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Local historical society blasts plans to recover Marconi telegraph, ‘world’s most famous radio,’ from the Titanic

A photograph of the Titanic as she lay anchored in Ireland's Cork Harbor before her ill-fated voyage across the Atlantic. (Cork Examiner)Cork Examiner

An ambitious plan to recover the Marconi wireless telegraph from inside the wreck of the Titanic is being criticized by a local historical society.

“We’re very much against this,” Karen Kamuda, president of the Springfield-based Titanic Historical Society Inc., which opposes the removal of any artifacts from the ship that sank in 1912.

“To us it’s grave robbing," she said. "You’re disturbing a grave site.”

But David Gallo, a renowned oceanographer and Titanic expert, says that’s not the case at all.

Gallo, who retired from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and serves as a consultant to the RMS Titanic Inc., the company that hopes to retrieve the telegraph from the wreck, said the goal is to save an important piece of history from being lost forever.


"It’s an iconic piece of machinery,” said Gallo. “It was the voice of the Titanic.” RMS Titanic Inc. owns more than 5,000 artifacts from the Titanic.

After the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, the Marconi wireless radio system was used to send out distress signals to other ships. The messages in Morse code included: “We require immediate assistance” ... “Have struck iceberg and sinking” ... “We are putting women off in boats.”

Gallo said the purpose of the firm’s upcoming Titanic expedition is to conduct research and document the condition of the ship. The plan to retrieve the Marconi telegraph would be “minimally invasive, almost surgical” in nature, and if at any point the ship appeared to be at risk of being damaged, they would scrap the plan, he said.

RMS Titanic Inc. is now trying to make its case in court.

According to documents filed in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, lawyers for the company said RMS Titanic Inc. is “dedicated to sharing the legacy of the ship and her passengers with the public,” and “without the recovery, conservation and display of these artifacts, the ability to experience first-hand additional historic treasures would be limited to only an exclusive group who has the privilege and means to travel to the wreck site."


The court documents explain the historical significance of the Titanic’s wireless telegraph, and how the equipment was used on the fateful night that the ship sunk.

“Throughout that night, the calls from Titanic’s Marconi apparatus were heard by ships far and wide,” the court documents said. “Titanic’s own sister ship, RMS Olympic, heard the call and offered to help, even though she was too far away to be of practical assistance. Of the ships that responded, only Carpathia was close enough to reach Titanic within a reasonable amount of time. All that the other ships could do was to record in their telegraph logs the wireless operator’s description of events as they unfolded aboard the doomed liner. The last signals were recorded by SS Virginian, who heard two ragged test signals from Titanic before the signals halted abruptly for good.”

The court documents show that the company wants to use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to enter the ship and retrieve the artifacts.

“An overhead skylight originally ventilated the sleeping quarters and operator’s office," the document states. “This has now become the preferred point of entrance into this part of the wreck.”

The plan calls for cutting into the deck plating and removing a piece so the ROV can access the interior of the ship and the so-called “silent room” where the Marconi equipment is located.


Gallo said the procedure would not have much of an impact, because the deck plating is thin and already perforated. It’s “a quarter inch of steel that’s already eroded away,” he said.

In the court documents, the company argues that the Marconi wireless telegraph should be salvaged because it’s only a matter of time before it will be inaccessible.

“In the next few years," the court documents state, “the overhead for the Silent Cabin is expected to collapse, potentially burying forever the remains of the world’s most famous radio.”

The Associated Press reported that U. S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith said last week it was too early for her to make any decisions on the proposal and she needed more details. She proposed scheduling another hearing sometime in the future.

The sinking of the luxury liner, which some had claimed was unsinkable, came on its maiden voyage to New York City from Southampton, England. About 1,500 people were killed in what is considered one of the greatest tragedies of modern history, according to britannica.com.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.