Long before the 100-year anniversary hype grew to a frenzy, 8-year-old Nathan Carey had fully immersed himself in the story of the RMS Titanic. Among the numerous commemorations of the Titanic’s tragic end, Nathan’s Titanic remembrance house party is the one I am least likely to forget.
In the late winter of 2011, when Nathan was a first grader at Holden Elementary School, he brought a book home from the school library: the Magic Treehouse series book No. 17, “Tonight on the Titanic” by Mary Pope Osborne. That, Nathan explained, was when he first got excited about the Titanic.
“So I read it and I’m like, ‘the biggest passenger ship of the time — and it sank!’ I started getting into it and started a collection of books about it,” he said.
Nathan’s Titanic book collection was one of the first things he wanted to show me when I visited on April 15, shortly before guests were to arrive for his own big event. His home was decked out in Titanic splendor. A “Welcome Aboard” sign and nautical life rings hung in the garage where guests would enter, boarding passes in hand. A room-size wall banner emulated the deck of a ship in the living room. Documents, books and ship models welcomed exploration on tables in two rooms, along with a brochure packed with facts and figures about the great ship, homemade by Nathan.
“There’s the steerage section down below, with rats,” he said as we passed the door to his basement, where a stuffed rat stood guard. His bedroom was the captain’s quarters (with a corn snake).
Nathan himself played the role of Capt. Edward John Smith, sporting a neatly buttoned captain’s jacket and hat. Even without the captain’s garb, however, Nathan would have caught anyone’s eye. He was positively aglow with excitement, and never was there a better prepared tour guide.
The vast majority of Nathan’s knowledge has come from reading. His mom let him watch a couple of scenes from the famous movie, and he did a bit of online research, but his most beloved resource is his collection of books about the Titanic. He showed me his favorite one, which includes many photos and a map of the ship.
“I like getting the facts,” he told me. Sure enough, he rattled off names, dates, tonnage, and technical details without hesitation. “It’s over two miles deep and the two parts landed a mile apart on the ocean floor — 705 survived; 1,523 died.”
But Nathan had stories, as well.
“One guy put on his best suit, went to the lounge place, and said to someone ‘Tell my wife that I went down in style.’”
“Wow!” I said, marveling at his knowledge. “So, I guess there can’t be anyone left living who…”
“The last survivor died in 2009,” he quickly offered.
Then I heard all about Dr. Robert Ballard who found the sunken ship in 1985 with a machine called Argo. Nathan almost got a chance to meet Dr. Ballard, he told me, but it didn’t work out. I hope that meeting will take place, not only for Nathan’s sake, but as a treat for Dr. Robert Ballard, too.
Part of the charm of this articulate young man goes beyond his factual knowledge. Nathan has put some serious thought into the scope of the Titanic disaster. It means more to him than just a sensational tale.
If someone offered him a souvenir of the sunken ship, he said he wouldn’t turn it down. But he has a definite opinion on attempts to pull the ship up to the surface, which he explained with sober sincerity.
“I’m not that interested in getting stuff from the boat, because I think the boat should stay where it is. It’s kind of like a grave.”
So why, I wondered, did he decide that he wanted to have a Titanic-themed party on April 15, 2012.
He was thoughtful for a moment, and his answer was simple.
“Just to remember.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.