WASHINGTON – Sixteen tuxedo-clad men gathered under the outstretched arms of a 20-foot-high statue. As a ship’s bell chimed seven times, the men lined up and drank champagne along the banks of the Potomac River.
The men, members of the Men’s Titanic Society, gathered one hour after midnight on Tuesday to honor the men who gave their lives in 1912 so women and children could be saved from the sinking ocean liner.
As they have each spring since 1979, the men each raised a glass and offered their own toasts, ending each time with “to those brave men.”
A crowd of about 15 people watched as the men laid a wreath of red carnations at the foot of the statue whose inscription read in part: “To the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the ignorant and the learned, all who gave their lives nobly.”
The Men’s Titanic Society was founded by film maker Jim Silman after he produced a documentary for WRC-TV Channel 4 on things people don’t know about Washington.
The 70-year-old Bethesda, Md., native came across the Titanic Memorial, located near Fort Lesley J. McNair in Southwest, while conducting research for the documentary.
“It’s a beautiful location,” Silman said. “We’re trying to get more people to know where it is.”
The statue of a tall, angelic man with outstretched arms is located there today, after having been moved from a spot in Northwest Washington in the late 1960s to make room for the Kennedy Center.
The statue was erected in 1931 by the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association, which performed an annual wreath-laying ceremony for years. The Men’s Titanic Society continued the tradition.
The men began their evening Monday at the Watergate Hotel. They dined on a meal similar to that served the fateful night 85 years earlier, when 1,500 people lost their lives when the R.M.S. Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. The luxury liner was en route to New York from Southampton, England, when it struck an iceberg.
Society members ate oysters on the half shell, tournedos with artichoke bottoms and foie gras with truffle.
Then they climbed into three limousines and made their way to the memorial location.
As they lined up, Bob Asman, executive producer of the Commission on Presidential Debates, stepped out front and delivered his annual reading of the story of the Titanic.
Asman explained that only 16 lifeboats were available that night and the “chivalry and gallantry” of the men saved 316 women and 57 children. Men were among the 700 survivors.
Ron Taylor, 44, of Washington, was among those in attendance for the toast. He said he was passing by when he saw men in tuxedos and lights and wondered what was going on.
“You don’t see that every day,” Taylor said.
Silman said most of the men in the group don’t profess to be Titanic buffs and none had relatives aboard the ship. Most just attend year after year out of appreciation for the sacrifice.
“It’s a beautiful moment that people forgot,” Silman said. “It was one of the greatest acts of courage in history.” -30-