This year sees the centenary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, the most famous of all the great ocean-liners. Having struck an iceberg, on 15 April 1912, at approximately 2.20 am, the world's most luxurious ocean liner broke up and sank before it had completed its maiden voyage to New York. More the 1,500 people perished.
A hundred years later we're still fascinated by what happened and, it seems, still coming to terms with the disaster. Over the next few months many of us will be watching a brand new dramatisation of it story by the Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, reading new books that analyse every detail of the events leading up to that fatal night and watching James Cameron's movie (which was the second highest grossing movie of all time) re-released in 3D.
Just when you think you know everything, however, you discover there are still mysteries to be investigated. Soon after it sunk, strange rumours about its fate started to circulate. My favourite concerns the presence of a mysterious mummy aboard the ship that was said to have cursed the White Star liner before it left Southampton. Crazy? Perhaps, but at the time the story was written up in respectable papers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times.
The story was that a cursed mummy was smuggled on board, and that was why it sunk. The 'Unlucky Mummy' in question turned out not only to have sunk the Titanic. It also, according to the legend, finished off a Daily Express journalist. Bertram Fletcher Robinson researched the story for the paper and believed in its malignant. But he died just three years later, at the age of just 36 - perhaps because he was too close to the truth.
Spooky? Sort of. But the 'Unlucky Mummy' was not actually a mummy at all. It was, in fact, an inner coffin lid that was discovered at Thebes and has been dated to the late 21st or early 22nd Dynasty. It currently resides in the British Museum and not 2.5 miles at the bottom of the sea. It was donated to the museum in 1889 and has never left the premises.
However, that hasn't stopped fanatics from speculating as to where the actual mummy is. Lurking in the wreckage? No. Archaeologist Wallis Budge firmly denied that there was any such artefact aboard in 1934 and the ship's cargo manifest bears this out. A dubious tale that one of the survivors stated that a mummy was discussed the night before Titanic sank seems to be the most concrete source for the story.
But it's still being discussed on the internet over a hundred years later which gives us an indication of the power of folklore, even when it has little to back it up. People love reading such stories, which is why I seized on the mummy for my own tongue in cheek horror story that's just been published by Endeavour Press - BLOODBATH ON THE TITANIC. My idea was to use the ship as a backdrop and be as cavalier with the truth as it appears many theorists love to be.
I had great fun writing it but it struck me how our continued fascination with tall tales is a perfect example of how humans use humour and the fantastical to deal with events that seem so horrendously arbitrary - such as the world's greatest liner sinking on its maiden voyage. Perhaps because it seems so unlucky we prefer to believe it might have been cursed - even a hundred years later.
Stewart King is the author of Bloodbath on the Titanic published by Endeavour Press.
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