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Professor remembers Titanic sinking with toast at monument

Professor Michael Freedman, second from left, toasts with other members of the Men's Titanic Society. Jordan Emont | Contributing Photo Editor

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Shivan Sarna.

A group of men donned in tuxedos raised their champagne glasses in unison early Friday morning, toasting in tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives aboard the sinking RMS Titanic 99 years ago.

For the 32nd year, the Men’s Titanic Society commemorated the sinking of the legendary ship on April 14, 1912 at the Titanic Memorial, an 18-foot granite figure tucked away along the Washington Channel. School of Media and Public Affairs professor Michael Freedman, a member of the group, said the event serves as a “goodwill gesture” to show respect for those who perished.

About 1,500 people died aboard the sinking ship, while 705 survived.

Prior to toasting at the memorial, the society also holds an exclusive dinner replicating the last meal aboard the Titanic at the National Press Club. Members do not have personal connections to the ship or survivors.

“It’s a beautiful narrative, very tragic, about what happened on that night, about how it affected certain families and certain people and the bravery that was shown,” Freedman said.

A history buff growing up, Freedman said he was captured by the ambiguity that surrounded the ship’s whereabouts.

“The unthinkable occurred when it sank on its maiden voyage,” Freedman said. “And then for decades nobody could find the wreckage of the Titanic and that became its own mystery. Where is the Titanic?”

Eighteen men stepped out of a van Friday just before 12:30 a.m. and formed a line, facing the illuminated memorial. A mute crowd gathered at the public event, but a ringing ship bell broke the silence.

On cue at about 1 a.m., MTS members aligned themselves in front of the statue, giving short toasts during the time frame the society believed Titanic passengers experienced the most duress. The ship struck an iceberg at about 11:40 p.m. and sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912.

Members of the group have long and distinguished careers in television and broadcasting. Freedman himself served as general manager of CBS Radio Network News in New York for 30 years and was nominated to join the MTS five years ago.

MTS member Jim Silman originally discovered the memorial while filming a news feature for NBC’s WRC-TV about the hidden areas of Washington. Over drinks one night in 1978, he asked three colleagues if they wanted to toast those who passed away while helping others onto lifeboats to escape the sinking Titanic.

The four stole daffodils from the WRC garden and set them by the memorial. The next year, they returned.

“We put ourselves in the position of those men and we toast them,” Silman said. “They made a decision that’s a very difficult decision to make.”

Silman said next year, the society will plan a special tribute for the sinking’s centennial anniversary. He said it is an unwritten rule that new members are in the media business.

Freedman said the event is a “serious commemoration.”

“To those brave men. Here, here,” the men said during the toast.

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