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Rows of gravestones at Halifax cemetery lay bare tragedy of Titanic

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HALIFAX - A sombre but historic memorial service was held Sunday in Halifax amid 121 black headstones, the most tangible and sorrowful link the city has with RMS Titanic, the opulent luxury liner that sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic 100 years ago to the day.

Under a cloudless sky, the interfaith service at the Fairview Lawn cemetery brought to a conclusion a weekend of events commemorating the demise of the massive steamship in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

"Today we gather to remember, not just this legendary ship, but the lives she took with her," said Andrew Murphy, chairman of the Titanic 100 Society.

"We also remember our hometown heroes, the volunteers who put their own lives at risk to bring our victims ashore and the people who responded then as we do now with dignity and respect."

Some 1,500 passengers and crew died after the pride of the White Star Line struck an iceberg south of the Grand Banks and foundered. There were just over 700 survivors, all of them taken to New York aboard the Cunard ship Carpathia.

In all, there are 150 Titanic passengers and crew buried in three Halifax cemeteries. Of these, 42 victims remain unidentified.

Halifax resident David Treffler said he came to the ceremony to pay tribute to the passengers in steerage whose optimism for a better life was dashed by disaster.

"They wanted to turn a new page and give a better life to their families, and they never made it," he said. "They scraped and borrowed and begged to get this trip. And I think that, at one time or another, we all have taken trips where we had to scrape and borrow to get there. You can identify with that."

Treffler's wife, Catherine, said the Titanic's legacy is the lesson its sad fate teaches us about human pride.

"It's a good example of the pride ... they had in building something that was supposedly unsinkable — and it sank. It's a good example for your own life. You better take notice of what you take pride in. It could sink, too."

Lorraine Brooks, visiting from Belleville, Ont., said Sunday's events made her wonder what would happen if a similar tragedy happened off our shores.

"If it happened today, would it be women and children first?" she asked. "Would we put the first-class (passengers) higher than the rest? That's what really makes it interesting."

The most notable headstone in the Fairview Lawn cemetery is that of Titanic's "unknown child." DNA analysis revealed only last year that the tiny body in the grave was that of 19-month-old Sidney Goodwin, an English toddler whose entire family perished in the sinking.

In another grave is James Dawson, a young crew member who worked in Titanic's grimy engine room lugging coal to its gigantic boilers. Typically, his grave is strewn with flowers, left by tourists who confuse him with the fictional character Jack Dawson, the hero of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster film "Titanic."

The Halifax commemoration, which included a candlelight procession through the city's downtown the night before, were among several events held around the world to mark the grim anniversary.

Far off Nova Scotia's coast, cruise ship passengers and crew said prayers Sunday at the spot where the Titanic sank.

Aboard the MS Balmoral, which had been retracing the route of the doomed voyage, passengers watched as three floral wreaths were cast onto the waves as the ship's whistle sounded in the dark.

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Titanic was built, a memorial monument was unveiled Sunday at a ceremony attended by local dignitaries, relatives of the dead and explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck on the ocean floor in 1985.

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