Yesterday's Myths & Mysteries

5 Bizarre Myths and Legends About the RMS Titanic

Innumerable myths and legends surround the fate of the RMS Titanic, the “unsinkable” ship that met its end on April 15, 1912. Some of these legends are true: there was no room 13 on the Titanic, and a volume of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was on board as it sank, although it wasn’t priceless. Others — well, see for yourself.

The Mummy’s Curse of Amen-Ra

The Legend: By the time the sarcophagus of the Princess of Amen-Ra made it aboard the Titanic, it had already achieved infamy. A young Englishman, who had purchased the mummy in the late 1890s while visiting an archeological dig, had mysteriously vanished. Three of his friends also met with terrible fates: one lost his life, one lost his arm, and one lost his fortune. One can only imagine what happened to the young Englishman, himself.

Later, after being donated by another businessman who deemed it “unlucky” when his house caught on fire, the sarcophagus found its way to the British Museum. But there, too, strange things happened. Odd noises plagued the staff, a night watchman died, and a photographer, foolish enough to take a picture of the coffin, was driven insane to the point of suicide.

Image: The Unlucky Mummy
Image: The Unlucky Mummy

Eager to sell the mummy, the British Museum eventually found someone willing to take it off their hands: An American, who decided to send it home aboard the Titanic. It never arrived.

The truth, however, is far more ordinary, so long as you choose to believe it. The so-named Unlucky Mummy was never aboard the Titanic. The ship’s cargo manifest shows no sign of a mummy. In fact, the legend is based on a mummy board (or coffin lid) of the Priestess of Amun that can still be found at the British Museum today, item number EA22542.

The legend of the mummy’s curse, perhaps as told above, made its way aboard the Titanic with William Thomas Stead. According to Snopes, he and an associate, Douglas Murray, started rumors about the mummy board, that it caused destruction inside the museum and cursed whoever owned it.

Stead, himself, was aboard the Titanic during its fateful voyage, and shared his strange tales of mummies and curses with his fellow passengers, planting the seeds of a legend that is still told today.

Dark Omens on the Titanic

Most passengers aboard the Titanic likely didn’t know that the fourth smokestack, or funnel, was actually a fake. Only the first three stacks were connected to the furnaces below, while the fourth was a “dummy” that provided ventilation and, of course, a pleasant symmetry with “better lines.”

But that fourth funnel would lead to an unsettling controversy as the ship left its last port of call in Queenstown, Ireland.

Titanic's Fake Funnel
Image: Kate Odell

As passengers boarded the ship, they saw something ghastly looking down at them from that funnel — a darkened face resembling Death himself. Some of them, as you’d expect, took this as a bad omen, with one passenger allegedly refusing to board.

But “Death” was actually one of the ship’s stokers, who had likely climbed to the top of the fake smokestack for some air, or perhaps to check out the view one last time. His face was covered in coal dust.

Since no one knew that the funnel was fake, however, they assumed it was impossible for any human to have climbed inside of it, given the tremendous heat from the boiler rooms. This left them to believe something supernatural was at work.

NO POPE – 3909-04

A mummy’s curse is one thing; Divine retribution is another. Well, perhaps not. At any rate, according to RMS Titanic Remembered, some apparently viewed the existence of the Titanic as a defiance of God, and after the ship sank, rumors began to spread throughout Ireland and the United States that an “anti-Catholic message” was hidden in the ship’s hull number, 3909-04.

Write the numbers down and view them with a mirror, and they seemingly spell the words NO POPE. However, this myth falls apart with one simple fact: the Titanic’s hull number was not 390904.

A Strange Prediction

Now here is a legend that is actually true. In 1898, fourteen years before the sinking of the Titanic, author Morgan Robertson published a novella titled Futility or The Wreck of the Titan. It told the story of an “unsinkable” British ocean liner — the largest of its time — named The Titan, which struck an iceberg and sank, leading to mass casualties due to a shortage of lifeboats. Sound familiar?

It’s true that, after the sinking of the Titanic, the book was revised somewhat. It was renamed “Wreck of the Titan,” for example, in 1912. But the original still seemed to contain a number of eerie premonitions.

Time Travelers Sank the Titanic

And, at last, we come to perhaps the strangest Titanic myth of all: the ship never hit an iceberg. It was never cursed, and it never fell victim to any bad omens. Instead, it’s fate was tied to the enemies of space and time itself: time traveling tourists.

Legend has it that time travel will be discovered in the future. This will cause many, many people to want to explore the past and visit different events throughout history. And many will choose to visit the Titanic on the evening it hit the iceberg.

The problem? They all arrive at once, and their collective weight ends up causing the ship to sink, not the iceberg. At least, that’s how the story goes.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.