Strange Coincidence: Titanic Disaster Foretold

Status: True (kind of, though I wouldn't use the word 'foretold') offers a list of the Top 15 Strangest Coincidences. It's an interesting list (Thanks for the link, Kathy!), and as far as I can tell all the coincidences they list are basically true. Or, at least, they've all been widely reported, and I haven't been able to find any false statements in them yet. (I didn't analyze all of them that closely.)

But one coincidence I found particularly interesting, that I hadn't read about before, involved an American writer named Morgan Robertson who in 1898 wrote a novella titled Futility. It told the story of a massive ocean liner named the Titan that hits an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic and sinks. Fourteen years later, in real life, the Titanic hits an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic and sinks. Very weird.

The coincidence was definitely not lost on Robertson who immediately had his story republished after the Titanic sank, with the new title Futility and the Wreck of the Titan. Apparently he tweaked the republished story a little bit to make the similarities even more striking. (He altered the dimensions of his fictional boat to make it more like the Titanic.) But the biggest similarity of all (Titan vs. Titanic) he didn't need to tweak. That was legitimately in the original story (which can be read here).

This coincidence is discussed on skepticwiki, which points out that the story is often used by believers in the paranormal as evidence of premonition. But as they point out:
"The most startling coincidence above all is the similarity in names between Titan and Titanic. In 2003, Senan Moloney wrote an article for the online resource Titanic Book Site where he finds three occasions before the writing of "Futility" where a ship named Titania sank at sea, and one of these bore certain similarities to the eventual Titanic disaster. It could be that, inspired by this disaster (or all three) Morgan Robertson chose to base his ocean liner's name on their names."
Still, it is a very striking coincidence. But sometimes strange coincidences do happen. That doesn't make them paranormal.

In fact, leaves off its list what I find to be the most amazing coincidence in history: that when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, one of the first native Americans they met not only spoke fluent English, but had actually lived in England for a number of years and had crossed the Atlantic numerous times. (He was more cosmopolitan and well-traveled than they were.) To me this is just amazing that out of the entire huge continent the Pilgrims managed, by sheer luck, to find the one guy, Squanto, who spoke English. It's like traveling halfway across the galaxy, landing on a planet, and discovering that the inhabitants speak English. (Of course, that happens in Star Trek all the time.) And without Squanto's help the Plymouth Colony probably wouldn't have lasted through the winter, and American history itself might have taken a very different course. But it was just a coincidence. Nothing supernatural about it (though the Pilgrims definitely viewed it as an example of divine favor).


Posted on Thu Jul 13, 2006


I used to have a dog named Squanto...oh, wait- my mistake. His name was Raoul. My bad
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  10:17 AM
Hairy! It seems like a long time since we've heard from you. Welcome back!
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  10:33 AM
Dman Hairy! How have you been?

I don't think Squanto being the first person the colonists met was that much of a coincidence. Ships from Europe were not unusual sites along the coast at that time, and anyone from Squanto's tribe who saw one sending a landing party went and got him because he could speak their language. And trade. The only unusual thing here was that the people got off the boat and stayed.

The whole Plymouth Rock thing is kind of a myth, too. No one in the colony ever mentioned anything about landing on a rock. The stone that now carries the myth just happened to be in the vicinity of the colony, and not necessarily where they landed (which is not known).
Posted by BugbearSloth  in  earth, 3rd planet, sol system  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  10:46 AM
Wow! Just yesterday I was thinking of posting a comment to Alex asking, "What ever happened to Hairy Houdini?" Welcome back. And guess what? We're still debating Lifewave Engergy patches!
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  10:57 AM
You have the largest passenger steamship in the world. Do you name it the Lilliputian?

It's not that big of a coincidence.

Welcome back, Hairy.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  11:00 AM
Morgan Richardson's sex has changed! You say "Robertson who immediately had _his_ story" while the original states "Later, _she_ wrote a book, Beyond the Spectrum"

Amizing. I hope I stay male after this post!!!!! ;o)
Posted by OriginalSim  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  11:30 AM
This I can not believe! Why, just the yesterday, I too, Raoul, The Psychic Gangster of Love, also thought too much about our friend Hairy. "I am wondering if he is dead now, or has gone back to where he came", I was thinking, you know, because the Moon, she was full, like the bosom of my True Love, She Who Can Not Be Named, and that made me think of the Hairy One, who is also full, but not of the milks, you know? Ha ha ha, but don't get me started, okay? ... Rrrraoul
Posted by Raoul  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  11:37 AM
OriginalSim, that's's mistake. Not mine. Morgan Robertson was a man. At least, according to the wikipedia entry about him, he was a man.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  01:20 PM
The name Titan, or some derivation, is a very obvious name for a ship, so I don't find it coincidental at all. (Furthermore running into icebergs wasn't exactly a unique event in North Atlantic ocean crossings; in fact that was one ironic point of the Titanic.)
Posted by Joe  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  01:33 PM
Alex -- I didn't accuse you of changing her - er - his sex!!! I may have written it badly, but I was trying to be careful not to throw the blame....

interesting comparison of the original book, its revision, and the actual Titanic disaster at Futility Comparison
Posted by OriginalSim  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  01:41 PM
Why are you so surprised to see Hairy back

Didn't you notice we just had a full moon?
Posted by Sharruma  in  capable of finishing a coherent  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  03:03 PM
Wow, both Hairy and Raoul turn up at the same time...coincidence?
Posted by Smerk  in  to mischief  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  06:54 PM
Morgan Robertson is also credited with inventing the periscope.
What a guy!
Posted by Big Gary  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  11:27 PM
What about the "coincidence" of Lou Gehrig dying from Lou Gehrig's Disease? What are the odds of that?
Posted by Tom  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  09:12 AM
I agree with Charyb. "Titanic" or "Titan" for a superlarge steamliner is as obvious as "Yoko" for a chimp.
Posted by LaMa  in  Europe  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  09:29 AM
Don't be stupid, Tom. Obviously Lou Gehrig's parents waited until after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease to name him. They must have thought it would be cooler that way.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  09:33 AM
According to Snopes, this story appeared in the September 17, 1892 edition of the New York Times:

"London, Sept. 16
Posted by Joe Littrell  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  10:30 AM
Charybdis -- well, how do you explain the fact the Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth, England, crossing 3,000 miles of ocean without a GPS, and landed at PLYMOUTH Rock? That can't be a coincidence, can it?
Posted by Tom  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  11:08 AM
OriginalSim, I admit that for a moment your post made me paranoid that I had given Robertson the wrong gender. After all, I started thinking, Morgan could be a woman's name. Sorry for the defensive tone. 🙄
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  11:09 AM
"... Obviously Lou Gehrig's parents waited until after he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease to name him."

Yeah, that's what my Uncle Parkinson told me too.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  11:26 AM
I seem to remember a Poe short story that took place at sea with the sinking of a ship and a single person ending up in a lifeboat.

Then coincidentally it actually happened a few years later with one person ending up in a lifeboat with the same name as the story character.

Does anyone know of this tale or what story I am talking about? I would like to read that Poe story again.
Posted by Jim  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  11:42 AM
Well, there was the "Narrative of A. Gordon Pym", Jim. I think that's the only sea-faring story he wrote where the name of the character is given (and it was also the basis for a great H. P. Lovecraft story). "A Descent Into the Maelstr
Posted by Accipiter  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  12:06 PM
Thanks Accipiter,

"Narrative of A. Gordon Pym" sound very familiar. I will have to check that out.
Posted by Jim  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  12:13 PM
That was it. I had most of the facts of the story wrong, but I found a site that told of the concidence I was thinking of. says:

Cannibalistic Coincidence

In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe published his only complete novel - yeah, I didn't know that either. It was entitled The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The story is about a young man named Arthur Gordon Pym who stows away aboard a whaling ship. It's a strange kind of story (it's Poe) full of adventure and mis-haps and they eventually become shipwrecked. As 4 survivors, clinging to the hull, are about to die of thirst and starvation, they draw lots to see who would be killed and eaten. The loser is a man named Richard Parker.

In 1884, a real-life shipwreck happened involving a yacht named the Mignonette which was on its way to Australia. There were 4 survivors - 3 of whom were charged with murder of the fourth. Facing starvation after 16 days in a dinghy, Captain Dudley and his mates killed and ate the cabin boy. The 3 men were tried and found guilty of murder of the cabin boy, whose name was Richard Parker.

(Alan Vaughan - Incredible Coincidence)
Posted by Jim  on  Fri Jul 14, 2006  at  12:22 PM
I agree with BugbearSloth. By the time of the pilgrims' arrival, Europeans had been visiting the Eastern coast of North America (not to speak of South America) for the best part of a century. Having somebody who spoke Spanish, English, French or Dutch was a matter of interest, if not of survival, for the Indians (with or without a visit to Europe).
Your comparison would be more accurate had you said that it's like sendig a colony halfway across the galaxy, landing on a planet that has been traded with and pillaged by Earthlings for a hundred years, and discovering that some of the inhabitants speak English. I wouldn't call that a coincidence.
Posted by Enrique  on  Sat Jul 15, 2006  at  04:26 AM
In Morgan Robertson's novel (yes, definitely a man), there was the iceberg and not enough lifeboats and all that (although, to be fair, icebergs were fairly common, hence the iceberg watch, and an idiot could have seen the lack of lifeboats thing coming up) but after the Titan hits the iceberg - the hero ends up jumping onto the iceberg and living there for several days, whilst being menaced by a polar bear! Now if that had happened to someone, I'd be REALLY impressed!
Posted by Nona  on  Mon Mar 05, 2007  at  05:33 AM
If you were well educated, you would know that the man who wrote the Titan was Mr. William Thomas Stead. Morgan Robertson is not even a name on the Titanic's passenger roster. Mr. Stead, however, is.
Posted by Samantha  on  Thu Aug 30, 2012  at  12:13 PM
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