More than a century after it sank, the story of the RMS Titanic still fascinates people around the world, and as with any large-scale tragedy, not everyone believes mainstream explanations for the incident. There may not be many Titanic conspiracy theories out there, but the ones that do exist are certainly persistent. One theory was the subject of a book published in 1998, nearly two decades ago — and it still circulates today. How's that for longevity?
When the Titanic set off on its maiden voyage, the British ocean liner was already famous. Commissioned by the White Star Line in the early 20th century, it was one of three "Olympic class" liners; its sister ships were the RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic. (The Britannic, by the way, sank in 1916 in the Aegean Sea, leaving 30 dead.) The Titanic was one of the biggest, most luxurious ships of its time, and in April of 1912, it set sail for New York with more than 2,200 people aboard.
Four days into its journey, however, the ship crashed into an iceberg, tearing open multiple watertight compartments along its hull. Within a few hours, the Titanic had sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and more than 1,500 passengers and crew were dead. (So much for being the "king of the world.")
The Titanic was in the news recently thanks to an alternate theory about why it sank so easily. According to journalist Senan Molony, it's possible that a coal fire broke out before the voyage began, weakening the ship's structure and allowing the iceberg to cause more damage. As Jalopnik pointed out, this theory isn't exactly new — we've known for a while that there was a fire onboard that certainly didn't help matters — but a documentary that aired in the UK just after the New Year, Titanic: The New Evidence has brought it back to light.
Wondering why you're still so fascinated by these theories? "We are creatures of control and predictability," Dr. Joshua Klaplow, licensed clinical psychologist and behavioral scientist, tells Bustle. "We seek in general to create certainty out of uncertainty. At a very deep level uncertainty signals danger. So when there are mysteries or stories with endings that seem not entirely clear. Or worse, stories that suggest that our world is not predictable and there are no clear answers (or answers that suit our individual perspective on the world) we are prone to create stories or believe stories that fit narratives that suit us."
And let's face it, conspiracy theories are also pretty exciting. "Conspiracy theories tap into our natural curiosity, our desire to find truths that fit our own bias perspectives, and frankly the excitement that comes with the belief that maybe what was explained one way is not the case," Klapow says. "Conspiracy theories are both tantalizing from a mystery standpoint, but also pull on our desire to create closure and truth in our world to make it more explainable."
For what it's worth, the fire theory is fairly plausible... but let's face it: That's not what you're here for. Instead, let's look at six conspiracy theories about the sinking of the Titanic. Although they're not all that credible (and in some cases, extremely not credible), they're always interesting to think about.
1. The Ship Wasn't The Titanic
According to one theory, it wasn't the Titanic that sank on the night of April 14. Instead, it was her sister ship, the Olympic, which was swapped with the Titanic and sunk in a deliberate accident as part of an insurance scheme. The Olympic, you see, had been in two serious collisions within months of its launch; the damage was so severe that repairs would have been astronomically expensive.
Some theorists have suggested that White Star Line switched out the two ships, so the unblemished Titanic was sailing under the Olympic's name. The real Olympic, on the other hand, was left at the bottom of the ocean. This theory was most recently laid out in Robin Gardiner's book Titanic: The Ship that Never Sank?.
2. The Wreck Was Deliberate
Another theory posits that rather than a terrible accident, the Titanic's wreck was deliberate. According to its proponents, three passengers on the ship — John Jacob Astor IV, Benjamin Guggenheim, and Isador Strauss — were opposed to the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank. (There's actually fairly little evidence to substantiate their feelings on the matter, but oh well.) Their deaths in the wreck supposedly smoothed the way for the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank the following year, in 1913.
There are a few variations on this theory; in some versions, the men were opposed to income tax legislation as well. According to others, the Catholic order of Jesuits or the plutocrat J.P. Morgan lured the men onto the ship and to their deaths.
3. It Was Attacked By German U-Boat
Because the Titanic was supposed to be an engineering marvel, some have claimed that it was sunk by an outside force — not an iceberg, but a torpedo from a German submarine. Supporters of this theory pointed out that several survivors heard explosions after the ship began sinking, and some saw a searchlight in the distance prior to the arrival of the rescue ship.
(But it's still highly unlikely to be true. Just sayin'.)
4. The Curse Of The Pharoah
A particularly mystical (and dubiously racist) theory for the wreck blames the tragedy on a "curse." According to this theory, a historian sailing on the Titanic was carrying the remains of an Egyptian mummy, which were stored on the bridge to avoid damage. You can see where this is going: Supposedly, the remains were cursed, causing the Titanic to sink mere days into the voyage.
5. A Journalist Foresaw The Tragedy
This isn't so much a conspiracy theory as a paranormal tale, but it's worth noting. In 1886, the influential British writer William T. Stead published a short story titled "How the Atlantic Mail Steamer Went Down." Its plot is eerily reminiscent of the Titanic disaster: A mail steamer in the Atlantic collides with another vessel, and a shortage of lifeboats on board caused an enormous loss of life.
More than a decade later, Stead was a passenger on the Titanic. He died in the wreck, but supposedly, a medium channeled his spirit not long after his death.
6. A Ship Refused To Help
Finally, there's a theory that the Norwegian seal hunting ship Samson was in the vicinity of the Titanic while the ship was sinking. Remember the searchlights mentioned earlier? Some believe that these lights emanated from the Samson. One crew member claimed to have seen rockets coming from the direction of what turned out to be the scene of the disaster, but because the ship was hunting in territorial waters, the distress signals were ignored. It wasn't until later that the crew found out they had sailed away from the Titanic.
Then again, records indicate that the ship was probably at a port in Iceland, but that details doesn't make for a very good conspiracy theory, does it?
This piece was originally published on Jan 6, 2017. It was updated on June 28, 2019.