Courtesy Nova Scotia Museum - Dept. of Education and Culture

 The Titanic Aftermath (and more!)

For 150 victims of the Titanic, Halifax, Nova Scotia (on the East Coast of Canada) proved to be the final stop for the doomed voyage. Thanks to James Cameron's cinematic "Titanic" (and Walter Lord's classic minute-by-minute account of that fateful night, "A Night to Remember"), we all know what happened before, during, and moments after the ship sank. But what happened in the days to follow?

Before the survivors even arrived in New York, the first cable ship left Halifax to search for bodies. With 100 coffins, tons of ice, an undertaker and a chaplain, the Mackay-Bennett left on April 17, arriving on-site three days later. They found 306 bodies, so many that embalming fluid ran out and 116 had to be buried at sea. Another cable ship, Minia, departed Halifax on April 22, relieving the Mackay-Bennett and finding another 17 bodies. In all, four ships recovered 328 bodies and returned with 209 which were unloaded at the Coaling Wharf of the Naval Dockyard in Halifax. The class barriers, so typical of life on board the Titanic, were respected even in death. The bodies of first-class passengers were unloaded in the coffins, second-and third-class passengers in canvas bags, and the crew on open stretchers.

Only 59 of the bodies placed in the morgue were shipped out by train to their families. The remaining victims of the Titanic were buried in three Halifax cemeteries between May 1 and June 12, 1912. Nineteen are in the Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery, ten are in the Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery and 121 are in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery. Of these, 42 victims remain unidentified.

Most of the gravestones, erected in the fall of 1912 and paid for by the White Star Line, are simple "black granite" blocks. In some cases, however, families, friends or other groups chose to commission a larger and more elaborate gravestone. Within the last year, there has been restoration work completed on the concrete footings (wall) surrounding the grave sites of the Titanic victims in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery. In fact, from this photographer's perspective, the grave sites looked nearly new. Because of my limited time in Halifax, I was able to visit two of the three cemeteries: Fairview Lawn and Olivet.

At the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the graves are aligned to form the curved "hull" of a ship.


   A view from the bottom of the hill.
Since the popularity of the "Titanic" movie, this cemetery has become a HUGE tourist destination.  

UPDATE! According to Discovery Channel's "Titanic's Real J. Dawson (2001)", this is the grave of Joseph Dawson, the 23-year-old trimmer (coal trimmer; a person who evens out the piles of coal), from Dublin, Ireland.  Rumor had it that J. Dawson was the inspiration for the "Jack Dawson" character in the movie.  Apparently, James Cameron had named Leonardo DiCaprio's character before he new that there actually was a 
J. Dawson on the ship.

Many women and children were lost in the maritime disaster. Here a 29-year-old wife and mother, and her four children are memorialized.

 Click for Larger Image

Click for Larger Image   Three unidentified victims.

My trusty cab driver and tour guide, Alec Chisholm at the marker in the Mount Olivet Cemetery.


In the Mount Olivet Cemetery, there are 19 victims, all with simple markers, in two straight rows.

This female victim is unidentified except for a number (13).


Another Maritime Disaster

The Fairview Lawn Cemetery also holds the remains of the unidentified dead of the Great Halifax Disaster of 1917. It's almost unbelievable to think this quiet maritime community dealt with not one, but two major disasters within five years of each other. The Disaster occurred on Thursday, December 6, when two ships collided near Halifax, one carrying a full load of explosives for the war effort in Europe (which included 400,000 pounds of TNT). The resulting explosion was the biggest man-made blast before the nuclear age!

Over 1,900 people were killed immediately; within a year the figure climbed well over 2,000.

About 9,000 more were injured, many permanently (especially with eye damage from shattered glass); 325 acres, almost all of the north-end of Halifax, were destroyed. Windows shattered 50 miles away, and the shock wave was felt as far as Sydney, Cape Breton, 270 miles away.

Another Halifax Cemetery

Halifax was founded in 1749 and one of it's oldest cemeteries is St. Paul's on Barrington and Spring Garden Streets (also known as The Old Burying Ground). Some 12,000 people are buried here, but fewer than 10% of their graves are marked. This cemetery was opened in 1749 and used until 1844.

  Most of the older stones are slate that was quarried and hand-carved around Massachusetts Bay and shipped to Halifax before the Revolutionary War. 
Because of the shared ancestry with New England (Halifax was settled by the Scottish, Irish, and English), many of the same death-related symbols are used here as in my favorite Boston graveyard at King's Chapel (founded in 1686).  Click for Larger Image

 Click for Larger Image This child's grave for "Elizabeth" (only 14 days old) includes a winged angel (soul effigy), hour-glass (time), and crossed-bones (death).
Here's a good example of a winged skull ("death head"). Click for Larger Image
 Click for Larger Image I was really excited to find this unique grave stone from 1799. This monument to "Christiana," a wife of a local merchant, features a female image which looks nun-like along with a bird. In all my years of checking out graveyards, I've never seen such romantic imagery from this time period.


Even though more than 1,500 lives were lost on the Titanic, our current society finds humor in the disaster as shown here in this 30-foot inflatable Titanic slide.

(The Titanic AdventureTM is Not Affiliated with Any Motion Picture)

Also, here a local chef carves out a sinking Titanic in blocks of ice (nice irony!) to promote a Titanic-related program at a Chicago-area college.


On Thursday, May 17, 2001, researchers began to exhume the graves of three unidentified victims of the Titanic with hopes of using DNA testing to determine who is buried in the graves.  The three graves were marked with stones bearing numbers - 4, 240, and 281 - and the date the luxury liner went down, April 15, 1912.  DNA tests were to be done on the remains of a woman in her 30s, a man in his 20s and a child.  The two families requesting the DNA tests have remained anonymous.  

Officials later stated that there was not enough DNA to conduct the tests from two of the graves and hope to analyze the remains of the third victim, known only as passenger No. 4.  Researchers hope to determine who this mystery victim is, some 90 years after the Titanic sank. The DNA testing of the piece of bone that was exhumed from the grave is being done by scientists in the paleo-DNA department of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
(source: Chicago Tribune; thanks to gravedigger FENELLA SMITH for alerting Grinny to this news item!)

(Sources for Halifax/Titanic Information: The Halifax Regional Municipality Web Site; The Nova Scotia Museum, Department of Education and Culture; Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember.")

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