I was trying to get this post done before the Titanic's 100th anniversary but I have just been busy lately. Just a few thoughts on the picture of the boy and his top on the Titanic. Many of you may have already read this with all the press that Titanic has been getting lately but I thought I would pass on some of the interesting top facts connected with this story. The boy's name is Robert Douglas Spedden and he was 6 yrs old when the picture was taken by a Jesuit priest, (Father Francis Browne, who was told to get off the boat at the next stop by his superiors) during the leg from France to Ireland of Titanic's maiden voyage. The man coaching the young boy is his father, Frederic Spedden. The Spedden family was returning to New York City after vacationing in Europe. Amazingly the boy and his parents survived the whole ordeal of the sinking of the Titanic. Of the 2,224 people on board the Titanic only 710 survived (32%). And because of the "women and children first" protocol that was generally followed for the loading of the lifeboats, most of the male passengers and crew were left aboard. Of the 1670 men that were on board only 338 survived (20%) So, for the whole Spedden familiy to survive the sinking of the Titanic was quite fortunate.
Here is the original photo:
Talking a closer look at the picture I noticed that the top doesn't look like a typical peg top. It looks like it might be more of a whip top, which was quiet a popular toy in that day.
In looking up whip tops on the internet, our friend Don Olney is consistently mentioned as being one of the foremost whip top authorities. On another forum there was someone that mentioned that there was a book that was written by Robert's mother, Daisy, called "Polar, the Titanic Bear". The story behind this book is pretty interesting and can be read about in the following link: The Story behind "Polar The Titanic Bear"
. I was hoping that there might be some information that would shed some light on the background of his top. I was able to find the book at our local library. It was a interesting little book but all the information on the top was the following sentence: “We had fairly smooth weather those first few days and spent most of our time on deck, where (Robert) would spin his whip top or play ball.” So I was able to verify that it was indeed a whip top. I wonder if this was a top that he picked up while on his travels in Europe or just in one of the ship's gift shops?
As mentioned before they recreated the photo in a quick little scene in James Cameron's 1997 movie “Titanic”. At 1:16:20 into the movie we see the character Jack Dawson sneaking onto the First Class deck while in the foreground we see a father coaching his son on how to throw a top. They did a nice job in recreating the scene:
You will notice that in the movie they use a rather large peg top for the scene.
Does any one recognize the top they used or do you think it is custom made for the movie?
As a final note, despite the fortune that Robert had in surviving the sinking of the Titanic it was a mere three years later that the family was spending the summer in Maine. Robert, now aged nine, ran out into the road after a ball and was hit by a fairly new contraption called the automobile, being one of the first recorded automobile accidents in the state. He died two days later. If only he had been in the yard safely playing with one of his tops. Imagine the ambassador of top spinning he could have been in our day!