical and mental collapse” in hypothermia.
I stand there staring at that statement on the wall in the exhibit—among the remains of the extravagant ship, in a garish model of an Egyptian pyramid, on the Las Vegas Strip, in the middle of a recession, and I fend off mental and physical collapse. Where’s the lifeboat?