*We wish to thank Bruce for answering the questions asked of him by our own George Behe!
1. Bruce, how did you become interested in the Titanic disaster, and when did your interest first awaken?
I am a history buff by nature. I eat history - everything I can consume, I do. I have a sense that knowledge of history, even general history, makes one a more rounded person; to know a little about everything. Ask me when the first Crusade started.
I have always been interested in naval history; mostly tall ships but have had an interest in disasters such as Titanic and Lusitania since I was young. I have an old edition of Walter Lord's ‘A Night to Remember’, which I read in Grade School. I had seen the black and white movie ‘A Night to remember’ a number of times, but generally speaking, black and white has never done much for me except for perhaps ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. In 1997, I went to see Cameron's Titanic. When I walked out of the theater I was completely enthralled. I went back to see the film many times thereafter. Titanic in full color! - how did they create the actual ship? The flyovers? Was it accurate? I went out and bought a 1/350th Minicraft model with the hopes of building it as exact as I could to the actual ship. That's where it started in way of the awakening into Titanic for me- and needless to say, the model was never completed.
2. The Titanic carried thousands of people, many of whom sank with the vessel. Which passenger and crew stories have especially moved or inspired you?
The Straus' story always moved me, but what makes me actually tear up - what moves me the most is Thomas Andrews. I am truly saddened for him and his family.
3. Could you share one or two of the most emotional, moving or satisfying moments you’ve experienced while researching the disaster?
Being asked to be an Honorary Lifetime member of the BTS was a very moving experience for me (with Robert Hahn). That was a long time ago now, and I guess I'm not on their current lifetime member list anymore - but that’s okay. I don’t belong to any society now – but respect all of them. Secondly was having the G/A plans I drew utilized in navigating the interior of the wreck by a number of expeditions. Lastly, and most satisfying, was being contracted as the historical consultant for the Titanic 2 that was being built in Suning China. That was very big and was a huge endeavor which required the contracting of a Hollywood set director and a group of Hollywood level draftsmen; along with carefully chosen Titanic historical advisors, to recreate, as best as possible, certain rooms from inside Titanic and get them to fit inside the Chinese blueprints. Of course, Covid and other funding issues in China put an end to that for me.
4. What are some of the most important (or most surprising) historical discoveries you've made while researching the Titanic disaster?
I have made many small discoveries in way of the exterior components and fittings of Titanic that are not of any real value except to modelers and artists. I specialize in the exterior fittings and equipment of Titanic; interior items are second and passengers, I feel, are best left to others who do it much better than I can. Discovering the location of prismatic glass skylights or a hard to see bulkhead fitting is a highlight for me over anything truly structural in way of the hull. I have always listened to other's opinions and read their research. Being a "Jack of all Trades - Master of None" I know enough to ask the right questions. Finally, I can state that all of my research inside and out, and what I have learned from other experts I trust, that Titanic generally hit the iceberg and sank as was found in the 1912 hearing reports.
5. Are you frustrated with any particular Titanic-related subjects about which people continue to quote outdated research information instead of embracing the latest discoveries?
There needs to be a documentary titled something along the line of "The Titanic Myths." Weak rivets, weak steel, turning the wheel the wrong way, blazing fires aboard the ship, too small a rudder, Titanic being reversed before hitting the berg, the Olympic and Titanic switch theory, insurance scams and other stories created by those who either compare Titanic to modern day standards, or are unaware of turn of the century maritime culture or practices... Many of these myths have been answered years ago, but the producers keep coming up with the usual 'who to blame' scripts to sell their documentaries. There are a number of documentaries who got it right - but those are few and far between.
My memory harkens back to a documentary I saw years ago where a remote camera floated down the No. 2 hold on the wreck showing what appeared to be jail bars. The announcer stating, “and these bars were used to lock the 3rd class below decks.” Of course, those weren’t jail bars to lock anyone down, but barriers to keep people from accidently falling down the open hatchway to the decks below.
6. Does your study of the Titanic overlap with any of your other historical interests? What subjects are you interested in that are completely independent of the Titanic?
The only overlapping research that I had done in way of studying to write an article was the 1915 Eastland disaster in the Chicago River. There were some direct correlations, and knowledge of period ship construction, and the working of these ships, helped me to understand what happened then. My great Grandfather could very well have been on the Eastland in 1915 as he worked at Western Electric then. Thank God he wasn’t. As for other historical interests, before leaving my hometown in Illinois, I had written local history books, and had begun collecting data for what would have been the most comprehensive history of the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. This is where I’m from and where a part of my family had been since the 1850s. The land of Long John Wentworth and surrounding territory. The I&M and the Chicago Drainage Canal with sidelines on all of the unique crooks and mobsters who perused the area – including a bit on Capone. The book would have been titled 'In Long John's Shadow.'
7. Do you have any new Titanic-related projects in the works? If so, do you feel like giving us a sneak peek into the type of subject matter they involve?
I am once again writing a book with Steve Hall called ‘Titanic in 50 Objects.’ It will include photos of artifacts from the collection of White Star memories – close friends of mine. It will be published by the History Press and released sometime next year. It is currently with the editor at this time. This will, more than likely, be my last book that I write on any subject.
8. Were you encouraged by others to write your books, or did you come up with the projects yourself? Did you receive help or encouragement from any special people you'd like to acknowledge?
The first book 'Titanic or Olympic: Which Ship Sank' was brought about by Steve Hall who asked me to review and rewrite his original manuscript. ‘Titanic: The Ship Magnificent’. TTSM, originally to be one large tome (but ended up in two volumes), was the result of my attempting to create public speaking notes which I needed because I have a lousy memory. I had the extra time to write in those days, and it blossomed into what it became. I wrote it with the over-the-top details in frustration of not being able to garner information from other historians (though I understand the mindset now). I finally said to myself that I will create a work where 'everyone' can be a Titanic expert. I brought in some of my most trusted friends, which I had followed closely on the public message boards. These men specialized in their specific areas of study. They were asked to review my chapters and fix - or add to what I had written. The propulsion chapter however, had to be completely rewritten by Scott Andrews – as he is the best at that subject, which is not my strong point. So many people played a role in reviewing sections of the text - some of these men have passed away now, and some remain to this day anonymous. That was the deal with them. In the end I pray the books hold up to modern research. For this reason, some of the information in TTSM is purposely vague as I know that there are still things to discover about Titanic structurally and in way of design. I did intend it to be a reference book, which I myself draw on to this day. TTSM Vol I and II are my crowning achievements. Everything I did, or will do, after those books is merely eye candy. I just wanted to record the ship's construction and the period mindset of her designers for posterity. So much about the construction methods and the ways of the early ocean liners is passing from modern day thought. I felt I needed to preserve the information in the same way that he old disintegrating research books I used did - but are now relegated to the back of the library shelves. TTSM will also be relegated to the back shelves, but perhaps in 100 years someone will do an interlibrary loan on one of the two volumes. “Wow they sprayed cork granules on the deckheads and piping to keep them from sweating”, or “they really used felt between some of the wood paneling to keep them from squeaking against each other while in heavy seas.”
There are many people whom I would like to give credit to for inspiration in what I have done. There are many people I have worked with over the years, but for fear of leaving anyone out – I will only mention my co-authors Scott Andrews, Steve Hall, Art Braunschweiger, Daniel Klistorner and to the Titanic elder whom I affectionately compare to the old walrus with the longest tusks – Ray Lepien. Lastly, I wish to thank my wife, Michele Beveridge, as she is such an inspiration to me. Thank you, Michele!
9. Do you have any advice you'd like to offer to aspiring authors?
Don't purport theories based on bad information. Get the facts straight; ask questions of those who have been doing this for a while. If you don’t believe what they say, look it up. I once did a manuscript review for an author who was giving public Titanic talks and presentations and now decided to write a book. His first source was a book filled with Titanic myths that had been relegated to the trash ejectors from the galley years ago. I believe I only went through a few of the chapters and found that I had to red pen so much information that I gave it back.
If you want to tell the Titanic story, even if the timeline needs to be repeated once again, do it anyway. Don’t be discouraged. Put in some good photos - rare photos if they can be gathered. The public likes photos. That is the blatant truth. Trying to find a new angle? Most of it has already been done, however every book has something the other doesn’t. I never turn down an offering of a Titanic book – even a children’s book.
Phil Hind’s Encyclopedia Titanica is the best reference for general Titanic data. It is well done and if any article purports bad information, it will be torn apart on the message boards. All of the most respected Titanic historians have commented in the message boards on Titanica at one time or another. I’ve known Phil since he started his web page and he is a good friend.
10. What’s the best way for people to contact you if they have historical questions for you (or want to borrow money)? :-)
Please do not message me through Facebook. I do not use Facebook much except mainly to communicate with family. I can be reached at sgt003@Yahoo.com - but be aware that I am very busy and sometimes miss an email here and there. If I don’t answer the first time, send another email to remind me.