Jo-B Sebastian had just entered an exhibit about the Titanic and its more than 1,500 lost passengers when a friend received a news alert on his smart watch on Thursday afternoon: the five people whose submersible had gone missing during a deep dive to explore the Titanic’s wreckage had been declared dead.
“It just felt so eerie to be like we added five more to the tally,” said Sebastian, a 34-year-old musician who lives in New York City, as he took in “Titanic: The Exhibition,” in New York.
Ever since the submersible, the Titan, disappeared in the ocean depths last Sunday, its fate had riveted the world. Many were fascinated by the search and rescue efforts, hoping the missing explorers would be found alive. Others wondered why wealthy people would spend so much money on a dangerous tour of a disaster site. And others were drawn by its connection to the Titanic, whose sinking in 1912 remains one of the most famous maritime disasters in history, still the subject of films, exhibits and shows.
“It kind of feels like a perfect storm,” Sebastian said as he toured the exhibit, which he had bought advance tickets for, before the Titan went missing, as a surprise birthday gift for his friend Stefan Hut, an economist.
The final room of the exhibit featured a row of three screens displaying watery footage of the wreck that had been filmed by OceanGate, the company that operated the Titan, and whose founder and chief executive, Stockton Rush, was among those who died.
Peter Lazard, a 61-year-old consultant from South Africa, sat watching the footage.
“The irony is now you’ve seen what these people were trying to see,” he said. “We’re sitting safely watching this and these people died to see what we’ve seen.”
The deadly implosion of the Titan posed a question for “Titanique,” a campy Celine Dion-heavy retelling of James Cameron’s blockbuster film “Titanic” that is playing at the Daryl Roth Theater at Union Square: should the jokey show go on, given the new disaster?
Avionce Hoyles, who plays the Iceberg in the show, said the cast held a prayer circle before the Thursday evening performance, praying for the families of the lost submersible passengers. “We asked that we could bring the audience joy, and hopefully we did that,” Hoyles said. “This show produces medicine and our medicine is laughter.”
There was concern that the audience would be distracted by the tragedy of the missing Titan. But they decided it felt right to continue with the show.
In the audience that night was Kevin O’Lear, a 30-year-old restaurant host from North Carolina, who, when he heard about the missing submarine, was struck by how history seemed to be turning in on itself.
“There’s this tragedy with these people who just happen to be exploring the site of this other tragedy that happened over 100 years ago,” he said.
O’Lear had been following the many memes proliferating online about the missing Titan, including some which irreverently mocked the wealthy victims. And it made him consider how people would respond to the loss of the Titanic now.
“I feel like if the Titanic sink happened today, I feel like this is the exact same reaction people would have,” O’Lear said. “They’d be making jokes about sticking it to the billionaires, the one percenters.”
For Sebastian, the musician who grew up fascinated with the Titanic, the fate of the Titan served as another reminder of how human life could be cut short by the ocean.
“When I first heard about it, the thing that really stuck in my mind is, I could never even imagine being stuck in the small little thing at the bottom of the ocean waiting to die,” he said, recalling the early reports, before the U.S. Coast Guard said that evidence of a “catastrophic implosion” had been found. “I feel like the stories that really resonate and have stood the test of time are ones that show that wasted life, what could have been.”