D.C. to Mark Centennial of Titanic Disaster

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Courtesy Southwest D.C. Heritage

In a city of monuments, one of Washington’s lesser known memorials will be in the spotlight this weekend, April 14-15. The Titanic Memorial at the foot of P Street, S.W., is along the Washington Channel and will be the centerpiece of Saturday’s Southwest Heritage commemoration, “Titanic 100,” beginning 7 p.m.

The story of the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking on her 1912 maiden voyage has been told many times — most recently with a new National Geographic exhibit, TV shows and an re-issuing of the 1997 film, “Titanic,” in 3-D.

The sculpture by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was unveiled in 1931 and originally perched at the foot of New Hampshire Avenue where the Kennedy Center now stands. Whitney’s design was chosen by the Fine Arts Commission in 1914 . The image of a man with arms outstretched in self-sacrifice supposedly inspired the scene at the bow in the movie, “Titanic,” when the main characters faced forward and balanced themselves in the ocean breeze. Also, Whitney’s sculpture is said by some to resemble her brother Alfred Vanderbilt, who died in the sinking of the Lusitania during World War One in 1915. Whitney’s other sculptures in D.C. are the Aztec Fountain for the Pan-American Building at the Organization of American State and the Founder’s Memorial at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall. Besides being from two of the wealthiest American families as well as an artist and arts patron, the remarkable Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney is best remembered for her founding of the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City.

The Christ-like sculpture, originally named the Woman’s Titanic Memorial, and re-erected on P Street, S.W., in 1968 honors the men of all ages and backgrounds, who gave their lives to save women and children. The etching on its plinth or base (designed by the architect of the Lincoln Memorial Henry Bacon) reads on the front:

TO THE BRAVE MEN
WHO PERISHED
IN THE WRECK
OF THE TITANIC
APRIL 15 1912
THEY GAVE THEIR
LIVES THAT WOMEN
AND CHILDREN
MIGHT BE SAVED

ERECTED BY THE
WOMEN OF AMERICA

The words on the back of the base read:

FOR THE YOUNG AND THE OLD
THE RICH AND THE POOR
THE IGNORANT AND THE LEARNED
ALL
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES NOBLY
TO SAVE WOMEN AND CHILDREN

The Saturday commemoration includes a performance of “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the last song played on the Titanic, at 9 p.m. The Men’s Titanic Society will hold its annual salute to those who died just after midnight, at 12:30 a.m., April 15, in front of the sculpture. For more information, visit SWDCheritage.org.

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