PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Two Titanic survivors who later became tennis pros are being honored at Rhode Island’s International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum. Nearby on Cape Cod, a wreath will be laid for a radio operator who relayed Morse code messages as the ill-fated ship went down. In Denver, a musical piece composed for famed passenger Molly Brown is getting its premiere.
With remembrances and exhibits planned from San Diego to Singapore, places with few or little-noted connections to the Titanic are showing the power the tragedy holds worldwide 100 years after the vessel sank April 15, 1912, and took more than 1,500 people to their deaths.
In Newport, R.I., visitors can stop by the tennis museum’s “Tennis and the Titanic” exhibit as a tribute to Hall of Famers Richard Norris Williams II and Karl Howell Behr. They met in their 20s aboard the rescue vessel Carpathia and became friends, with tennis and tragedy in common.
Williams, who grew up in Switzerland, was headed with his father to Massachusetts, where he would attend Harvard. As the ship went down, the two prepared to jump in the water, but one of the Titanic’s smokestacks toppled, crushing Williams’ father.
The 21-year-old jumped in nonetheless and found a lifeboat.
“He climbed aboard that and spent the next five hours waist deep, or occasionally deeper, in 28-degree water,” said Williams’ son, Quincy Williams, now 80, who was on hand for the exhibit’s opening Thursday and participated in a public discussion with members of Behr’s family.
Behr, an already successful tennis player who bought a ticket for the Titanic’s maiden voyage in pursuit of a woman, became a member of the Carpathia’s survivor committee, helping other passengers to safety. He proved himself to the woman’s disapproving parents and later married her.
Williams and Behr faced each other several times on the court, most notably just two years after the sinking, in the quarterfinals of the U.S. National Championship, held that year in Newport. (Williams beat Behr in three sets.)
The most famous maritime disaster in history – occurring as the Titanic steamed from Britain toward New York – is being highlighted in other ways in places without direct links to it.
Venues in Las Vegas, San Diego, Houston and even Singapore are hosting Titanic exhibitions that include artifacts recovered from the site of the sinking. Among them: bottles of perfume, porcelain dishes, even a 17-foot piece of hull.
The University of Denver is holding a Titanic concert featuring the premiere of Lifeboat No. 6, in homage to hometown resident Margaret “Molly” Brown. The “unsinkable” Brown, portrayed in Hollywood by the likes of Debbie Reynolds and Kathy Bates, was one of its most famous passengers, organizing survivors and helping them once they landed in New York.
Tourist traps are taking advantage of the anniversary to draw crowds. The Titanic museums in landlocked Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., plan events including a musical tribute and a ham radio broadcast.
In Chatham, Mass., the family of Matt Tierney will commemorate his role as one of the “Marconi boys,” the wireless radio operators who served as critical communication links during and after the disaster.
Tierney was working the night shift at a station on Nantucket on April 14, 1912, when he heard a faint distress signal – CQD, used before SOS – that he relayed to New York. For several days after the sinking, he transmitted messages containing information on who had survived, and who had been lost.
“We’re extremely proud that he was able to help in his way,” said Bill Upham, 64, Tierney’s grandson, who recalls hearing his grandfather tell stories about that night.
Upham and other family members, including some of Tierney’s great- and great-great-grandchildren, will lay a wreath at his grave today.
Tierney’s story is told in a documentary featured at the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center. The center, in conjunction with the National Park Service, is also gathering ham radio operators to relay commemorative messages to other wireless operators around the world during the anniversary weekend. The effort began Thursday and will continue around the clock until Sunday afternoon.
Said Frank Messina, the center’s vice president: “We’re focusing on the radio operator, and the fact that they were really the heroes of the day.”