One week ago today we were preparing to show our documentary, “Remember the Sultana”, to a large audience for the first time. Monday night, April 27, 2015 was the culmination of years of work, an incredible journey facilitated by scores of people who love the Sultana story as much or more than we do. The night of the showing, and subsequent comments by those dear to us, made all the effort more than worthwhile.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the events that led up to, and included, that wonderful night a week ago, I’ve found myself asking the question, “What’s next?” Not “what’s next” concerning our company or me personally, but “what’s next” regarding the Sultana, and my own involvement with the continued telling of the story? In some form or another, whether on the public stage or in the privacy of the homes of those who survived/perished and their descendants, the story of the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history has been told and re-told for the past 150 years right up until today. So the question for me becomes, “What’s next for my part in telling the story?”
Part of the answer comes from a personal commitment my brother and I made in 2001 to do what we could to make sure the story is told accurately and understandably to as wide an audience as possible. Many before us have undertaken, and been faithful to, that same mission. And yet, there is still some misinformation out there, as well as nagging questions that may never be answered but which must be pursued. Little things like the fact that the name of the boat (not ship) was called Sultana (without an SS in front). Bigger things like how in the world could Reuben Hatch not have been held accountable for his part in overcrowding (not overloading) the Sultana while leaving not a trace of his physical countenance behind? And huge things like how could so many soldiers, passengers, and crew have perished and been all but forgotten by a nation that owes them so much?
Great strides have been made recently in answering questions like: “Was it sabotage?” - definitely not as witnessed by the brilliant rebuttal of author Gene Eric Salecker to the allegation raised by another writer; “What actually caused the explosion of the boilers?” – answered authoritatively by Pat Jennings, Principal Engineer with Hartford Steam Boiler/Munich Re, in his recent presentation to the ASME Boiler Code Week convention (more about this in our next blog post); and “Did I have an ancestor on the Sultana?” – a question being asked by those who discover hints of the Sultana story as part of investigating their own family histories and who receive help in answering the question from various genealogy sources as well as groups and individuals associated with the Sultana. As long as questions continue to be asked, and answered, the story of the Sultana and the memories of those who were aboard her will remain alive.
So let me ask you, dear reader. How will you remember the Sultana? As long as this story resonates with you and remains in your thoughts, even if it’s only on the anniversary of the disaster each year, the Sultana and those associated with her will live. And you, as well as all those you tell, will be the better for it. Let us remember the Sultana!