Titanic Flotsam & Jetsam
Fete Fatale Prepares to Sail (and Dine) on the Titanic

June 2020
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What You Should Expect During Last Dinner on the Titanic
Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 5:37 pm

A lot (an amazing amount!) of food.

And wine.

And other forms of alcohol.

And beautifully dressed women and handsome men.

But you WON’T find plot. Your character sheet contains some character background and only goals of the “make conversation” variety. You won’t need to try to steal the Countess’s jewels, or raid the Purser’s safe, or poison an enemy or deal with a blackmailer. You will inquire about trips to Egypt or the health of a family member or plays to see in New York or share stories of previous social events.

Depending on how well-known your character was, your character sheet may include a lot of character history, or not much at all. If there is a lot, please don’t be intimidated. Don’t think we expect you to memorize it. [We included it because there’s so much fascinating material out there. We found it interesting, and we thought you might too.] Feel free to make up shared reminiscences with other characters and add details or interests as they will enhance your own and others’ enjoyment. We do ask that you refrain from departing wildly from the basics of your character. If you claim to be a time traveling space nazi or the like, Dig or Gail is likely to pull you aside for a little “re-direction.”

What we’re trying to accomplish in this event is to create a “shared reality” of these people at this moment; we are not striving for historical verisimilitude. And for everyone to enjoy themselves with a good meal and good company, as the First Class passengers did at dinner on April 14th, 1912.

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Etiquette, Illustrated
Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 4:42 pm

A previous blog entry included an excerpt from Emily Post regarding the difficulties ladies dining can experience with gloves, fan, and napkins.

This was apparently a well-known enough quandary that Charles Dana Gibson (the creator of the “Gibson Girl” archetype) illustrated it.

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About That Movie
Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 7:16 pm

So there was this James Cameron movie released in 1997 (85 years after the Big Boat Went Down, as Dig says). You know–starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio? With the song that was so ubiquitous that if you hate Celine Dion, it’s probably the direct cause? And which then hauled home a raft of Oscars?

[That Maggie went to see in the theatre four times? All, I believe, in the huge Woodfield Cinemas, now a parking lot.]

You may have heard that it’s being re-released to theatres this year, with retrofitted 3D, because of some significant milestone or other.

Dana Stevens (film critic for Slate) didn’t watch it during its original release, eschewing it for its huge box office and Oscar haul as indications of “the triumph of mediocrity”, but she now recognizes it for its “triumph of popular art.”

Ebert gives it 4 stars again (despite his view that 3D is a net negative).

At the TED conference in February 2010, James Cameron stated: “Secretly, what I wanted to do was I wanted to dive to the real wreck of ‘Titanic’. And that’s why I made the movie”.

We watched it last weekend, and if you’re a Titanic buff, it is amazing how very many accurate details it includes. Many of them that very few people (like, say, people who are watching it as part of a project requiring research on various minute points) would recognize. Stuff like including tiny speaking parts portraying Guggenheim and his mistress Mme. Aubart, the Duff Gordons, the Countess of Rothes, and the Strausses, and the amazing authenticity of the layout and fittings of the ship.

Except of course for the obligatory portrayal of Mrs. J. J. Brown as a crass hick, starting with her name.

But that’s a subject for another post. . .

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Dinner Etiquette, circa 1912
Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 10:12 pm

According to The London Ritz Book of Etiquette, “there have never been as many rules regarding manners and etiquette as existed during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.” Of course, all these expectations were easier to meet for people who were drilled in them, typically from a very young age (which probably isn’t the case for anyone participating in this event). Making an effort to maintain a more formal tone will add to sensation of stepping back in time to 1912.

A few basic guidelines that pertain to our event:

Whenever a lady rises, or enters or leaves the room, all of the gentlemen automatically stand up.

Unless guests are on terms of intimate acquaintance, they address each other as Mr., Miss, or Mrs. [In public, husbands and wives will typically also address each other as Mr. or Mrs.]

Before dinner, guests gather in a reception room. The host (having determined pairings beforehand) introduces each gentleman to the lady he will “take down” to dinner (this will not be the gentleman’s wife or female relation, unless the party is particularly small or unusually laden with his family). The gentleman bows to the lady, but never takes her hand. Ordinarily the gentleman would converse with the lady while drinks are served, but in this setting (and since they will be seated next to each other for many courses), we encourage guests to mingle and converse with those who will be seated at other tables.  

On the Titanic, passengers were called to dinner by a bugler playing the tune “The Roast Beef of Old England.” Many stately homes rang a gong for the same purpose. The host then leads the way to the dining room with the most important lady on his arm. The hostess enters last, escorted by the most distinguished gentleman. Each gentleman offers his right arm to his lady, escorts her to her place at the table (to the right of his), holds her chair for her, and then sits down himself. During the meal, the gentleman’s first responsibility was to engage her in conversation, but he might speak to the lady on his left if his dinner partner was occupied in conversation elsewhere. These were the formal standards, but the most memorable and successful dinner parties generally included conversations involving most or all at the table.

Ideally, there would be an exact balance of men and women. However, should there be a surplus of women (as can happen during travel), the host will introduce the gentleman to the two women he is accompanying to the table; when called to dinner, he will offer his right arm to the older or the more important of the two, and his left arm to the other and escort them to their places.

Courses on the Titanic were presented in the style known as “Service à la russe“. Each dish is presented on a salver by a steward to each guest. [”A filled plate is never placed before a guest, as thsi would indirectly dictate how much food the guest is to eat.[ In a meal of many courses, this permits each diner to eat as little of each course as he or she prefers.

If you are interested in ALL the gory details of excruciatingly-correct dinner party etiquette from slightly later, see this chapter from the 1922 Emily Post. A sample:


  Ladies always wear gloves to formal dinners and take them off at table. Entirely off. It is hideous to leave them on the arm, merely turning back the hands. Both gloves and fan are supposed to be laid across the lap, and one is supposed to lay the napkin folded once in half across the lap too, on top of the gloves and fan, and all three are supposed to stay in place on a slippery satin skirt on a little lap, that more often than not slants downward.
  It is all very well for etiquette to say “They stay there,” but every woman knows they don’t! And this is quite a nice question: If you obey etiquette and lay the napkin on top of the fan and gloves loosely across your satin-covered knees, it will depend merely upon the heaviness and position of the fan’s handle whether the avalanche starts right, left or forward, onto the floor. There is just one way to keep these four articles (including the lap as one) from disintegrating, which is to put the napkin cornerwise across your knees and tuck the two side corners under like a lap robe, with the gloves and the fan tied in place as it were. This ought not to be put in a book of etiquette, which should say you must do nothing of the kind, but it is either do that or have the gentleman next you groping under the table at the end of the meal; and it is impossible to imagine that etiquette should wish to conserve the picture of “gentlemen on all fours” as the concluding ceremonial at dinners.


  The turning of the table is accomplished by the hostess, who merely turns from the gentleman (on her left probably) with whom she has been talking through the soup and the fish course, to the one on her right. As she turns, the lady to whom the “right” gentleman has been talking, turns to the gentleman further on, and in a moment everyone at table is talking to a new neighbor. Sometimes a single couple who have become very much engrossed, refuse to change partners and the whole table is blocked; leaving one lady and one gentleman on either side of the block, staring alone at their plates. At this point the hostess has to come to the rescue by attracting the blocking lady’s attention and saying, “Sally, you cannot talk to Professor Bugge any longer! Mr. Smith has been trying his best to attract your attention.”
  “Sally” being in this way brought awake, is obliged to pay attention to Mr. Smith, and Professor Bugge, little as he may feel inclined, must turn his attention to the other side. To persist in carrying on their own conversation at the expense of others, would be inexcusably rude, not only to their hostess but to every one present.
  At a dinner not long ago, Mr. Kindhart sitting next to Mrs. Wellborn and left to himself because of the assiduity of the lady’s farther partner, slid his own name-card across and in front of her, to bring her attention to the fact that it was “his turn.”

  One inexorable rule of etiquette is that you must talk to your next door neighbor at a dinner table. You must, that is all there is about it!
  Even if you are placed next to some one with whom you have had a bitter quarrel, consideration for your hostess, who would be distressed if she knew you had been put in a disagreeable place, and further consideration for the rest of the table which is otherwise “blocked,” exacts that you give no outward sign of your repugnance and that you make a pretence at least for a little while, of talking together.
  At dinner once, Mrs. Toplofty, finding herself next to a man she quite openly despised, said to him with apparent placidity, “I shall not talk to you—because I don’t care to. But for the sake of my hostess I shall say my multiplication tables. Twice one are two, twice two are four ——” and she continued on through the tables, making him alternate them with her. As soon as she politely could she turned again to her other companion.

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National Geographic
Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 8:33 pm

Rather unsurprisingly, the cover story of the April 2012 issue is on the Titanic—primarily on new images of the wreck and debris field. Using similar techniques to how Google Earth stitches together satellite images, high-definition visuals captured by “three state-of-the-art robotic vehicles . . . bristling with side-scan and multibeam sonar as well as high-definition optical cameras snapping hundreds of images a second” have been digitally assembled into a massive picture. [Apparently if you get the iPad version of the issue, you can zoom in and out on the image, which is just a fold-out in the newsstand version.]

 There also more detail on how and why Titanic broke apart during the sinking. [There’s an animated version of the sinking in the iPad version.] A second article has some amazing interior images of different rooms of the wreck, side-by-side with shots taken from similar perspectives inside Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic.

National Geographic Channel, starting Sunday, April 8th, will be showing a two night Titanic Event. Their website has a huge amount of content about Titanic—documentaries, photos, articles, and two intriguing “interactives”: an Interactive Timeline of the building of Titanic and “Adventure on the Titanic”, where you choose a first class passenger and select their actions on board in various quests. Which I would totally be wasting time on right now, if I didn’t have posts and timetables and character stuff to work on.

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Filed under: General
Posted by: Fete Fatale @ 2:53 pm

April 14th, 1912, during her inaugural crossing of the Atlantic, the Titanic stuck an iceberg at 11:40pm and sunk just a few hours later.

“On the night of the wreck our dinner tables were a picture! The huge
bunches of grapes which topped the fruit baskets on every table were
thrilling. The menus were wonderfully varied and tempting. I stayed at
table from soup to nuts.”
Titanic passenger Kate Buss

“There was not the slightest thought of danger in the minds of those who sat around the tables in the luxurious dining saloon of the Titanic. It was a brilliant crowd. Jewels flashed from the gowns of the women. And, oh, the dear women, how fondly they wore their latest Parisian gowns! It was the first time that most of them had an opportunity to display their newly acquired finery.”
–First Class passenger Mrs. Jacques Futrelle

A few short hours earlier, the socially prominent or merely wealthy denizens of First Class dined lavishly in the First Class Dining Saloon or the a la carte restaurant. The restaurant was stunningly appointed in the style of Louis Seize, and only the muted vibrations from the engines gave any hint that the patrons were not actually dining in a five-star hotel. The Wideners hosted a party there that night–Mrs. Widener consulting with the chef to determine the menu–which boasted among their guests Titanic’s commanding officer, Captain Edward J. Smith.

“We dined the last night in the Ritz restaurant. It was the last word in luxury. The tables were gay with pink roses and white daisies, the women in their beautiful gowns of satin and silk, the men immaculate and well-groomed, the stringed orchestra playing music from Puccini and Tchaikovsky. The food was superb: caviar, lobster, quail from Egypt, plover’s eggs, and hothouse grapes and fresh peaches. The night was cold and clear, the sea like glass.”
–First Class passenger Mrs. Walter Douglas

However, the list of those gathered in the First Class Dining Saloon was also impressive, including Colonel John Jacob Astor (one of the wealthiest men in the world) and his young bride; Benjamin Guggenheim (through his financial dealings with J. Pierpont Morgan, part owner of the White Star Line itself); Isidor and Ida Strass (co-founder of Macy’s department store); William T. Stead, well-known crusading journalist; Dorothy Gibson, motion picture actress, and her mother.

“A smooth sea, clear skies and low temperature outside gave women passengers an opportunity to get out their latest Parisian gowns, their most brilliant jewels, transformation [a hairdo of the time], facial treatments, etc. It was a brilliant assembly — contentment and happiness prevailed.”
– First Class passenger Elmer Taylor

Titanic had the most advanced culinary facilities afloat, and a small army of chefs, assistants, kitchen support staff and stewards to prepare and serve at least six thousand meals a day, for the 2,223 passengers and crew aboard. The Dining Saloon was large enough to seat five hundred diners. That night, head chef Charles Proctor had constructed an eleven-course feast of Edwardian cuisine based on the elaborate dishes and rich sauces of French master chef Auguste Escoffier. 

:It was hard to realize, when dining in the large and spacious dining saloon, that one was not in some large and sumptuous hotel.”
–First Class passenger Washington Dodge

“Inside this floating palace that spring evening in 1912, warmth and lights, the hum of voices, the gay lilt of a German waltz — the unheeding sounds of a small world bent on pleasure.”
–First Class passenger Lady Duff-Gordon

In the unlikely event you aren’t already aware of this: Fete Fatale Productions will be running “an historical dinner with roleplaying event” Last Dinner on the Titanic on Saturday, April 14th, 2012.  As we prepare for our voyage back in time to recreate the atmosphere the First Class passengers aboard Titanic experienced during that final dinner, we will posting here various information about the ship, the passengers, the social mores of the time, and probably random stuff just because it strikes us as cool.

Probably in part because this is the 100th anniversary, we are finding a great increase in the amount of information about Titanic available online since we did this event in 2001.

For information about the ship, its passengers, and the voyage, sinking and aftermath, the number one resource online is the Encyclopedia Titanica. [We wouldn’t recommend clicking that link unless you’ve got time to poke around.] See the complete listing of First Class passengers with links to biographies for every one.

Of course, at the time, those in the society that booked First Class passage on the Titanic spent a lot of time on choosing and changing into clothes. See Dressing for Dinner on the Titanic for an excellent article detailing just that.

Many, many books have been written on the Titanic. Here are three that we would recommend:

  1. A Night to Remember by Walter Lord is an excellent non-fiction telling, and pretty much the gold-standard. [We will be viewing the 1958 movie based on it soon!]
  2. The Loss of the S.S. Titanic by Lawrence Beesley was written by a survivor, and is available as a free e-book from Project Gutenberg.
  3. Last Dinner on the Titanic by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley: obviously we are big fans of this book! 
Any resources you’d recommend? Also, we’d be happy to post guest articles, should you wish to contribute.

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