Robert Douglas Spedden’s grave is located in his family plot, usually surrounded by freshly cut grass. The headstone is incredibly small and stub-like, so no matter how many times you’ve been to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, you’ve probably never noticed it before. You were maybe there to visit Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Samuel Morse, or any of the other 600,000 graves.
Spedden was a child who survived the sinking of the Titanic, famously depicted in Francis Browne’s photograph, where he’s standing on the ship’s deck playing with a spinning top. After the Titanic went down, his mother wrote the book Polar the Titanic Bear, telling the account from the perspective of Spedden’s stuffed animal. Spedden only lived for three years following the Titanic, dying at nine years old in one of the first recorded automobile incidents.
For Titanic nerds, Spedden is one of the must-see passenger graves. While a majority of the ship’s victims are located at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, New York is also home to many of Titanic passengers — whether they died, survived, or were never found.
At Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, there’s John Jacob Astor IV, the wealthiest passenger on the ship, whose body was recovered days after the sinking. At Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, there’s Archibald Gracie IV, who managed to write a memoir before dying of complications related to the incident eight months later. There’s a gorgeous, ornate memorial dedicated to Isidor and Ida Straus, the co-owners of Macy’s and the great-great-grandparents of King Princess (a.k.a. Mikaela Straus). And thankfully, it’s also possible to visit the less privileged who were miraculously identified, like Sante Righini, a servant to a first class passenger buried at the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn.
This quiet hobby of visiting Titanic passengers’ graves has the potential to increase in popularity, due to the recent tragedy of the Titan submersible. Pieces from its implosion were located last week, discovered roughly 1,600 feet from the Titanic. That’s 12,500 feet below the North Atlantic Ocean surface, or nine Empire State Buildings on top of each other, or 41-and-a-half football fields deep — whichever your brain prefers.
Nine days after its implosion, millions continue to be gripped by the catastrophe, so much that it completely overshadowed the ship that sank in the Mediterranean and killed 700 migrants. Adele discussed the Titan with her Las Vegas audience on Friday. MrBeast claimed he had been invited to come on board. King Princess observed “a cycle of bajonga-jillionaires wanting to explore shit and then dying …I hate this world.” (Cameron, who’s visited the wreck 33 times, also made his own comparisons to the Titanic, perhaps a bit more eloquently, saying “For us, a very similar tragedy where warnings went unheeded, to take place at the same exact site, with all the diving that’s going on all around the world, I think it’s just astonishing. It’s really quite surreal.”)
But the area on the internet where the Titan/Titanic discussion really thrives is unsurprisingly on Reddit, where the Titanic forum ballooned in size the second the submersible went missing. The online community experienced 50 percent growth in less than a week, now hosting nearly 70,000 subscribers. Longtime users became increasingly frustrated by their forum inundated with Titan conspiracy theories and jokes they deemed offensive.
“We get the interest and we don’t mind welcoming new members, but please respect the culture and community we’ve built here (no trolls, conspiracy theories, etc),” one user posted. “This sub is very 0 tolerance on those. Be considerate of our space… I don’t think it’s malicious, but the reason we’re frustrated is because us longtime sub members are basically having our sub hijacked.”
The forum’s moderator was more optimistic: “While it’s true that I’ve been completely overwhelmed with the number of poor-quality posts on the subreddit, I’ve been equally overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and offers of help with moderating … while a lot of us are (understandably) concerned with the state of the sub over the last couple of days — memes in poor taste, nonsense articles about giant squid, sunken continents and supernatural conspiracies — I hope I am right in thinking that things will return to normal in a few days’ time.”
It’s easy to feel sympathetic for the online community, who are so dedicated to the 111-year-old shipwreck that they’ll scour eBay looking for old newspapers and recovered china, share archival interviews with survivors, and post photos of meeting Billy Zane and visiting the Unsinkable Molly Brown’s summer home in Denver. They will repeatedly praise Cameron and defend him to anyone who doubts the director’s expertise of deep sea exploration. They’re consistently caught up with any news, like the release of the first 8k video or the fight to recover the ship’s telegraph. And, obviously, they love to visit passenger graves.
Especially after the Titan submersible, some users are urging humans to stop visiting the wreck, which is in major decay due to factors like bacteria eating the iron off the ship and forming “rusticles.” Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreckage in 1985, is strongly opposed to submarines who visit the ship and make contact with it, further contributing to the deterioration. He’s also extremely against retrieving artifacts from it.
“I have no trouble with people visiting,” he said. “But you don’t go to the Louvre and stick your finger in the Mona Lisa. My position is, you don’t go to Gettysburg with a shovel. There was nothing to learn. All the artifacts on the Titanic were identical to the artifacts on her sister ship. So if you want a tea cup from the White Star Line, get it on eBay from the Olympic.”
A user on Reddit echoed this statement. “I hope this is a lesson for people to just leave it alone,” they wrote. “It truly is a graveyard now.” Instead, you can visit public cemeteries on land instead, and pay your respects there.