If your child is awake at 4:15 AM, there had better be a good reason. If it also happens to be spring break, that goes double.
Last Tuesday, April 10, Danville residents Shawn and Stephanie Hanshaw’s 8 year-old son, Mason, set his alarm to be awake at that early hour in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the launch of the RMS Titanic.
For Mason, that was an excellent reason to wake up so early.
Mason carefully calculated the time difference, to ensure that he was awake at just the moment the ship would have left the docks in Southhampton, England. He happily celebrated the anniversary even as the whole house slept on.
Of course, the Titanic is much more famous for what happened five days into its maiden voyage. The British luxury passenger liner, the largest of the time and billed as “unsinkable,” did just that on April 15, 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean.
For Mason to make such an effort to mark an annivesary related to the Titanic disaster is not a rare occurence in the Hanshaw home.
Thanks to Mason’s passion for the subject, which started three years ago as a first-grader at , every member of the family, down to his 3 year-old brother, has become uncommonly aware of the details of the ship and the disaster.
When there is a birthday, invariably Mason will make a Titanic-themed birthday card, says his mom. Mason’s siblings also are pros at building LEGO reproductions of the ship, and reenacting key pieces of the disaster alongside their big brother.
Mason’s interest in the subject began when he read a Magic Tree House series book about the ship, and the tragedy that was the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history.
Mason’s mom wasn’t so sure it was good to encourage his early and consuming interest in the subject at the time. She worried that it was too morbid and sad an event for such a young child to repeatedly revisit.
She soon learned, however, that there was no stopping Mason’s zeal for the topic.
Over the years, Mason has read several books, watched movies and documentaries, and has drawn several hundred depictions of the ship, all from differing perspectives and at different points in its voyage and sinking. His mom says Mason has enlisted her help to research additional details about the ship and the disaster.
Explaining the Titanic’s interest for him, Mason simply says that the ship “just catches my eye, any time I see it.”
Mason’s drawings reveal his interest in the design elements of the ship, such as the fourth smoke stack that wasn’t operational, but was built to make the ship “look more impressive;” or the famous dome over the iconic grand staircase, that let in light, despite appearing encased in a room from the deck.
Mason also marvels at the mistakes that contributed to the magnitude of the disaster (around 1,500 are thought to have perished, but the numbers have never been precisely established). It astounds him that the ship was only equipped with 16 lifeboats for 2,227 passengers.
That fact is “weird,” says the 8 year-old. “How can that be?” he asks. Even an elementary school student knows that the math clearly doesn’t work.
For a ship that was an engineering marvel of its time, Mason’s assessment of the one thing they could have done differently to avert the disaster is surprisingly low-tech: binoculars.
Evidently the key for the box containing the ship’s binoculars didn’t make it on board, and subsequently the lookout in the ship’s crow’s nest didn’t have any way to spot the iceberg earlier.
Mason isn’t alone in his fascination with the iconic ship and its demise. As many other events pass into history, the sinking of the Titanic remains compelling to people of all ages, perhaps more so on this year's 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Mason’s dad, Shawn, says that he thinks the disaster keeps his son’s interest, as well as his own, because of the uncanny series of mishaps and missteps that combined to produce the “perfect storm.” Any change in those circumstances could have prevented the disaster, and is also what makes it so sad, he says.
It's also hard not to be drawn in because Mason has such passion for learning about the subject as well, says his family.
Through his many drawings and repeated retellings of the facts, the ship and its passengers are very alive in their household, and not merely footnotes in a history book.
Mason’s interest shows no signs of abating. In fact, other major disasters have joined the Titanic to capture Mason's attention in his quest to learn about and tell people about the events that have deeply impacted us.
In the future, Mason would love to build a reproduction of the inside of the Titanic, but he worries that the museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee has already covered that territory.
That destination is on the list of must-sees for the young fan, and he’s been urging his parents to plan a family trip there.
He has also been working on a LEGO YouTube mini-movie about the ship, but he's a tough director in his own right, and wants to get it just right.
On the April 15 anniversary of the ship’s ultimate descent under the icy water, Mason plans to remember the ship and its doomed passengers by checking out the depiction by another similarly obsessed fan and film director.. The family plans to go see James Cameron’s Titanic movie in the theater in 3-D.
It’s another uncanny detail about the Titanic’s role in their own family lore, says Mason’s parents. They saw the movie when it was originally released in theaters on their second date.