R.M.S. Titanic is the stuff of legend. It was legend long before the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster brought its story to the big screen.
Local history expert Eriks Garsvo, who will soon graduate from Boise State University and continue his work giving tours, notably of the Boise Depot, is also an authority on the Titanic.
His knowledge is particularly timely this week. The ship left its port in Southampton, England, on April 10, 105 years ago, bound for New York City.
Most everyone knows the story by now. On April 14, the ship struck an ice berg in the still, dark waters of the North Atlantic. In the early hours of April 15, the ship sank, taking 1,500 people with her.
But even though it’s common to hear stories of the Titanic’s massive size and grandeur — she had tennis courts, a Turkish bath and a swimming pool filled with sea water among other attractions — it’s sometimes hard to visualize the true size of the ship from its measurements alone.
So Garsvo decided to set the ship in the context of Downtown Boise.
If you stand at the west end of the Basque Block then start walking north toward the Idaho State Capitol, by the time you reached Bannock Street, you will have walked the entire length of the ship from stern to bow.
If you stop at Idaho Street (with the Adelmann Building on your right), the height of the Key Bank on your left will be approximately the height of the Titanic — from the bottom of its hull to the top of its smokestacks.
What’s more, said Garsvo, the width of the ship would sit comfortably inside the width of Capitol Boulevard.
Garsvo is best known as a train specialist. When the historic steam locomotive 844 visits Boise on April 22-23 to mark the 92nd anniversary of the Boise Depot, Garsvo will guide depot tours and have the honor of riding the historic engine into town. But he’s long been fascinated by the Titanic as well. He first saw the James Cameron film in the 1990s when he was just a preschooler. He was quickly hooked and watched the film five times. When he was old enough, he started reading books on the infamous journey and building models of the ship. He believes peoples’ fascination with the R.M.S. Titanic (the intitals stand for Royal Mail Steamer) comes from the fact that people across social classes perished when the ship went down, even the rich and powerful.
“It really shocked the world,” said Garsvo.
The sinking of the ship could also be seen as a metaphor for the end of a certain societal structure and grand Victorian and Edwardian eras, he added.
“It was a modern marvel, ‘unsinkable,’ yet it sank. After this comes World War I, then the roaring 20s. Women were campaigning for the vote. We’re shifting into the modern era,” he said.
On Saturday, Garsvo and some friends will get together to play a computer game that simulates the Titanic’s sinking in real time.
In addition to giving tours of the Boise Depot, Garsvo also gives presentations about the Titanic to school and community groups and others. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.