NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 6, 2012

Teacher takes cruise re-enacting Titanic voyage

By Kristin Harty Barkley
CNHI News Service

CUMBERLAND, Md. — Kristi Athey says she won’t be able to stop the tears when she arrives at the watery gravesite in the North Atlantic where the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank a century ago.

"It’s just so sad," said Athey, 47, a fourth-grade Maryland social studies teacher who has had a lifelong fascination with the Titanic. "I know I will be a mess."

She will be aboard the MS Balmoral on a cruise that re-enacts the Titanic’s maiden, fateful journey from Southampton, England, to the site of the sinking 375 miles south of Halifax, Newfoundland. Only the re-enactment voyage will continue on to the Titanic’s intended destination port of New York City.

The Balmoral cruise will replicate the details of the Titanic, including menus to mirror the meals, ship trappings and passengers and crew dressed in early 19th century attire. Historians will conduct lectures on the Titanic.

A memorial service will be held at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, marking the exact moment when the Titanic sank below the ocean with more than 1,000 people still aboard after foundering for nearly three hours upon striking the iceberg.

In all, 1,514 of the 2,224 people aboard the Titanic died in the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history. The ocean liner had only enough lifeboats to hold one-third of the passengers.

Athey and her sister, Nancy Pritchard of Frederick, Md., bought tickets on the re-enactment cruise almost two years ago as a way to relive history and honor the dead.

But that’s understandable when you consider they have a personal tie to the story of the Titanic. Athey said their grandmother had a ticket on the Titanic, but she didn’t take the trip because of a last-minute illness.

"Ever since I was a kid I’ve just had a big obsession with it," said Athey. "Grandma didn’t talk about it much, but I would always just think about it."

So much so, said Athey, that she’s seen the 1999 James Cameron movie, "Titanic," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, no less than 13 times.

For more than a decade, students in Athey’s classes at Flintstone Elementary School have completed a project about the Titanic during the anniversary of its demise — from building a model ship to performing a play in period dress.

This year, they will track her journey aboard the Balmoral, which departs from Southampton, England, Sunday, two days earlier than the Titanic did because the Balmoral is not as fast and the cruise wants to be at the site of the sinking on the very day it occurred.

Athey’s students compiled facts and figures about the Titanic for their teacher’s trip. Student Carl Eckhard, for example, said the ship was held together by 3 million rivets, that the water was 28 degrees Fahrenheit when it sank, and that a first-class ticket on the ocean liner cost $4,000 in 1912, the equivalent of $99,000 today. Third-class tickets, held mainly by immigrants heading to America for a new life, went for $30, or about $800 in today.

On April 19, the Balmoral re-enactment cruise is scheduled to arrive in New York City, completing the trip the Titanic never did.

"I told my students that when we get to New York we’re going to see what so many of those people didn’t get to see," said Athey. "So many of those  immigrants … wanted to see was that Statue of Liberty because then they knew they were going to be in this place that was going to be wonderful. It’s just so sad."

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Kristin Harty Barkley is a reporter for the Cumberland, Md., Times-News. Contact her at kbarkley@times-news.com.