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Column 041612 Wall

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Story of the Titanic's Lone, Truly Courageous, Mexican

By Allan Wall

April 15th was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, on April 15th, 1912.   For the past 100 years this tragic story has captivated the public.  It's been studied, discussed and portrayed in many articles, books and movies.

The RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic was, at the time, the world's largest ship.  The vessel, belonging to the White Star Line, had been constructed in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.  Titanic was on her maiden voyage, from Southampton, England to New York City.

But the ship never arrived to her destination, colliding with an iceberg and sinking in the North Atlantic.  There were 1,517 passengers and crewmembers who perished, while 710 survived, being rescued by the Carpathia of the rival Cunard Line.

The story has been so captivating for several reasons.  One is the technical accomplishment of the ship's construction.

Then there was the passenger list. On board were wealthy members of the British and American upper classes.  The richest man on board was American John Jacob Astor IV, with his wife Madeleine.  Other wealthy Americans included Benjamin Guggenheim, and the owner of New York's famous Macy's story, Isidor Strauss, and his wife Ida.  All of these passengers died with the exception of Madeleine Astor.  Other famous Americans on board were author Jacque Futrelle, who perished, and actress Dorothy Gibson, who survived.

There are various stories of heroism and sacrifice on Titanic. For example, all the engineers perished, working to the end, and famously, the band continued to play as the ship went down.

The biggest national contingent among the passengers was that of the British, with 327 passengers, followed by the U.S., with 306.  There were 120 Irish, 113 Swedes, 81 Syrians, 59 Finns, and 49 Austro-Hungarians.  Other nationalities included Uruguayans (3 passengers, all of whom died), Spaniards (7 passengers, 1 of whom died), and one Japanese, who survived.

Plus there was one Mexican traveling on the Titanic, a Mexican congressman by the name of Manuel Uruchurtu, who had been in France.

When Titanic was sinking, Uruchurtu was offered a place in a lifeboat and took a seat.  An English lady named Elizabeth Ramell Nye, from Second Class, asked to be allowed on the lifeboat.  The ship's officers wouldn't allow it.  However, Uruchurtu got up and gave the lady his seat.

After voluntarily giving up his place on the lifeboat, Uruchurtu perished along with many others.  Uruchurtu's sacrifice was part of the testimony before the U.S. Senate, when that body took up the subject. Titanic survivors testified before the Senate, and three of them related the story of Uruchurtu.

Nor did Elizabeth Ramell Nye, the woman he saved, forget.  Twelve years after Titanic's sinking, she visited Uruchurtu's family in Mexico.  The only person in the town she could find who spoke English was a schoolteacher, so she explained the purpose of her visit to the school teacher.

Antonio Uruchurtu, the great-great-nephew of Manuel Uruchurtu, says that "His (Uruchurtu's) story serves to rescue values, when parents and grandparents were gentlemen, courage, respect for women and loyalty, these were more important than your life, all these values that present-day society needs to recover."

Any discussion of Titanic also brings to mind the blockbuster 1997 movie on the subject by James Cameron.  In my view, this wasn't a great movie as far as plot and acting go, and it has its share of errors.  The specially-constructed Titanic replica used in the movie, though, was a great accomplishment. 

The Cameron Titanic movie was filmed in Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico in 1996 and 1997, and it certainly pumped a lot of money into the local economy.  They constructed a special water tank for it, which was later used for other movies such as "Master and Commander" with Russell Crowe, and "Pearl Harbor."  Later they planned to film the Narnia movie "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" there, but due to concerns about violence, production was moved elsewhere. 

In order to get more Hollywood production back in Mexico, the government set up cash rebates and tax breaks to help convince moviemakers to film in Mexico. Given the country's vast and varied scenery, there are many good places in which movies can be filmed.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info/.


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