BRUCE M. CAPLAN
It was a very sunny warm day in Seattle, on July of 1942 when I arrived on this wonderful planet! Several months prior to my birth there had been a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and our great nation when I was born was involved in the greatest conflagration our world had ever known! Being a history buff, on this day, December 7th, the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I want to begin my bio by honoring and remembering the men and women who fought for and preserved our wonderful democracy!
As a child of two, in 1944, I can remember going to a nursery school for children whose parents were involved in defense work. My father made a hundred dollars a month working for the Army Corp of Engineers and the rent for our 300 square foot bungalow took almost half of his paycheck each month.
I’m often asked why I’m so interested in history. I’m sure one catalyst was World War II and being so excited in 1945 when my father purchased his first car. It was a 1929 Model A Ford with a speedometer that went all the way up to 55 miles an hour. During the war there was gasoline rationing and, in order to save fuel, when my father drove downtown, he would turn the automobile engine off and coast down the steep hills.
There was also food rationing and when my mother took me in the stroller to the grocery stores, prior to paying for her items, she would take a small leather case from her purse and tear out tiny ration stamps to enable her to purchase the groceries.
My grandfather who was born in 1881, was a major influence in my interest in history. Grandpa had been born in Russia in a tiny Jewish village. He had a brother Mike, who was a few years older than him. In 1894, my grandfather’s brother left Russia and set out for parts unknown. No one heard from him for over five years.
In 1899, a letter came to my, grandfather and he was thrilled to discover that his brother was alive and well and living in the city of Seattle Washington. To make it even more exciting the letter included a United States ten-dollar bill. Grandpa decided then and there, to leave Russia and somehow meet his brother Mike in America!
It took him almost a year to get to Seattle and when he did thousands were heading for the Klondike looking for gold. My grandfather joined them and for about two years he worked day and night trying to get rich in America. In 1901, grandfather returned to Seattle broke. To me my grandfather was a dazzling encyclopedia of history! As a young child I would spend hour, after hour listening to his wonderful tales of adventure.
When I was three years old, my parents purchased a radio, and I was fascinated with the technology. The stories on the set, were a real thrill to me and enhanced my interest in history. By 1955, we had a television in our home and one evening my father turned it on and I would say, --- the following two hours changed my life! For the better that is!
There on the black and white screen was the 1953 motion picture “Titanic” staring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb! I was 13 and now smitten by the Titanic forever!
In 1960 I entered the University of Washington. Tuition for an in-state student at the time was an enormous $79.00 a quarter. In 1964 I graduated with a degree in political science and a minor in history.
For the next five years I worked for banks and finance companies. On June 1, of 1969 I leased a parking lot in downtown Seattle. Eventually I ran parking locations in several Washington State cities.
In 1970 I married my lovely wife, Esther. We’ve been married for over 50 years and have two beautiful daughters and two wonderful grandsons.
In 1981 for my birthday, my, secretary gave me a present of the first book printed after the Titanic sank. It was authored by Logan Marshall and the Title was “The “Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters.” I read the book over many times. The facts were amazing, and Marshall truly told the entire story of the Titanic saga. One problem with his narrative was that it was too verbose or in other words, the text had too many words.
In 1995, I phoned the US Library of Congress. In those days they would answer the phone and personally speak to you. The lady I spoke to, was extremely nice and she told me that the 1912 book by Logan Marshall was now in the Public Domain and I could reprint it and make any changes I desired.
In 1995-word processors were fairly new, and it took me over three months to make edits and reformat the book. In the early pages of Marshall’s narrative there was a statement that startled me and so many of my readers since my edition of the book has come out!
It read, “Unknown to the passengers the Titanic was on fire from the day she left Southampton!”
I did further investigation and discovered that the coal fire was in the same area where the ship hit the iceberg and it had done considerable damage to the bulkheads that were there to protect the Titanic.
Here’s a quote from Charles Hendrickson on day five of the British Inquiry---
“Question: The bulkhead forms part of the bunker – the side?
– Yes, you could see where the bulkhead had been red hot.
Question: You looked at the side after the coal had been taken out?
Question: What condition was it in?
– You could see where it had been red hot; all the paint and everything was off. It was dented a bit.
Question: It was damaged, at any rate?
– Yes, warped.”
My edited and abridged edition of Logan Marshall’s book was first published in October of 1996. They say that timing is everything, and I had no knowledge of the James Cameron motion arriving soon after my book arrived, but it sure increased sales!
About the year 2017, all kinds of theories arose as to the consequences of the fire on the Titanic. I think that my edition of Marshall’s book was the first to hypothesize that the coal fire was instrumental in causing the ship to sink?
My uncle Theodore Kaplan of blessed memory was working in the shipyards during World War II. On page 211 of my book, my uncle is quoted as saying, “The tons of hot coals blazing for days would have burned through the top hull and weakened the ships structural integrity.”
My book continued to quote my uncle— “The Titanic would probably have survived the crash with the iceberg had it not been for the fire."
My edition of Marshall's book has allowed me to travel the world doing talks on cruises and giving lectures like to the wonderful Dallas Woman’s Club.
I sincerely believe that the Titanic sank because first she was severely weakened by a coal fire and then she slammed an iceberg very close to the location where the fire had burned.
I do believe that the Titanic left Southampton when the coal fire was smoldering below! I do believe that the officers in charge of the Titanic knew that the Titanic had a coal fire below deck, but the passengers were not aware of it or of the danger they faced because of it.
It's my understanding that the British authorities would not have allowed the Titanic to leave port had they known the ship had a coal fire below deck. Prior to disembarking it was a requirement to extinguish the fire.
I don’t think it was right to blame Stanley Lord of the Californian for the sinking. When the Californian radioed the Titanic to tell them of the dangerous ice field, the radio men of the Titanic ignored the warning. Their main goal was to send paid messages to the mainland, and they didn’t relay the warning of dangerous ice to Captain Smith or any other officers in charge.
To me the real hero of the Titanic tragedy was Captain Rostron of the Carpathia who turned his small ship around and rushed through dangerous waters to save as many survivors as he could!
Since the publication of my book which is now in the 20th printing with about a hundred thousand copies sold, I’ve never been able to find the answer as to why the great ship left port while on fire? Logan Marshall mentioned the coal fire and it was thoroughly discussed in the 1912 inquiries, but I don’t think it was hypothesized until my book came out in 1996, that literally fire-speed- and ice caused the demise of the great ship?
If I’m mistaken and there was a publication prior to October of 1996 that included the fire as a major component of the demise of the great Titanic, I’ll look forward to that information from anyone on Jill's great Titanic book club!.
Thank you, Jill, and all the thousands of members of your Titanic Book Club, for assuring that what happened on the night and morning of April 14, and 15th 1912, will never be forgotten!
Thank you, Mary Kellogg -Joslin and her husband John Joslin too, for their mesmerizing museums in Pigeon Forge Tennessee and Branson Missouri and their wonderful contributions to keeping the memory of Titanic alive. It’s such a pleasure to discuss my favorite topic with so many wonderful Titanic friends!
Bruce M. Caplan