Books Film History

An Iceberg to Remember

One of my favorite books of all time is Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, a retelling of the Titanic’s demise. I finally got around to watching Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film adaptation of the book on a beautiful Criterion Blu-ray from the library, and it got me wondering: what about the iceberg?

In both the 1958 film and James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster, we get some ominous shots of the iceberg as the ship tries to avoid it, and then some ice chunks sliding across the deck. But after that, the iceberg disappears. For how much we know about the Titanic and its passengers, there’s far less out there about what turned the Titanic story into legend.

I love this article from Gizmodo that charts the iceberg’s incredible journey, beginning as “snowfall on the western coast of Greenland somewhere around 1,000 BCE” and ending when it “likely broke off from Greenland in 1910 or 1911 and was gone forever by the end of 1912 or sometime in 1913.” In all likelihood, “the iceberg that sank the Titanic didn’t even endure to the outbreak of World War I, a lost splash of freshwater mixed in imperceptibly with the rest of the North Atlantic.”

Despite that, we have pictures of it! Not an easy feat in 1912:

In the parlance of The Rewatchables podcast, this may be one of the greatest heat-check performances by a natural formation in history. Basically comes out of nowhere, ventures far beyond where it should be, gets suddenly and violently rammed in the middle of the night by an enormous ship, then melts away within the year.

Such an improbable journey dovetails with the fate of the Titanic itself, as Lord wrote in the original book:

What troubled people especially was not just the tragedy—or even its needlessness—but the element of fate in it all. If the Titanic had heeded any of the six ice messages on Sunday . . . if ice conditions had been normal . . . if the night had been rough or moonlit . . . if she had seen the berg fifteen seconds sooner—or fifteen seconds later . . . if she had hit the ice any other way . . . if her watertight bulkheads had been one deck higher . . . if she had carried enough boats . . . if the Californian [just ten miles away] had only come. Had any one of these ifs turned out right, every life might have been saved. But they all went against her—a classic Greek tragedy.


What practical lessons have you learned from movies?

A while back I started keeping a list of things I’ve learned from movies. Not grand philosophical lessons about life and love and all that, but practical, everyday stuff. Stuff I’ve integrated into my life specifically because I saw it in a movie. When I saw this tweet recently along the same lines, I thought I should share what I’ve accumulated thus far, assuming that I will continue adding to it.

In no particular order:

“Just start from the outside and move your way in.”Titanic

I don’t attend many fancy dinners, but when I do encounter more than one type of the same utensil, I think of this line.

“Keep your station clear.”Ratatouille

I’m borderline religious about this now. Whether during meal prep or cleanup, I try to keep things moving quickly through the process so I’m not left with a mound of work at the end.


All of the rules from this movie and its pretty decent sequel are tongue-in-cheek, of course, but also sound about right for surviving a zombie-infested world.

“You know that ringing in your ears?”Children of Men

Julianne Moore’s character continues: “That ‘eeeeeeeeee’? That’s the sound of the ear cells dying, like their swan song. Once it’s gone you’ll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts.” Now every time I hear that eeeeeeeeee, I give a silent goodbye to that particular note.

America History

Here And LeClaire

I spent part of the weekend in Iowa with my dad. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, the home base of the antique-scavengers featured in the show American Pickers. Didn’t end up selling anything, but it was cool to see their place, which, as my dad reports, is much smaller than it looks on television.

We also got to tour the Mississippi River Distilling Company, a local spirits distillery. They explained the distilling process for vodka, gin, whiskey, etc., and how their “grain to glass” process is one of only a handful in the U.S. Every step of the process is handled using locally-made products, from the corn and wheat to the wooden barrels and glass bottles. They took pride in their unique flavor, which was the result of putting the drink through the distilling process only once rather than multiple times, as is the case with most other vodka manufacturers. They’ve only been in business for three months, but it looks like they’re doing well.

LeClaire is also the childhood home of Buffalo Bill Cody, so we toured the museum in town, which ended up being less about Buffalo Bill and more about the town itself. With its strategic placement on the Mississippi, LeClaire saw a lot of riverboat steamers pass through back in the day. They have one on display in the museum – the Lone Star – which is the last remaining, fully-intact example of the wooden-hulled riverboat design typical of that era.

Finally, we drove the half-hour down the river to Davenport to see the Titanic artifact exhibit at the Putnam Museum. The exhibit integrated the artifacts with the story of the ship’s creation and first and final voyage. Most eye-opening was the wall of survivors and perished. They divided the passengers list by class – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and crew – and the percentage of 1st class passengers saved compared to that of 3rd class and crew was stunning. At least 60-70% of first-class passengers were saved, while the reverse was true of the lower classes. Class status, generally speaking, really did determine whether they would live or die.

I’ve never actually stayed in Iowa, but I thoroughly enjoyed the stereotypical yet still very real Midwestern small-town charm. I also have a recharged desire to go to more museums and historical sites. Can’t get enough of those.

(Photo: Matt Heeren)