Piece of Titanic found by PBS’s History Detectives

Did you watch last night’s episode of History Detectives on PBS? If not, you missed an incredible story.

As a historian, I have watched History Detectives for years. This season, its 10th, History Detectives has undergone a refresh, but the central theme remains: investigating history. For those not familiar with the show, the public is encouraged to submit stories and objects related to history that they are unsure about. The show sends an expert to research the story/object. Sometimes the story is confirmed and sometimes it is not, but either way, the public is educated about historical events through the show’s research.

History Detectives has found some incredible objects in the past including an original signature from Abraham Lincoln and a piece of Amelia Earhart’s airplane (the Electra she crashed in Hawaii on her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe). Last night, History Detectives may have found one of the most interesting pieces history.

The story began with as simple picture frame and competing family stories. The frame is carved from wood from a shipwreck, but two cousins could not agree on which shipwreck. They both knew grandfather was an engineer aboard a transatlantic cable laying vessel, but they agreed on little more. One believed that their grandfather was aboard a vessel that came to rescue of the Lusitania and the other believed he was a part of the recovery effort following the sinking of the Titanic. It was up to History Detectives to see who, if either, was correct.

Elyse Luray was sent to investigate. She began by having the wood examined by and dendrochronologist. Dendrochronology is the use of tree rings to date wooden objects. The tree rings in the frame were measured and compared to samples of wood from Ireland (where Titanic was built) and Scotland (where Lusitania was built). The piece matched the patterns of Ireland, and it appeared the Titanic was more likely.

History Detectives was able to prove that the cousins’ grandfather was aboard the Minia from January to June 1912 and would have taken part in the recovery effort after the Titanic disaster. They were also able to locate a relative of another member of the Minia‘s crew who had a similarly carved frame (although not nearly as large and likely from a different type of wood). A visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada sealed the deal. They had another frame on display and could prove that it was carver aboard the Minia that likely carved both frames from wood off the Titanic.


Grand Staircases highlighted in Red – CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE

So what part of the ship was the wood from? The incredible suggestion came from Titanic historian and artist Ken Marcshall. Marschall noticed the slight arc of the wood and the groves on its underside. He suggested that this piece of wood was likely from a bannister of the Grand Staircase. But the Titanic had two Grand Staircases. History Detectives did not explain this fact well enough, but was likely a piece of the bannister from the Aft Grand Staircase because it was near the section of the ship that split in two.

I was exciting by this episode and found myself staring at this piece of the Titanic and imaging what it would have been like for Titanic‘s passengers that night. This is an important find because no pictures of Titanic‘s Grand Staircases exist. All the images of the Grand Staircase that are available are of the Olympic’s Grand Staircase. Because of this find, we now know how the bannister was carved, the type of wood used (Oak), and the color of the wood. This is truly an incredible find, and the episode reminded me of why I became a Historian.

Please take the time to watch the episode and witness this find for yourself (it is the first story on the episode). I am unable to embed the episode into this post, but you can watch the full episode HERE.


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Filed under History, Television


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