I Was Delia Mahon

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My name was Delia Mahon. I was a 20-year-old woman taking 3rd-class passage aboard the Titanic on April 11, 1912. I boarded at Queenstown (now Cobh), headed for New York.

This was the name on the ticket I was handed as I entered the Titanic Experience in Cobh, Ireland – the last port of call for the Titanic before it headed out on its fateful trip. It seemed fitting that I ended my trip to Ireland with a stop of Titanic proportions. The whole trip felt bigger than life.

Cobh is a beautiful little seaside town, with flowers and cafes dotting the hilly streets.
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But for tourists, the main attraction is the White Star Line building that was the terminal for the Titanic. It was here that passengers lined up to tender out to the waiting ship beyond the cove. The original building still stands and now houses the Titanic Experience Museum.

April 11, 1912

April 11, 1912

The White Star Line building now.

The White Star Line building now.

Once you buy your ticket to the museum, you’re handed the card of a real-life passenger who boarded there (similar to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.). Once I saw that my person, Delia Mahon, was a 3rd-class passenger, I pretty much knew her fate.

A holographic image of a captain met us at the entrance and then took us through the reconstructed 1st class cabins of the Titanic. Father Browne, an amateur photographer, boarded the Titanic at Waterloo Station and took it as far as Cobh, where he disembarked. He took dozens of pictures while aboard that have since shown the world what the interior of the ship looked like. The Titanic Experience has recreated some of those interior rooms.

We followed the Captain through a 1st-class cabin and then we saw it — a video version of the ship hitting the iceberg, listing, then breaking in half before plunging into the icy waters. I’m not sure I blinked during the quick demise. I couldn’t stop picturing the scene in the Hollywood movie as I watched this more impersonal depiction. Celine Dion’s song kept playing in my mind. Leonardo DiCaprio and his ill-fated fellow passengers, Delia Mahon among them, screamed and sank in my mind. The museum video was not nearly as dramatic as the Hollywood version, but I superimposed the movie image in my mind.

After the sinking of the ship, we moved into another room where we could enter the name of our passenger into a computer and see our person’s fate. Sure enough, Delia Mahon drowned that night. I’d known it before I ever looked it up.

The Titanic waited for passengers to tender, just beyond the cove.

The Titanic waited for passengers to tender, just beyond the cove.

I left the museum and stared out at the sea, imagining the hope and fear that passengers felt as they left their families bound for America that day. And then I got a little spooked since I was leaving that day, too…

Of course, I did not suffer the fate that Delia did, but I was just as sad as I imagine she was to leave Ireland.

A few facts about the Titanic:
— The last survivor, Millvina Dean, died in 2009. She was a 3rd-class passenger.
— The cost of a 1st-class ticket today would equal $69,600.
— The Titanic’s three anchors weighed a combined 31 tons.
— The 700 third-class passengers shared two bathtubs among them.
— Popular belief holds that 2 dogs were rescued from the Titanic.
— Last message sent from Titanic: “We are sinking fast. Passengers being put into boats.”

Are you fascinated by the tragedy of the Titanic? I am.

20 responses to “I Was Delia Mahon

  1. New to me Juliann, and yet another reason to visit Cobh.

    The Heritage Centre has been there a long time now and equally worth a visit. I was there once with an old uncle who regaled the ticket girl with how he’d worked on the railway all his life and that he ought to get in free that she sighed and waved him through 🙂

  2. We had a great temporary exhibition come through Singapore about a year ago. My passenger drowned as well – but more heroically, being a first-class male who gave up his place in the lifeboat for other passengers. My son’s passenger survived (I wonder if they do that on purpose for the kids). It’s definitely a good technique to bring the tragedy home, but I bet having the experience at the actual terminal adds a lot more.

    • I think that moving exhibit came through Cincinnati, too, but we didn’t make it there to see it. Your passenger had such a great story! I wonder, too, if they select survivors for the kids.

      • It was a really good story, because apparently as he was giving up his place he entrusted some item (gosh I wish I could remember the full story) to one of the survivors to be delivered to his mother, and if I recall correctly, they honoured that wish.

  3. I wonder why we’re still fascinated with Titanic after all of these years — exempt the Hollywood connection. Then again, Hollywood wouldn’t have made the film if there wasn’t an interest.

    It wasn’t the most life lost at sea (that belongs to the Dona Paz in 1987 with 4,341 lost). Someone suggested that it was an “end of an era” (specifically the Edwardian Era) as WWI began brewing in Europe just after.

    • You’re right, Lane. There are so many other tragedies that we could focus on and yet this is the one that captures out attention. Maybe it’s the iceberg? Or the luxury aspect of the ship? I don’t know. Good question.

  4. I remember seeing the movie with my parents when I was young and having nightmares/dreams for about a week. It was quite difficult for my little mind to cope and comprehend the tragedy of it all.
    My stats class professor, in an effort to wake us all up, found some stats on the Titanic to use as an example and apparently, 97% of women and children in first class survived. Compared to about 40% of those in third class.

    • I saw the movie as an adult and it still haunts me. I don’t know what it says about me that when I watched the more impersonal reenactment in the museum that I superimposed the movie image in my mind. I couldn’t help it.

  5. Sounds fascinating – I’ve visited the Titanic Exhibitions in Belfast and Las Vegas but didn’t know about this one. I wrote a piece after visiting Belfast wondering why Titanic has such a hold on people’s imaginations. I could only guess it was the combination of stories from the one disaster – the man vs nature angle, the Greek style story of excesses meeting a tragic end, as well as the individual human stories.

  6. How eerie to be there on the day you were returning home yourself. It’s touching that they put a passenger’s name on each ticket; that really humanizes the experience and helps us remember each person aboard.

    • Yes. It was a good idea to give visitors a personal connection. I think only 3 (not sure) passengers that boarded in Cobh were NOT in 3rd class, so am pretty sure most visitors know their passengers didn’t make it. And yet, I’ll bet every single one of us hoped that our person was the exception that survived.

  7. Yes, I have always been fascinated by the Titanic, dreary as the subject matter is. It is another reason I can’t bring myself to go on a cruise. I’ll take my chances on dry land.

    This was a very powerful post and I would definitely want to come here. Handing out the name of a real passenger certainly rings true with the visitor. I went through that at The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I cried at the end…couldn’t help it.

    On a cheery note, we’re planning a trip to Ireland next year and I’ll be referencing your travel posts when the time comes so we can make our rounds. I’ll probably pick your brain, too. : )

    • Britt, I’m so excited that you’re going to Ireland! I hope you love every minute of it. 🙂

      I haven’t heard of the Museum of Tolerance but it sounds like a place I’ll definitely add to a trip to LA. They handed out ID cards at the Holocaust Museum in DC, too. It was much more impactful to me. I left there feeling stunned and shell-shocked. Then again, how could you come away feeling anything else?

  8. Oooo this definitely sounds like something right up my alley! I love museums that have some sort of interactive element that makes you empathize and understand a little bit more.

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