James Cameron's Titanic Expedition
What We Saw On and Inside the Wreck
Jake was sent forward from the staircase area through the starboard doorway and into the deckhouse that contains the elevator machinery, several first-class staterooms, the Marconi installation, and the Officers' Quarters. The steel walls of the elevator gear room have some large holes in places. Jake went through a door and looked inside, and I believe I remember seeing the cable drums, etc. I only saw this part of the video once while at sea. Exploring around the staterooms, all wooden walls are gone, the soft pine eaten away by wood-boring organisms or collapsed. The steel lavatory walls, boiler uptake casing, and vertical stanchions (pillars) holding up the deck above are all that remain.
The whole space is a jumble of nondescript debris, wires, a foot or two of detritus, mucky silt, organic matter, and fallen rusticles. Only the white, porcelain tip-basins stand out as immediately recognizable, some still attached to their deteriorated mahogany washstand cabinets, others collapsed and lying on the debris. The steel walls surrounding the first-class bathroom, WC, and officers' lavatory, as I said, are there. Jake peeked into one of the first two, I don't recall which, only to see heaps of debris and silt covering the tub or toilet. Forward of that point, there were many fallen wires and other obstacles so investigating the officers' rooms was not attempted. The gap of the split-open expansion joint is visible crossing the entire interior space despite all the fallen debris.
As elsewhere, the walls of the Marconi and related rooms are gone. In what was once the operators' room, absolutely nothing appears to be standing. It is a wasteland of silt with the occasional hump hinting at perhaps some object beneath. There are a few wires, switches, and an electrical distribution box hanging from the overhead. Just a few feet to port, however, in what remains of the Silent Room (the insulated room containing the noisy transmitting equipment), there is a collection of equipment that would make even the most casual wireless enthusiast giddy with excitement. The entire transmitting set is virtually intact and still in place. Parks Stephenson, who has seen some of the footage taken in the Silent Room, has provided a preliminary analysis of what Jake found there in a "quicklook" report.
A dangling ceramic light fixture is nearby, its glazed white surface covered with a brown stain. No bulb remains none were seen in any light fixture. The extreme water pressure must have imploded them all. Overhead, I was surprised to see a small square access hatch or vent opening, I believe above the Silent Room, which I had never noticed in exterior shots of the roof. Though I saw no brass pneumatic message tubes at or near the location of the operator's table, what appears to be such large-radius tubing was found, oddly, on top of the sediment forward of the Silent Room.
Cameron explored inside both port and starboard enclosed promenades. The brass-framed, double-paned windows to the first-class staterooms are all there, intact, several of them with one side swung open. I don't think I saw a single one with a broken pane. Much of the teakwood handrail under the windows is still in place. The overhead lights, some of their conduits still attached, as well as the heavy pipes running fore and aft over the promenades, have fallen to the deck. The pipes have separated at their joints. The deck, as in the interior, is knee deep in the usual debris and silt although we found the debris to be less deep on the starboard promenade. Forward of the expansion joint on both sides of the ship, all brass-framed windows within the steel screens that enclosed the Promenade Deck remain in place. Moving aft of the joint, however, only the first three or four windows remain, beyond which the outer wall has completely fallen away.
Inside the entrance foyer, many immaculate glass-beaded light fixtures were seen, fallen from the overhead, but I could find none with an intact bottom glass finial bead. An identical fixture from Olympic shows that its faceted glass bead on the bottom has been replaced with a brass one. As not a single fixture seen within the wreck retains this glass bottom bead, I suspect they were not held in position by brass wire as the beads of the bowls were but were simply glued in place. The glue may have dissolved in the sea water, causing all the beads to fall. For the benefit of the ROV's camera, we backlighted one of these beautiful beaded fixtures with the light from Mir 2, and the light coming through the glass produced an eerie effect. At least one such fixture was found still fitted to a nicely preserved section of ceiling, complete with all the beam detail around it, and was imaged closely by Jake.
In the entrance foyer are other surviving examples of intricately carved oak frieze, fluted pilasters, and fragments of oak paneling. I spotted in the video an oak pedestal, or newel face, below a column with degraded vestiges of the ribbon bow and floral garland carving still evident and another, even better preserved, with its large fruit carvings in particularly high relief.
Looking up from inside the stairwell, the corners of the arc of the Boat Deck balcony can be seen in the steel deck. Both corridors leading forward from the elevators, against the No. 1 boiler uptake casing, appear passable with care through drooping wires and fallen debris.
Moving forward into first-class staterooms on the port side, the wooden walls between the rooms, as above on the Boat Deck, have virtually deteriorated to nothing. However, many, if not all, brass beds are still standing in place, upright. The beds in the region of room A-30 are of a pattern seen in Shipbuilder. The same design was found opposite on the starboard side. The small finial "urns" at the top of the bedposts are still brightly gilt as are the head- and footboard bas-reliefs, which depict sacrificial ox skulls decorated with garlands. A plated gimbal lamp lies across the top of one headboard, fallen from where it had been hung the night of the sinking when the wood wall behind it crumbled away. To the left of the lamp is an electrical outlet and switches, just as in the Shipbuilder photo, the lamp still plugged in.
I was particularly struck by the number of brass beds we saw on the starboard side. The stateroom walls might be gone, but it was easy to tell we were entering another room when we passed two beds end to end. Brass bed after brass bed could be seen off into the darkness, their gilded details reflecting back the lights of our ROV. They almost invariably looked in perfect condition. The only damage I ever saw was a missing finial and one or two footboards canted one way or another, not perfectly vertical. On the starboard side, some cloth lies draped over one of the brass footboards. No color is apparent; the fabric just looks black. I recall seeing a similar cloth fragment in another stateroom, perhaps on D Deck. It seems that, once again, contact with the metal has protected it.
Demonstrating the integrity of some pieces of furniture, an intact marble counter top and sink were found in A-33, nearly smothered in silt. The counter is still level, high above the surrounding debris, the mahogany cabinet underneath it still sound. The camera came in close, revealing the details of the rounded edge of the counter, the two faucets, drain control, and plated metal racks mounted to the heavy marble backsplash. All were undamaged. It is amazing to me that the wooden cabinet below still supports the weight of all this marble.
In the staterooms, we saw several fallen wall racks with their brass wire grills. Other fittings appear to be still there, too, covered with piles of collapsed ceiling and wall debris, fallen rusticles, wiring, etc. This debris, again, is one to two feet thick at a minimum, I'd say. Little else is immediately recognizable in these piles of silt and detritus that once were tidy first-class staterooms.
To a varying extent, we explored cabins A-34, A-32, and A-30 on the port side. On the starboard side, Jake went into A-35, A-33, A-31, A-29, A-27, A-25, A-23, A-21, A-17, and A-11 with glimpses of A-19, A-15, and A-9.
Entering the elevator foyer, there is a good quantity of oak woodwork remaining, including the pilasters and paneling, intricately carved brackets up against ceiling, and lots of decorative beams overhead. Whether it was on this deck or another I don't recall, but I got a glimpse of intact carved oak frieze on at least one of the ceiling beams here outside the elevator. The iron-grilled elevator doors on this and one or two other decks were seen. All vary in condition and attitude, some in place, others with huge holes in them, or whacked out of alignment and partially blown into the foyer, or missing altogether. A real jumble. What survives of the grills is in a state of severe, rusty corrosion, slowly dissolving away. There must be a significant current flowing through the elevator shafts and out the doors because the rusticles grow at quite an angle into the foyer. Inside the shafts are the cables, hanging vertically. No elevator cars were seen. We suspect they are all down at the E-deck level, which we did not get to.
To the left of each elevator door and mounted on the remains of fluted oak pilasters are brass-framed glass enunciator panels. Jake took a close look at the starboard panel. At the top are the engraved words "Elevator No. 1." Behind the glass were five electric call lights that showed at what deck level the elevator was. Although the glass is clouded over with a rusty film and one can't exactly read what is behind, the diffused words "A Deck," "B Deck," etc., can just be detected underneath. A few inches down the oak pilasters are the gilt-brass call buttons.
Originally mounted overhead in the corridors to either side of the elevator foyers, electric sign boxes that said "Elevators," made of brass and glass, have fallen a foot or two and now dangle by their wires. In each case no glass (i.e., readable sign) remains. On the paneling facing the center elevator, however, we were delighted to find the large brass letters spelling "A DECK." The letter "A" is larger and centered above the smaller lettering "DECK." Although the four letters below are still affixed to the oak panel, the larger, heavier "A" above has only recently fallen off, leaving a clear imprint of its former location. There is no evidence that a clock was fitted to the bulkhead. To the right (starboard) of the letters, some deteriorating oak paneling is leaning into the foyer about to fall.
Cameron wanted to explore the forward staterooms (B-1 through B-6) as one of them is thought to have been occupied by Margaret "Molly" Brown. She wrote that she had a cabin on B Deck that "looked out over the bow," or words to that effect, and according to her great-granddaughter, she had a brass bed. That is all that is known; no actual cabin number seems to have been recorded. However, the occupants of a few other of those forward-facing rooms are known; so this narrows down the candidates. As to the type of beds used on B Deck, there are contradictions in the historical data. Detailed Olympic plans note either "cot beds," "oak cot beds," or "brass beds" in the ship's first-class staterooms. Shipbuilder states that these staterooms have "cot beds in brass, mahogany and oak." Over each A- and B-deck bed, the Olympic plans are labeled "cot beds" with no brass beds noted above C Deck. Yet we had seen from our explorations on A Deck that the beds there were brass. Perhaps the B-deck beds were of the same type as A, as the drawings indicate, meaning all beds there could be expected to be brass as well. Confusing the issue, however, is the 1912 Titanic first-class cabin plan showing a photo of a forward B-deck stateroom with a wooden, not brass, bed. So we didn't know what type of bed to look for. We would keep our eyes out for brass. It was decided to explore whatever could be seen in the candidate staterooms and try to determine the identity of Mrs. Brown's room later.
We knew that Jake could squeeze through one of the forward B-deck window frames with about an inch of clearance on each side, less if there was any rusticle growth. The two ROVs were actually designed to fit through these windows. The window to B-3 was chosen because its glass is almost completely gone. Once inside, the ROV traversed all forward rooms, but unfortunately identifiable fittings and objects were at a minimum. As expected, all wooden walls are gone with heaps of debris covered in silt. No brass beds were seen. Two wooden bed frames were glimpsed: one in stateroom B-2, the other seemingly in the corridor between B-2 and B-8. The foray was a great idea but turned out to be rather low yield with several silt-outs, too, which limited visibility. I haven't yet seen this footage a second time.
Moving off the ship and aft, we entered the missing shell door on the port side. It was from this spot that Francis Browne took the familiar photo as he boarded the ship at Southampton looking aft along the side. Passing from the vestibule through the forward opening and into the staircase foyer, an electric Prometheus heater lies fallen sideways (aft), its bronzework and glass bars perfectly intact. This artifact was known from earlier interior explorations.
Crossing over to the opposite entrance vestibule, the ROV got a good look at the same entrance to the starboard private promenade as seen in the unique Illustrated London News photo. The doors are gone, the deck knee deep in silt and debris, of course. Jake went inside. Debris is heaped oddly at an angle against the outer windows. There is no sign of the wicker furniture inside the private promenade although I suspect such items may be under the extra-high, suspicious piles of silt we often see. One comes across odd, high mounds of this muck. Turning inboard, we saw close-up details of some of the surviving half-timbered Elizabethan motif and glimpsed briefly inside B-51 through a window. The mantel and faux fireplace Cameron had seen in 1995 could just be discerned again in the distance against the steel wall. The wooden walls of the parlour suite aft appear to be missing, decayed away.
No unbroken cut-glass overhead light bowls were seen here on B Deck still attached to their gilt-brass frames, either hanging from, or still fitted to, the overhead. Below A Deck the stairway foyer lights had cut-glass rather than beaded bowls. All the lights appear to have lost their glass, leaving only the circular frames. But, of course, we didn't look everywhere. The best odds for finding an intact light would be to look in the far recesses and corners of the rooms where they were perhaps more protected and less likely to be struck by the maelstrom of furniture and other debris during the sinking. We did not check all corners methodically. On its way to Ismay's suite, Jake passed over one fallen cut-glass bowl, resting atop the muck with its dome side up, but this wasn't seen until the video was reviewed later. The entire fixture may be intact as it appears the bottom finial and gilt-brass circular frame are still attached. With the frame still holding its heavy cut-glass bowl, the weight of the light became too much, and it fell to the sediment. Because it is resting on top of the foot-deep debris, the light fixture must have fallen recently. No wire can be seen connected to the fixture.
Cameron took Jake across to rooms B-52, B-54, and B-56, the parlour suite occupied by J. Bruce Ismay. His sitting room, in the style of Louis XVI (Louis Seize), still retains several of its fittings. Against the forward steel wall, the marble faux fireplace with its bronze details seems in perfect condition. A clock was once fitted on the mantel, and remnants of it may be visible though moved several inches to the right (inboard). Farther to the right, a gilt sconce hangs by its wires. Overhead, the pattern of the ceiling beams can be detected. I have discerned no other recognizable furniture or details here, just the usual debris. Outside, the half-timbered Elizabethan motif was again visible in places.
Moving aft, the steel walls surrounding Ismay's WC and bath are present, and mounted at the upper right (outboard) edge of the forward steel wall is part of another sconce. Outboard of that is Ismay's wardrobe room, the floor of which is heaped with mounds of debris. Perhaps under this are his trunks, suitcases, and so forth. Some wooden cabinetwork and shelving survives in the wardrobe. Between two shelves rests what looks like a closed wooden box or case, measuring perhaps a foot across the front. The adjoining wardrobe to B-56, just aft of this one, by contrast, was found to be quite empty, no mounds on the floor. Ismay was the only occupant of this parlour suite.
Moving into B-56 and all the way to the steel bulkhead at the aft end of the room, nothing readily identifiable was seen.
I had wanted very much to explore at least one or two of Titanic's suite bedrooms aft of the parlour suites, the familiar bedrooms photographed by Harland & Wolff. It was my hope that we could get some great "then and now" shots, comparing the H&W images with identical views of the rooms today. But exploration down the corridor farther aft than the parlour suite was problematic because of dangling wires and what appeared to be a collapsing ceiling. A main wiring trunk runs fore and aft above these corridors, and these wires now hang all over the place.
From the well deck the ROV was sent in under the forecastle. The first stop was the crew "surgery," just to starboard of the mast. Its door is missing, perhaps torn off its hinges during the sinking. Its long wood screws stick out with no surviving wood attached, which is unusual. As previously mentioned, wood invariably survives when attached to metal. The walls of the surgery are all steel. At the aft end of the small room, a desk with two drawers still stands, covered with fallen debris. The drawers are still in the desk, partially opened but filled with detritus. The design of their metal pulls, or handles, is evident. Around the room, at chest level or higher, are wooden shelves with wooden retaining rails. Here and there, small objects can be glimpsed resting on the shelves under the silt, including a perfectly preserved green glass bottle, complete with black stopper, and filled to the brim with a white substance. It is a bright, clean white as if no contamination of the bottle's contents has occurred.
Jake entered the crew hospital room on the port side. Its wooden door is closed and still has its knob and other hardware; however, the thinner middle panel of the door has been eaten away, permitting entry. All the walls of the room, again, are steel. Inside, two metal bunk beds are against the starboard wall, each with a metal guard to prevent patients from rolling out. Nothing could be seen of any mattresses or bedsprings. Against the forward wall is a sink with metal reservoir tank above, the tank still retaining some of its white paint. The basin below is filled to overflowing with sediment. On the opposite (aft) wall is a table or deep shelf, above which is a closed porthole. By "closed" I mean the glass is dogged shut, not that the deadlight is closed.
Jake entered both the firemen's and seamen's messes, where cast-iron bases of tables and benches are evident, the remains of the wooden tabletops sometimes attached, sometimes lying off to the side. Little else was recognized in these spaces. "The mess rooms are a real mess," as Don Lynch observed.
Moving aft to the first-class staircase area, the deck above appears collapsed somewhat; i.e., there's much less headroom adjacent to the stairwell on C Deck than there should be. All stanchions are bent, some severely. Either C Deck is somehow heaved upward, or B Deck is sagging down.
The leg of a chair is visible sticking out of the debris about amidships at the edge of what was the stair landing. Cameron first saw this in 1995. On the outboard side of the port stairwell at deck level, I noticed a lone, near perfectly preserved carved oak bracket still holding to the wooden casing.
On the starboard side, we looked at what were once the Purser's and Enquiry offices from outside in the foyer. There are a few remnants of the heavy oak architrave above and what look to be collapsed marble countertops. Beyond, in the tangle of debris, are two large, very solid-looking metal boxes or cabinets, the one at the forward end of the room almost reaching the overhead. I'm assuming these are the safes. Little else was recognized. It's the usual tangle of wires and heaps of debris in there, and Cameron did not risk entry. I saw no sign of the ornate gilt-bronze queue dividers, which were once in front of the Enquiry Office. Where they would be are just rolling mounds of debris, several feet deep.
Through the door between the Purser's Office and the adjacent bathroom were glimpsed two brass beds in C-39, or perhaps one in C-39 and one in C-37.
Just aft of the Enquiry Office is the parlour suite C-55 and C-57, once occupied by the Strauses. Their elaborately finished sitting room (C-55), in the mahogany and gilt Regence style, was arguably the most opulent space aboard the ship. Cameron had recreated the motif of this room for one of his movie sets. I had hoped very much to get in there, but the overhead appears to be strangely collapsing downward abaft the Enquiry Office. Despite this, Cameron ventured as close as he felt safe doing so. As I recall, we got close enough at one point that we were actually peering into the sitting room. But nothing was immediately recognizable to me in the debris after one viewing of the video. This was as far aft as we got on the starboard side of C Deck.
I don't recall any exploration forward from the stairwell into staterooms on this deck.