T here are 435,490 people, give or take, living in York County.
And as far as I know, only two -- Jim and Linda May, of West Manchester Township -- were on board for the Titanic Memorial Cruise celebrating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.
As it turns out, Jim is a history buff. He's been a member of the board of directors of the York County Heritage Trust for about 15 years, he said. More to the point, however, he is gung-ho about anything having to do with the Titanic.
"It's the combination of romance, tragedy, history and fate that's pulled me in," he said.
A quick history lesson: The Titanic was the world's largest
Fewer than three hours later, at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, it broke in half and sank into the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. About 1,500 passengers and crew members died.
I didn't know all those details, of course, but Jim did. As it turns out, the sinking of the Titanic became a passion of his the instant he saw the Academy Award-winning movie in 1997.
So after two years watching from a distance (on the Internet) attempts to sell tickets for a memorial cruise on the MS Balmoral in England that would retrace the exact path of the Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912, and wishing he could be part of it, he learned there would be a companion voyage that would leave from New York and join the Balmoral at the Titanic crash site.
But the cost of a ticket on the Azamara Journey was prohibitive -- $5,500 a person for what Jim considered "an eight-day history lesson wrapped around a memorial service."
He wanted to go, but not at that price.
And then the Costa Concordia cruise ship accident occurred off the coast of Italy in January. The timing was awful for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, because people became spooked at the thought of cruising the open seas. A $5,500 ticket to participate in the Titanic Memorial Cruise became a tough sell. Reservations stalled almost overnight.
Jim was monitoring the situation pretty closely, and then one day he learned a ticket could be had for $2,500. He went home that night and mentioned the trip to his wife, Linda, who was not, shall we say, a "Titanic nut."
He didn't actually say the words -- "Honey, have I got a deal for you" -- but that was essentially the message. Her response? "It was luke warm, at best," she said.
Truth is, she had no interest in getting stuck on a cruise ship for eight days in the North Atlantic in chilly April, whose only destination was the middle of the ocean. "What was I going to do, read books for eight days?" she asked.
Add to that the reaction of their two children, Melissa and Danny, who thought the trip was "testing fate."
But Jim gave Linda a couple of days to think about it, then he asked right out, "Well, are we going on this trip or not?"
One thing for sure, Jim said, they wouldn't be around to take the 200th anniversary trip. So it was then or never.
Linda said she'd go.
"Once we got on the ship," she said, "people would approach us and ask 'Which of you is the Titanic nut?' Because one person in every couple was really into the Titanic, and the other person was just along for the ride. I'd just point at Jim. He was the nut."
They left New York from Pier 88 at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, and arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Thursday at 9 a.m. They got off the ship, explored the Titanic museum and three cemeteries where 150 of the Titanic deceased are buried. They took a tour -- "that was more emotional than the memorial service on the ship," Linda said, "because of all the personal stories the guide told us about those who died and were buried there."
Six hours later, they were back on the ship. They left Halifax and went straight to the Titanic site, arriving in plenty of time for the memorial service later that night. Each ship -- the Azamara Journey and the Balmoral -- hovered over a section of the Titanic, which was two-and-a-half miles straight down.
An hour after the service was over, the ship turned around and headed back to New York.
Most memorable moments? There were a few. The first, Jim said, came before they even left New York. "Before we went anywhere, they held a lifeboat drill for everyone on the ship. I don't know what anyone was thinking -- the Titanic, the Concordia, I don't know -- but you could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. There were about 694 passengers and six lifeboats on our ship. Each lifeboat could hold about 150 people. You could see the people doing the math in their heads. Six times 150 equals 900. That should be enough lifeboats."
For Linda, the part of the trip she looked least forward to -- the lectures every day by experts on various aspects of the Titanic story -- turned out to be her favorite. "The memorial service is what the whole trip was leading up to, of course," she said, "but the speakers were really interesting. We enjoyed that part of the experience."
And there was a harpist who played from the "White Star Lines Songbook" at every afternoon tea. "She was excellent," Linda said. "She explained each piece before she played it, making the connection to the Titanic."
That included, she said, an explanation about the "unfinished song" that was being played as the Titanic was sinking. Anyone who's seen the "Titanic" movie, knows that professional musicians -- all violinists, I believe -- played "Nearer My God To Thee," as the ship was going down.
And then, of course, there was the memorial service at 1:20 a.m. Everyone stood out on the decks, some wearing period costumes, watching as memorial wreaths were dropped into the ocean. "It was very solemn," Jim said. "Not so depressing or emotional, but reverent. Memorable, for sure."
Then at 2:20 a.m. sharp, the Azamara Journey sounded its ship's whistle. And the Balmoral responded by sounding its whistle.
Of course, the band played "Nearer My God To Thee," adding to the moment. And this time they finished the song.
Then two minutes of silence. Time to reflect on the victims of the Titanic disaster.
It was all Jim May imagined it could be, and more than Linda could have hoped for.
An eight-day history lesson wrapped around a memorial service.
And then some.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.