Don Lynch is the historian for the Titanic Historical Society. He co-authored the book Titanic: A History Illustrated in 1992 with Ken Marschall and later, Ghosts of the Abyss. Having studied the RMS Titanic with Marschall since the early 1970s, with his extensive knowledge, he was able to assist James Cameron in the production of the 1997 film Titanic.
What brought you Titanic, Don?
I think interest is something you’re born with. I believe the interest was always there. But I really discovered it at the age of fifteen when I read Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember. I had seen the movie The Poseidon Adventure and wanted to find out what real shipwrecks were like, which prompted my reading the Lord book.
What was it like on your first dive to the Titanic and what was your first reaction to seeing the wreck?
It was obviously very exciting to finally be seeing in person the ship I had studied for so long. I have always researched the story of what happened that night, so when I first saw the side of the ship through the little porthole in the submersible, I was surprised to realize that as we rose up the side of the hull I knew exactly where I was. I discovered that I knew the actual ship better than I thought.
What was it like working on the James Cameron movie and how did you get involved in the project?
I wish every Titanic enthusiast could have experienced being on the movie set. The reproduction of the ship, as well as the interior, was so accurate that it felt as if I was really there. In the dining saloon, I wondered where various people had sat, even though none of them had ever actually been in that room. On deck, I would think about what happened at each location to the people I have spoken with. Ken Marschall got me involved with the project. When he heard that James Cameron was making a film about the Titanic, he contacted his office and told them that he and I both lived in Southern California. He didn’t know that Jim was very familiar with our book, has used it to pitch the movie to Fox Studios in the first place, and that they were looking to get in touch with us.
In your opinion, what was the most significant find during the James Cameron expeditions?
In my opinion, it would be the information that was learned that helped determine how the ship broke up and sank, including its impact on the bottom. There are no level surfaces on the wreck. Decks all slope, have collapsed partially down on each other, etc. But of course, that isn’t all that was learned. We also discovered differences between the Olympic and Titanic that were previously unknown. We were able to study how the ship is decaying, and even found evidence in the Marconi room that helped add to the story of the work done by the wireless operators.
How many Titanic survivors did you have the pleasure of meeting? Any favorites?
I think I met about 20. It’s hard to choose an absolute favorite, but in some ways, it would be Edwina Troutt MacKenzie. She was 27 at the time, traveling on her own as opposed to being with parents, had a very good memory, and gave some valuable insight into what goes through your mind when you are on a sinking ship. On top of that, she was a kind, delightful, wonderful person.