• The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, killing over 1,500 people.
• Ever since, conspiracy theories have bounced around regarding the nature of the maritime disaster.
• Some of the allegations are pretty out there – like the idea that an ancient Egyptian curse doomed the ocean liner.
The Titanic remains one of the most famous disasters in history.
On its maiden voyage to New York city, the ocean liner hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, resulting in severe damage to its hull. The Titanic slipped beneath the dark waves of the North Atlantic in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. Over 1,500 people lost their lives, and the luxury passenger ship became an emblem of disaster.
Given the level of public interest and scrutiny, it’s not surprising that a handful of conspiracy theories have cropped up about the ship’s fate. Some are almost entirely fictional – like the idea that a cursed mummy was onboard the ship. Others allege that the tragedy was a result of insurance fraud, or an attempt by JP Morgan to rid himself of some powerful rivals.
Here are five conspiracy theories about the sinking of the Titanic:
The Titanic was marked by a controversial secret message
- Wikimedia Commons
One conspiracy theory about the Titanic has been floating around for years.
First, it’s important to note that the Titanic was constructed in the city of Belfast by the shipbuilding firm Harland and Wolff.
The conspiracy theory is that Catholic workers reacted in horror when the new ship’s hull number – 3909 04 – was unveiled.
The reason? If you flip 3909 04 upside down, it kind of looks like “NO POPE.” As far as the theory goes, the Catholic workers saw this as blasphemy, and worried that harm would come to the ship.
But there are a number of big problems with this conspiracy theory, which Snopes has also debunked.
To start, Harland and Wollff assigned the Titanic a yard number of 401. The 3909 04 number is completely made up.
What’s more, there would have been no Catholic workers on hand to warn their Protestant colleagues of the problematic hull number.
In 1886, Protestant Harland and Wolff employees launched a large-scale attack on their Catholic coworkers, according to the book “The Invention of the White Race.” The result was an exodus of Catholic workers from the shipbuilder, which was Belfast’s largest employer at the time.
In “Irish Blood, English Heart, Ulster Fry: Return Journeys to Ireland,” Annie Caulfield writes that, “by the twentieth century, Harland and Wolff had a reputation for only employing Protestants.”
The Titanic was doomed due to a mummy’s curse
- Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Did an ancient mummy seal the Titanic’s fate?
No. Human error and a lifeboat shortage brought about the maritime catastrophe.
Still, the idea that an ancient curse sunk the ship is one of the more fanciful conspiracy theories that cropped up in the wake of the disaster.
According to the legend, an ancient, mummified princess left a trail of death and devastation across England in the early 1900s after being excavated and removed from Egypt.
Once the beleaguered community of British art collectors and museum professionals had enough of the haunted mummy, an American archaeologist swooped in to purchase it. Ignoring his colleagues’ warnings, he headed back to New York with his new acquisition.
But the unfortunate scholar and the mummy never made to the States. Because, lo and behold, the name of the ship that they sailed off on was the HMS Titanic!
The tale is popular, but also completely fictional. Snopes debunked the story, noting that, even disregarding the tale’s fantastical elements, there was no mummy onboard the ship.
That hasn’t stopped the British Museum’s so-called “unlucky mummy” from getting blamed for the ship’s sinking, though.
The ship was attacked by a U-boat
- Wikimedia Commons
The Titanic is known as one of the biggest peacetime maritime disasters in history. The tragedy missed the onset of the First World War by two years.
But some still speculate that a German U-boat was really behind the ship’s sinking.
If such a theory panned out, that’d make the Titanic’s sinking a precursor to that of the Lusitania. In 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed the British ocean liner off the coast of Ireland, killing 1,198 people.
While the theory lacks an abundance of evidence, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
A number of Titanic survivors reported to have noticed “an unidentified vessel approximately five to six miles away” from the sinking ship, which reportedly lingered until 2 a.m., according to Dr. Franklin Ruehl’s piece in The Huffington Post. Ruehl speculated that the craft was possibly “a submarine that had surfaced to assess the damage it had caused, after which time it skulked off,” and also cited survivor testimony about a number of explosions that seemed to go off deep with the ship.
“The sub may have deliberately targeted the luxury liner or possibly accidentally collided with it,” Ruehl wrote.
The Titanic never sank
- Topical Press Agency / Stringer / Getty Images
What if the Titanic never sank at all?
That’s the thinking behind one particular conspiracy theory. According to this idea, the Olympic – the Titanic’s older, nearly identical sister ship – was actually the one that went down near Newfoundland.
But what would’ve been the point of switching the ships in secret?
In the book “Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?” researcher Robin Gardiner wrote that the whole disaster was the result of an insurance scam by the International Mercantile Marine Co., which owned the White Star Line. The Olympic and the Titanic were both White Star Line vessels.
According to Gardiner’s theory, the trouble started when the Olympic crashed into a warship in 1911, and was blamed for the accident in an ensuing inquiry. As a result, the White Star Line – an IMM subsidiary – was unable to receive an insurance payout.
Gardiner theorized that the line fixed up the Olympic as best as it could, and masqueraded it as the Titanic. By allowing the wounded ship to continue on under an assumed name, the company could collect the insurance payment when it sunk.
The alleged intent wasn’t to kill anyone onboard – if the plan had gone off without a hitch, the ship would have sunk slowly and close to another ship that could subsequently rescue the crew and passengers. So what went wrong? According to Gardiner, the liner ended up accidentally running over a darkened rescue ship, which passengers and crew members would later mistake for an iceberg.
The blog Ultimate Titanic reported that, despite Gardiner’s theory, all numbered items pulled from the wreck of the Titanic bore the construction number 401. The Olympic’s construction number, on the other hand, was 400.
What’s more, “Conspiracies at Sea: Titanic and Lusitania” author J. Kent Layton wrote that, before the Olympic was broken up for scrap, its woodwork was sold. “”Never, not once, as a single piece of woodwork from the Olympic turned up with the number ‘401’ stamped on the reverse,” Layton wrote.
JP Morgan was behind the whole thing
- Wikimedia Commons
This rumor has everything you could want in a conspiracy theory. A man powerful and wealthy enough to play god. Overly-complicated methods of assassination. A mass casualty event. The Federal Reserve Bank.
There’s a theory out there that JP Morgan sank the Titanic in order to pave the way for the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank in the US. The bank’s creation was reportedly opposed by millionaire John Jacob Astor, mining magnate Benjamin Guggenheim, and Macy’s co-owner Isidor Straus.
These three wealthy men did indeed lose their lives when the Titanic sank.
Astor was last seen clinging to the side of a raft. Guggenheim, whose body was never recovered, reportedly put a rose in his buttonhole and quipped, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” And Straus died alongside his wife Ida, who refused to leave her husband’s side as the ship sank.
But Morgan dodged death and disaster when he canceled his trip in the eleventh hour. The powerful financier owned the IMM, which in turn owned the White Star Line. As such, he had his own personal suite, promenade deck, and specially-designed bath on the ship.
Morgan was reportedly supposed to be on the ship, but decided to skip the maiden voyage at the last second. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he decided to linger in Europe in order to buy tapestries for his art collection.
So what reason would Morgan have to allegedly sink his own ship? Conspiracy theorists say that, in the interest of clearing away opposition to the Federal Reserve Bank, Morgan somehow manipulated all of his rivals into sail on the maiden voyage, so that he could sink it.
But, Layton pointed out that it’s almost unimaginable that Morgan could’ve gotten all three of his major rivals to take the fateful trip.
“Surely there had to be easier ways to carry out the plan?” Layton wrote. “Even more importantly: how was it that no one came forward in the century since and said, ‘Yes, I helped to set up the sinking of the Titanic in order to kill three men who were opposed to the formation of the US Federal Reserve’?”