Titanic conspiracy theories on tragedy’s anniversary from murder to mummy curse

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The sinking of the Titanic on this day exactly 109 years ago would go on to inspire films, a deep sea diving expedition — and a surprising number of conspiracy theories.

The so-called "Ship of Dreams" struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on the evening of April 14, 1912 and sank beneath the waves several hours later, killing more than 1,500 people.

At least, that's the official version of events. But over the years a number of alternative theories to explain the maritime disaster have cropped up.

From an elaborate murder plot among millionaires to the curse of an Egyptian mummy, here are just a few of the wildest conspiracy theories some believe about the sinking of the Titanic.

J. P. Morgan's revenge

American banker J. P. Morgan was an owner of the Titanic through his International Mercantile Marine Company (IMM), which had acquired the White Star Line, which owned the ship.

He intended to travel on the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage, but changed his mind some time before it set sail and did not board.

This has sparked a theory that Morgan had planned for the ship to sink in an attempt to kill off rival millionaires Jacob Astor, Isidor Straus and Benjamin Guggenheim, all passengers who died in the disaster.

The theory, which has recently resurfaced as a QAnon meme, suggests Morgan wanted the men dead because they opposed the creation of the Federal Reserve — despite evidence that Straus supported it and the other two were neutral.

Instead there are several rational explanations for why Morgan cancelled his passage on the Titanic.

Don Lynch, a historian at the Titanic Historical Society, told Reuters: "One of J.P. Morgan's biographers said that France was changing its laws to prevent Americans from exporting art treasures from that country, so Morgan went to Paris to oversee getting his purchases out of the country before the new laws went into effect."

Another expert from THS said the "official" explanation given at the time was that Morgan was ill and wanted to recuperate at a spa in France — with his mistress.

Ship switch

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That's not the only conspiracy theory concerning J. P. Morgan and the Titanic.

In 1998, Robin Gardiner published his book Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank? in which he concluded that it was actually the Titanic's sister ship the Olympic that sank, disguised to look like the Titanic as part of an insurance scam by Morgan's company IMM.

The Olympic had been damaged in a collision in 1911 and was found to be at fault, meaning Lloyd's bank refused to pay out on the insurance claim.

The ship needed repairs which would put it out of action and further delay the Titanic's completion, all amounting to a serious financial loss for the company.

Gardiner proposes that in the interests of ensuring they were still making money, White Star quickly patched up the Olympic and disguised it as the Titanic.

The plan was to dispose of the Olympic in a manner that would let the company collect the full insured value of a brand new vessel, Gardiner claims. He alleges the seacocks would be opened once the ship was at sea to slowly flood it, giving passengers enough time to be rescued.

The real Titanic, once complete, would then quietly enter service as the Olympic.

Not an iceberg after all

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One of Gardiner's most controversial theories is that the Titanic sank not because it struck an iceberg, but because it collided with one of the IMM's own rescue boats.

The vessel was lurking near the ship with its lights out, waiting for it to raise the emergency signal as part of the plan, he claims. This would explain why lookout crew didn't spot the object until it was too late, he says — rather than an enormous white iceberg, they failed to spot the small darkened ship ahead.

Gardiner says this is in keeping with his theory that an iceberg would not be capable of inflicting as much serious damage to a steel double-hulled vessel as was done to the Titanic.

The theory has been dismissed by a number of historians and experts.

Curse of the mummy

One of the passengers killed in the Titanic accident was William Stead, a UK editor who had spent the last several years insisting a cursed mummy was behind several recent disasters in London.

While on board, Stead told a number of other passengers about his Egyptian theory.

A survivor later recounted his tale to the media, resulting in a Washington Post story headlined: "Ghost of the Titanic: Vengeance of Hoodoo Mummy Followed Man Who Wrote Its History."

Some believers claim there was actually a mummy aboard the Titanic when it sank, but in 1999 fact-checking site Snopes shot down that theory as no such item was listed in the ship's cargo manifest.

However it's believed famous survivor Margaret Brown had some Egyptian artefacts with her on the ship as she was delivering them to a museum in Denver.

Secret anti-Catholic code

One particularly outlandish theory claims some Catholic employees of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast company which built the Titanic, were distressed by the ship's serial number 3909 04.

The reason? When viewed in a mirror, the number seems to spell out the phrase "NO POPE", which the superstitious labourers feared was a satanic curse.

But Titanic experts say there was never any such number attached to the ship. The number painted on the hull was 401, the same as its yard number. Meanwhile its Board of Trade number was 131,428.

Even if the Titanic's serial number really did read "NO POPE", there were no Catholic workers at Harland and Wolff to complain, the company having fired them all in favour of Protestants.

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