Titanic expert, Craig Sopin on 'Titanic's Lost Evidence'
In History's Greatest Mysteries, Laurence Fishburne unravels some of the most historically important mysteries of recent times such as who was D.B Cooper and what was the real reason for the sinking of the RMS Titanic?
Episode 1 of the series, Titanic's Lost Evidence, looks at new evidence, unsealed till today from the private papers of Lord Mersey who first investigated the cause of the disaster. Many believe the original investigation was a whitewash failing to condemn the hubris of the British Board of Trade, the recklessness of White Star Line. Will Lord Mersey's private papers support that view and reveal the true cause of the sinking of the Titanic? Find out in episode 1 of History's Greatest Mysteries, as part of Mystery Season.
Craig Sopin, owner of one of the largest collections of Titanic memorabilia in the world joins the expert contributors of Titanic's Lost Evidence to give his unique insight on the ship. Sky History called up the Philadelphia lawyer to talk about the show, his collection and whether there was a conspiracy to hide the truth.
Sky HISTORY: What made the Titanic such a remarkable ship in your view?
Craig Sopin: It was the largest and the most luxurious passenger ship at the time and was called ‘the millionaire’s ship’ because there were so many millionaires on board. It was just luxurious and opulent, everything was perfect. It was billed as practically unsinkable yet it went down on its maiden voyage.
How did you start your collection of Titanic memorabilia?
The first thing I ever got that really intrigued me was an autograph of Millvina Dean she was the youngest passenger onboard and was only nine weeks old at the time of the sinking of the Titanic.
When I got the autograph, I realised that every time I got something new, I learned something new about Titanic. So, for me, collecting is a learning experience. Of course, holding something that was actually on the ship is a lot nicer than simply reading about it in a book. That passion is deep within me. When I retire from the practice of law I think I'm going to make studying the Titanic my full-time job.
What’s your favourite item from your collection?
I own about three to four hundred items and it is very difficult to say. But I will say that one of my favourite pieces - far from being the most expensive or valuable piece – is a sign. It's a sign that was posted on someone's lawn in 1912 that said 'House for Let', April 9, 1912. Somebody wanted to rent out their house while they came to America and the interesting thing is that person never made it to America but the sign did.
Did you learn anything new about the Titanic from taking part in the episode?
Not only did I get a chance to participate in what I consider to be this iconic documentary - part of the iconic series - but also that I got to learn a lot from watching the episode when it aired. There's so much still untold about the ship, and we continue to learn more about it every day.
In the episode, what is not widely known is that the watertight doors after they were closed were reopened. Once they were reopened about an hour after they were closed, they remained open. Opening watertight doors is a problem in the first place as water goes from one compartment to another. Even though they had, what could be considered a valid reason to open them, I can't think of any valid reason for not reclosing them. That I think was one extremely interesting point among others that came out from this episode.
There is still a lot of speculation about the actual cause of the sinking of the Titanic. What are your thoughts?
People talk about brittle metal or the speed and a lot of other things about the ship. But one thing people seem to ignore is the iceberg. The iceberg is probably most responsible for the sinking, but many things contributed to it and all of those things combined are what caused the ship to hit the iceberg.
As a lawyer, who do you think was most criminally responsible for the disaster?
I concentrate my practice in criminal defence. So, I can tell you that it would be very difficult as a criminal defence lawyer for me to have represented the White Star Line or the Board of Trade or any other players in this whole scenario. I don’t think that any of the players that were involved here could have escaped some modicum of liability criminally and civilly.
Of course, under the law, most of the blame lies on the captain, Edward Smith the master of the ship because even if he didn't do anything that was wrong he still takes responsibility.
Back then, the Titanic inquiry was essentially tried before the Board of Trade. That was headed by Lord Mersey, and in the United States, headed by Senator Smith. They could have recommended criminal charges, but they were essentially civil courts. Billions of dollars probably would have been awarded today as a result of the Titanic disaster. Then very little was awarded as a result of someone's death, a family member could have received a couple of 100 pounds for instance.
Do you think there was a coverup by Lord Mersey in the Titanic enquiry?
I think Lord Mersey was fair. All the facts that were brought into the hearing came out publicly. But I think the characterization of some of those facts and the ultimate conclusion based on those facts could have been considered a whitewash in protecting the White Star Line and Captain Edward Smith.
If you could add any Titanic memorabilia to your collection, what would it be and why?
There are actually a couple of things that I would like to add to my collection from the Titanic and one is the wheelhouse wheel because it is so involved in the history of what occurred. As far as I know, it doesn't exist as it was made of wood and it's gone. But if we're talking about the things that actually do exist, if I could add the bell from the crow's nest to my collection, I'd be in seventh heaven.
When, Frederick Fleet, the lookout spotted the iceberg, he rang that bell, three times. and I can still hear that bell in my head.