In 1969, Andrew J. Cannata convinced his 11th-grade English teacher at Hingham High School to let him do his big paper on his favorite topic, the sinking of the Titanic.
More than 40 years later, that project is literally paying off.
Thirty five letters and cards written by Titanic survivors that Cannata began collecting for the paper about what happened the night of April 15, 1912 will be auctioned off on the 100th anniversary of the disaster. The starting bid in the New York auction for the collection will be $30,000.
Cannata, 59, now of Dorchester, said he learned doing the paper that that the passengers aboard the ship were panicked, rather than calm and organized, as it sank into the North Atlantic.
“Authors at the time kept saying everyone was stoic, everyone behaved themselves,” Cannata said. “That wasn’t true. Everyone was on their knees praying. They were crying. This was stuff that was never told.”
Cannata found six Titanic survivors by going through phone books. Four responded with letters giving their accounts. Cannata got an A+ on the paper.
His interviews didn’t stop there, he said. The following year, he was asked to hold a seminar at his school after he received accounts from 16 other survivors.
“It just fascinated me, as it does a lot of people,” he said.
After talking with the survivors and meeting two of them in person, Cannata said that he considered them friends and learned a lot from them besides just their stories.
“You couldn’t live through something horrendous like that and still go on with your life normally,” he said.
What makes these letters different, he said, is that almost all the survivors he spoke to were between 18 and 40 years old when they were on the ship.
In recent years, the only survivors left were “infants with no recollection,” he said. “Mine were people that remember the incidents and they were telling me their accounts.”
The auction, which will feature dozens of other Titanic items, will be held Sunday at the Bonhams auction house in New York City.