Helping Titanic stay on its course

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  • Courtesy photo Don Lynch, right, was hired by movie director James Cameron to be the historian for the 1997 movie “Titanic.” Here, he is shown in a submersible during a 2001 dive to the shipwreck with Russian pilot Genya Cherniev. Lynch will speak about his Titanic research at a Post Falls Kiwanis fundraiser on March 7.

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    Don Lynch, center, portrayed first-class passenger Frederic Spedden in the movie Titanic. Here, Lynch is shown in the set for the 1997 movie in Rosarito, Mexico. The little boy, Thomas Fiss, portrayed Frederic’s son Douglas.  The boy spun a top in the movie on the boat deck. The girl is Thomas’ sister, Chelsea, who was also an extra in the movie. (Courtesy photo)

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    Here is a Mir submersible being launched from the Keldysh research vessel in 2001. Titanic reasearcher Don Lynch, who has made two dives to the shipwreck in subs, was born in Coeur d’Alene and has relatives who live in Kootenai County. (Courtesy photo)

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    The British passenger liner Titanic collided with an iceburg during her maiden voyage over the Atlantic Ocean in 1912. It slowly sunk, killing 1,503 people, and is one of the most famous ships in history. (Courtesy of Maritime Museum of the Atlantic)

  • Courtesy photo Don Lynch, right, was hired by movie director James Cameron to be the historian for the 1997 movie “Titanic.” Here, he is shown in a submersible during a 2001 dive to the shipwreck with Russian pilot Genya Cherniev. Lynch will speak about his Titanic research at a Post Falls Kiwanis fundraiser on March 7.

  • 1

    Don Lynch, center, portrayed first-class passenger Frederic Spedden in the movie Titanic. Here, Lynch is shown in the set for the 1997 movie in Rosarito, Mexico. The little boy, Thomas Fiss, portrayed Frederic’s son Douglas.  The boy spun a top in the movie on the boat deck. The girl is Thomas’ sister, Chelsea, who was also an extra in the movie. (Courtesy photo)

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    Here is a Mir submersible being launched from the Keldysh research vessel in 2001. Titanic reasearcher Don Lynch, who has made two dives to the shipwreck in subs, was born in Coeur d’Alene and has relatives who live in Kootenai County. (Courtesy photo)

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    The British passenger liner Titanic collided with an iceburg during her maiden voyage over the Atlantic Ocean in 1912. It slowly sunk, killing 1,503 people, and is one of the most famous ships in history. (Courtesy of Maritime Museum of the Atlantic)

Titanic presentation

Titanic Historian Don Lynch will speak on March 7 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Post Falls High School Performing Arts Center, 2832 W. Poleline Ave., as a fundraiser for the Post Falls Kiwanis and college scholarships. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased through Michele Forkner, Kiwanis secretary and Lynch's cousin, at 208-981-0479 or online at https://bit.ly/2TITCho.

By BRIAN WALKER

Hagadone News Network

POST FALLS — Don Lynch was considered one of the nine most remote people when the terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

Lynch, born in Coeur d'Alene, was one of three people in a submersible viewing the Titanic shipwreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean while six others were in outer space.

"We were safe (from further attacks), but we were still in a place that was considered dangerous," said Lynch, historian for the Titanic Historical Society, who also served as the 1997 “Titanic” movie's historian.

"Being two and a half miles below the surface, even with a pinhole in the Mir, we could have died. But there was comfort knowing that if anything went wrong, we wouldn't suffer."

Lynch, who also took a deep dive to the Titanic two weeks earlier, will speak on March 7 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Post Falls High School Performing Arts Center, 2832 W. Poleline Ave. The event is a fundraiser for the Post Falls Kiwanis and college scholarships.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through Michele Forkner, Kiwanis secretary and Lynch's cousin, at 208-981-0479 or at: https://bit.ly/2TITCho

During the presentation, Lynch will show historical photos about the famous disaster of 1912 that killed 1,503 people. He’ll speak about the history of the ship and its passengers and take questions at the end.

The deep dives

Lynch described seeing the huge British passenger liner up close with robotic cameras that fit inside the Titanic as "amazing." Thoughts of the ship's lights blazing and band playing before its slow descent into the calm sea surfaced during the dives, he said.

"It was greater than anything you see on film," he said. "The colors are much more brilliant to me in person than on film. I kept thinking about the people who survived."

As Lynch cruised around the outside of the ship, passing the passenger cabins and deck, he said he had feelings of affirmation.

"I recognized where I was and that I knew the ship better than I thought," he said. "It surprised me. I know the story and who got into what lifeboats."

Lynch said the dives in the 3-person subs lasted eight to nine hours.

"Time goes by quickly when you do something exciting like that," he said. "It takes two hours just to reach it."

Lynch said he believes he's mesmerized about the Titanic like so many others because of all the drama of a giant “indestructible” ship striking an iceberg and sinking slowly.

"It's an incredible story that actually did happen," he said. "If the ship sinks fast, you don't get all the drama. There were both tragedies and happy endings. The band played until the end. All the engineers stayed below to keep the lights on. Some chose to take their chances staying on the ship. Everybody had a different story.

"I read a book about it in 1973 and it grabbed me."

The last Titanic survivor died in 2009.

Lynch said he interviewed 20 survivors. He also helped plan conventions for the entire group.

"Some of them enjoyed the attention," he said. "Others had survivor's guilt because of all the people who died."

He co-authored two books about the Titanic, including "Titanic: An Illustrated History" in 1992 that made the New York Times' best-seller list, and "Ghosts of the Abyss" in 2003. He has appeared on multiple TV documentaries about the sinking.

"A lot of the accuracy from the movie comes from the (1992) book," Lynch said, adding that he advised actors on set about their historical characters' accents, behaviors and personalities.

For example, violinist Wallace Hartley kept his band playing "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to help people stay calm even as the ship sank.

"Many (survivors) claimed to have heard that song," Lynch said.

Other historically accurate details included American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim wearing a suit to go down with the ship like a gentleman.

Acting role, local ties

In director James Cameron's "Titanic" movie in 1997, Lynch played the role of first-class passenger Frederic Spedden.

"I was the father of the little boy spinning the top (on the boat deck)," he said. "I had one line."

No one doubts the Titanic collided with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, but mysteries and theories have swirled 107 years later. The Titanic was hailed at the time as the largest ship ever built and unsinkable. The wreck was discovered in 1985 during a U.S. military mission.

One recent theory suggests that the sinking of the ship may have been accelerated by a coal fire in its hull in the days before it set off on its fateful journey to New York from Southampton, England.

Lynch describes the theory as "complete nonsense."

"The author is widely known in the Titanic community and has admitted privately he just likes to stir up trouble," Lynch said.

Lynch said he still stays in touch with Cameron.

"He has the reputation of being a difficult director, but I believe he got that early in his career," Lynch said. "He is a great guy and a taskmaster. He sets the bar high and he expects the people around him to do that as well. He felt it was important for me to go to the Titanic and I thank him for that."

Lynch, who lives in Los Angeles, said his visit to the Inland Northwest will be a return home. He graduated from Shadle Park High School in Spokane and from Washington State University with a degree in finance. He also has a half brother who lives at Hayden Lake.

Lynch worked at the historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane as an elevator operator before his career as a financial controller in the defense industry. Today, the 61-year-old is a semi-retired real estate investor.

Forkner arranged Lynch's Post Falls Kiwanis presentation. She said he won't accept payment for his time giving the presentation.

Forkner said his talk during the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking when she was involved in the Kiwanis Club in Issaquah, Wash., was well-received. She believes his knowledge will be popular here as well.

"The interest and curiosity of the Titanic is still in the forefront and minds of folks who follow the history of it," Forkner said. "The Discovery Channel and National Geographic still have documentaries and specials on TV where Don is featured as one of the expert historians on the subject.

"It's exciting to have Don come to give his first-hand experience. It is a fascinating story and coming from someone who has devoted his life to this subject just makes it all the better."

Lynch said he enjoys sharing his knowledge for the betterment of communities.

"In the old days it was to promote my books and the movie, but at this point it's more for fun," he said.

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