Remembering Titanic: Students to Learn From Instructor's Experience Aboard Memorial Cruise
It was 2:20 a.m. — well beyond Sheryl Rinkol’s bedtime. Sleep wasn’t an option as she listened to ocean waves slap the side of her cruise ship while it floated 2 ½ miles above the Titanic wreckage.
“It was very surreal,” said Rinkol, assistant director of Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Cooper Center. “It made me think about my own mortality.”
Rinkol was one of approximately 450 people aboard the Azamara Journey, a ship chartered for a Titantic Memorial Cruise. The ship left New York City on April 10 and traveled to the site of the Titantic’s sinking, marking the 100th anniversary of the marine disaster.
For the past 10 years Rinkol has dreamed of being part of the commemorative voyage, but it’s just one piece of her nearly 30-year hobby of researching the Titanic. When she was six-years-old her grandmother, Alice Rupp, gave her the book, “The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters.”
As a college student at Nebraska Wesleyan, she participated in an independent research project about the infamous ship, and did her student teaching in Southampton, the English port from which the Titanic departed.
As an adult, she’s traveled around the world to see Titanic exhibits and museums, as well as collected memorabilia like posters, books, model ships, and even coal and wood splinters from the Titanic, all of which are exhibited in a special room in her house.
Now that a memorial cruise can be checked off of her to-do list, Rinkol feels a personal responsibility to share the stories she heard from scholars and relatives of Titanic survivors who were also aboard the memorial cruise.
“I don’t want it to go away,” she said. “The Titanic deserves attention beyond 100 years. It’s an important part of history.”
In June, Rinkol will teach a class titled, “Let’s Talk Titanic: Commemorating 100 Years of the Ship of Dreams.” The class — which is open to the public — will cover Rinkol’s experience on the memorial cruise and materials from daily lectures by experts including Brigitte Saar, one of few people in the world to have seen the Titanic after completing two dives to the wreckage site, and Ken Marschall, considered the world’s leading Titanic artist who also worked with James Cameron on the major motion picture “Titanic.”
Nebraska Wesleyan University students who enroll in Rinkol’s liberal arts seminar, “Boarding the Ship of Dreams: Sailing Across 100 Years of Titanic” will also gain from their professor’s experience. Many of the experts and relatives of survivors who Rinkol met on the cruise have agreed to join the class via Skype next fall. Rinkol will teach students about the Titanic’s impact on cruise ship history, how the Titanic was built and marketed and how the media portrayed the fateful journey. Rinkol also hopes to take the class to the Titanic Artifact Exhibition at Union Station in Kansas City, and each student will be assigned a research project to fit their particular interests in the ship.
Looking back at the memorial cruise, Rinkol said the experience was much different from traditional cruises.
“All of us were there for historical quality, not for rest and relaxation,” said Rinkol, who was joined by her aunt, Pam Rayman, on the voyage.
In addition to hearing from some of the world’s leading Titanic experts, those aboard the memorial cruise visited graves of Titanic victims in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Meals of quail, lamb, Irish stew, swordfish and veal were based on dishes served in April 1912. Live music was based on songs from that era, including “Nearer My God to Thee,” the song that Titanic survivors reported was the last played as the vessel sank.
At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, the memorial cruise ship blew its whistle to signify the time when the Titanic hit the iceberg. For the next 90 minutes, the names of 1,503 people who died were read, followed by a sermon by Rev. Robert Lawrence. The service concluded with a wreath being dropped into the ocean at 2:20 a.m., marking the time the ship sank.
“It certainly was the most meaningful trip I’ve ever been on,” said Rinkol.
She will continue to collect memorabilia and visit museums across the country, including an exhibit in Barcelona, Spain, this summer. Her ultimate dream is a dive in a capsule to the Titanic wreckage despite her fear of confined spaces. And she’ll continue to teach to as many people as she can.
“It’s still one of the biggest mysteries of all time,” she said. “Just when people think they have it all figured out, they find another angle to look at.
“I feel so honored that people were willing to share so much information and stories with me on the cruise and now it’s my responsibility to share it with others.”
*Rinkol’s summer class will be offered June 12, 14, 19, 26, 28 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the NWU campus. Cost is $275. To enroll, contact the Registrar's Office at 402.465.2243.