Remember the Lusitania! Five-day Stanford exhibition commemorates the centenary of a shipwreck.


lusitania_postcard_final“In 1982, Gregg Bemis made the cheapest and most expensive financial transaction of his career: For one dollar he acquired full ownership of the RMS Lusitania, the British transatlantic passenger liner struck by a German torpedo in 1915. Given the legal battles he’s fought and millions of dollars he’s spent since then to verify his ownership and access the wreck that lies 300 feet below the waves in the North Atlantic, Bemis concedes the venture was ‘a personality failure on my part. I like to stick to things, I like to see them through to the end.’ No end is in sight, though, because what started as a business interest has become a personal mission. Bemis wants to finally settle a long running controversy: Why did the ship sink so fast, and was there a cover-up?”

Poster Collection, UK 524, Hoover Institution Archives.So begins Joshua Alvarez‘s article in the current Stanford Magazineabout Bemis, a Stanford alum. The article is a preview for a five-day exhibition at the Hoover Tower Rotunda.

Quick! Hurry! The exhibition begins Wednesday, May 20, and ends Sunday, May 24. It showcases artifacts recovered from the wreck of the Lusitania on loan from Bemis and Oceaneering International (such as the porthole pictured above), together with photographs, posters, documents, newspapers, medals, maps, and other artifacts permanently housed at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives. The event commemorates the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania.

Below, two photos of then 76-year-old Bemis as he makes his own dive to the wreck in 2004. He was a lot older than the Lusitania itself, which was launched in 1907 and destroyed in 1915. Bert Patenaude wrote an introduction to the Hoover exhibition; we wrote about Bert and his own book in “Forgotten Tale of How America Saved a Starving Russia,” here – this is what he had to say about the Lusitania:


Poster Collection, UK 198, Hoover Institution Archives.“On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine about a dozen miles off the southern coast of Ireland. The ship rapidly began listing heavily to starboard and sank by the bow in only eighteen minutes. Nearly 1,200 of the 1,959 men, women, and children on board perished that afternoon, 128 of them Americans.

“When the Lusitania sailed from New York on May 1, 1915, the ship faced dangers that the British government and Cunard, the ship’s owner, fully understood. Three months earlier, the Imperial German government had declared the seas around the British Isles a war zone and gave notice that Allied ships entering the area would be sunk on sight. The day of the Lusitania’s departure, the German embassy in Washington published an advertisement in US newspapers warning passengers of the risks involved in a transatlantic voyage aboard a British passenger ship.

“Today, one hundred years after the disaster, people learning about the fate of the Lusitania and the furious reaction it triggered will likely be surprised that the United States somehow managed to maintain its neutrality and stay out of the European conflict for another two years. In retrospect, however, it seems the incident ignited a long coiling fuse that would lead, in April 1917, to America’s entry into the First World War.”

Read more about the exhibition here. Or read Alvarez’s article here. But most of all hurry and go see the exhibition before the weekend is over.

Bemis dive to wreck 6-25-04

Above and below, Bemis dives 300 feet to the wreck. (Photos courtesy Gregg Bemis)

Bemis - after diving to Lusitania

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One Response to “Remember the Lusitania! Five-day Stanford exhibition commemorates the centenary of a shipwreck.”

  1. George Says:

    WW I curiously repeated the situation of the Napoleonic Wars, with Great Britain on the one side and a continent power on the other, both willfully disregarding the rights of neutrals. The British blockade as enforced in WW I caused hardship, including starvation, in the Central Powers and in territories they occupied. It was partly the German shift of sinking what they could not capture and bring to port, partly the much enhanced ties between the US and Great Britain, that brought the US into the war. And the German government allowed the resumption of unrestricted warfare on the calculation that the damage inflicted on the Allies would weaken them to the point of surrender before US intervention could have an effect.