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Origins of The Titanic

Sarah Cunningham — November 1, 2022


The Moral of This Story is to Wear a Life Preserver:

The Broadside Origins and Summer Camp Legacy of “The Titanic

By Courtney Greer

From when I was ten years old until I was in college, I spent my summers at a summer camp in Richmond, New Hampshire, first as a camper and later as a cabin leader, kitchen crew member, and one-time performing arts program head…

One of the first longer songs I remember learning by heart was a song called “The Titanic”, a song about the sinking of the Titanic featuring a catchy tune, lots of clapping and gesturing along to the lyrics, and a cheerful yet scolding tone. The song1 begins with the building of the ship and the hubris of the shipbuilders (Oh they built the ship Titanic,/ To sail the ocean blue/ And they thought they had a ship/ That the water wouldn’t go through…), mentions the socio-economic hierarchy of the passengers that affected the fatality demographics (And the rich refused to associate with the poor/ So they sent them down below/ Where they were the first to go), refers to the apocryphal story of the song the band was playing as they went down with the ship (And the band started playing “Nearer my God to Thee”), and ends with a warning (Always wear a life-preserver/ When you go out to sea). When I was on the staff, we would occasionally discuss the morbid nature of the song in passing, but never thought it was a big issue. As current Camp Takodah Director, Sarah Cunningham Castro, told me, “I do think it’s rather funny that we sing about children drowning… [but] I just know for my 20 years at camp no matter who is there that song is a fan favorite amongst campers”.

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