US, British ships to meet at Titanic sinking spot

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Titanic fans aboard cruise ships are journeying to the spot where the great liner hit an iceberg exactly 100 years ago on Sunday, as somber ceremonies are held on land to mark the disaster.

The anniversary has taken on an international character, with artists, scientists and museums engaged in months-long preparations for commemorating events in Britain, Canada, Ireland and the United States, with an emphasis on dignity.

The Titanic was built in Belfast, and sailed from Southampton toward New York, but it was from Halifax that ships were sent to retrieve the bodies. And 150 of the tragedy's 1,514 victims are buried here.

One century to the hour after the fatal encounter with an iceberg, more than 1,700 passengers on two cruise ships -- the MS Balmoral from Southampton and the Azamara Journey from New York City -- plan to meet at the site where the Titanic went down to witness a partial reenactment.

The ship's captain will announce a collision and a distress call will ring out.

Passengers then plan to throw wreaths into the sea at 2:20 am about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Halifax at the time and place the ship sank.

Some participants in the memorial events -- many of them history buffs or descendants of passengers of the doomed voyage -- came with personal stories about how the Titanic touched their lives.

Wendy Burkhart, a British Columbia resident who crossed the continent to attend the ceremonies in Halifax, said James Cameron's 1997 movie about the tragedy was a trigger for her marriage to college sweetheart Jerry Evans, who reminded her of "Titanic" star Leonardo DiCaprio.

"I was struck by his resemblance to Jerry when we were younger," she said. "Right there, I vowed to someday get back together with him."

Burkhart's own ancestors narrowly missed a catastrophic trip on the ship.

"My great-great-grandparents, my grandmother and her sister were booked to travel on the Titanic," Burkhart said. "Their destination was Canada, where they wanted to start a new life. But then there was a family argument and it was decided to leave in the fall, rather than ... spring."

Memorial events held over the weekend will cement Halifax and Canada's place in Titanic's fabled story.

"The idea is not to have a carnival but an honorable marking of the tragic event," Titanic 100 Society executive director Ken Pinto told The Chronicle Herald.

Late Saturday, participants in the memorial ceremonies plan to gather at the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax before marching in a procession downtown.

Marchers plan to carry battery-powered candles and follow a horse-drawn carriage bearing a casket, stopping at some Titanic landmarks.

The procession will end at City Hall for memorial performances.

Over 20 local musicians and performers will participate, along with a Canadian Forces band. Nova Scotia's Rhapsody Quintet will play a selection of pieces reminiscent of some of the music performed aboard the ship by the Titanic orchestra a century ago.

Just after midnight, at 12:27 am, Halifax will observe a moment of silence to mark the time when the last wireless telegraph message from the Titanic was received in Nova Scotia.

Afterward, religious songs will be played and bells will ring from four churches where the ceremonies for the dead were held in 1912.

And as a finale, distress flares will be fired into the air. There will be no fireworks.

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