NEW YORK — Dressed in fur coats and wide-brimmed hats, passengers strolled Tuesday up the gangway of a memorial ship that is headed from New York to Canada to visit the spot where the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
The ship was packed with history aficionados who have long been obsessed with the history of the doomed ocean liner. Quite a few wore old-fashioned 19th-century period costumes, and one little boy in a fake white beard was dressed up as Captain Edward John Smith.
The cruise ship Journey, operated by Azamara Club Cruises, was departing from a pier on New York City's west side Tuesday evening, exactly 100 years after the Titanic left Southampton, England. After stopping in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where more than 100 Titanic victims are buried, the cruise will continue on to conduct a memorial service at the spot in the Atlantic where the Titanic sank. Along the way, passengers will listen to lectures about life on board the Titanic and dine at a costume-themed dinner.
Ticket prices have dropped in recent weeks from about $5,000 per person to just $1,000 per person.
"It's just such a human tragedy that just resonates through the years," said Carol Owens Campbell, 61, of Long Grove, Ill., who was on board with her husband. "What would any of us do if that happened to us?"
There was a festive atmosphere above deck as passengers sipped champagne and explored the ship, which was not decorated in any way to resemble the Titanic and looked like an ordinary cruise liner.
Another ship operated by the same British travel agency is retracing the route of the Titanic. The memorial cruise aboard the MS Balmoral set sail from southern England on Sunday and made a brief stop in the Irish town of Cobh on Monday before continuing on its journey to New York. The Balmoral had to interrupt its journey on Tuesday because of a medical emergency on board.
At least one person on board the Journey had a very personal connection to the tragedy. Sharon Lee Willing, of Tucson, Ariz., bought a ticket to honor her great-grandfather, Herbert Chaffee, a farming magnate from North Dakota who perished in the sinking. Family lore has it that the couple was in Europe on their second honeymoon, Willing said.
"I know it's just going to look like water, but to think of that great ship down there," Willing said, getting choked up at the thought. "It's going to be kind of tough, I think."
Willing's great-grandmother, Carrie Chaffee, was placed in the last lifeboat to make it off the ship safely.
"I feel a very close attachment to him for some reason," Willing said. "I can't explain it."
After the journey, Campbell and her husband plan to stay at New York's Jane Hotel, where many crew members and survivors stayed after the sinking. Campbell admitted that she's just a little nervous about the voyage.
"It's fairly daunting to go on a ship at this particular time," she said. "If I see an iceberg, I don't know what I'll do."