Grand Staircase of the RMS Titanic
The Grand Staircase is the name sometimes given to the large ornate staircases in the first-class section of the White Star Line liner RMS Titanic, which sank with a great loss of life following a collision with an iceberg in 1912.
Considered to be among the most luxurious appointments on the ship, use of the two grand staircases was restricted to first-class passengers. The fore Grand Staircase descends five levels from the Boat Deck to the E Deck with grand appearance, and continues down to F-Deck as an ordinary stairway. The staircases featured large glass domes that allowed natural light to enter the spaces, oak panelling and detailed carvings, paintings, bronze cherubs (which served as lamp supports on the middle railings), candelabra, and other details. There was a clock surrounded by an intricate oak carving depicting "Honour and Glory crowning Time" in the fore staircase, and a less ornate clock in the aft staircase. A 360-degree view of the fore staircase as it appeared before the shipwreck can be seen on the Encyclopedia Titanica website.
No reliable sources describe what occurred on the fore grand staircase during the Titanic's sinking. Photographs taken by explorer Robert Ballard show that the steel infrastructure of the staircase is intact. The wood is thought to have decayed; however, in this case, all of the iron banister grillwork and ormolu garlands would have been discovered at the bottom of the shaft.
During filming of sinking scenes for the 1997 film Titanic, the staircase set was removed from its steel-reinforced foundation. Director James Cameron commented, "Our staircase broke free and floated to the surface. It's likely that this is exactly what happened during the actual sinking, which would explain why there isn't much of the staircase left in the wreck ... The matching physiques serve as a form of 'proof of concept' in terms of our accuracy ..."-[Page 141 "James Cameron's Titanic" by Ed W. Marsh and James Cameron] It stands on the wreck of the Titanic as a vast empty hole, within which submersibles and cameras can gain easy access to the ship's interior. The steel structure and even some of the detail on the balustrades of the staircase can still be made out, and some of the light fittings are still as they were in 1912.
The aft grand staircase was torn apart as the Titanic broke up shortly before sinking. Much of the wood and other debris found floating after the sinking is thought to have come from the aft staircase. Part of a cherub lamp fitting from the aft grand staircase has been recovered and is on display at the Titanic: Artifact Exhibit museum at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas.
Style and architecture
The decoration of the staircase was a curious combination of styles. The panelling and woodwork were made by master craftsmen in the English William and Mary style. The iron banister grillwork and ormolu garlands were inspired by the French court of Louis XIV.
Typically during those times, a bronze cherub held aloft a lamp to light the landings of the staircase. Many years earlier, lampstands had been placed at the foot of staircases for safety. However, with dozens of gilded crystal chandeliers lighting Titanic's entrance hallways and staircases, the cherubs on Titanic were ornamental.
The Grand Staircase in popular culture
Many movies have been made about the sinking of Titanic, and almost all have depicted the grand staircase. In the 1943 film, the grand staircase landing is shown as a metaphor for the avarice of the British and American upper classes.
Jean Negulesco's 1953 film has a number of scenes set on the Grand Staircase.
Roy Ward Baker's 1958 film also features scenes on the Grand Staircase.
In the 1979 docudrama S.O.S. Titanic actress Renee Harris, wife of producer Henry B. Harris, is shown stumbling on the steps and spraining her ankle. This event took place in real life on the Titanic. Harris is seen later at dinner being congratulated by her fellow travelers for soldiering on with the sprained ankle.
The staircase was a focal point in the 1997 film as well. The fore grand staircase was accurately built, although the model that was used was larger than the actual staircase. In the movie, Cal rushes down the stairs with a gun and tries to shoot Jack, instead damaging parts of the opulent staircase. This staircase also serves as the meeting point of Jack and Rose in the end of the movie, happily applauded by all those who perished with the ship. It is also depicted as the location where Benjamin Guggenheim is presumably killed when the glass dome implodes from the pressure.
The main body of the original grand staircase possessed twelve steps including the step landing below the clock. The film's replica had thirteen steps. In the film, the staircase is submerged, and the glass dome is destroyed. The film does not show that the wooden hand rails were torn apart by the water.
The staircases are also depicted in the video game Titanic: Adventure Out of Time. The fore grand staircase is depicted correctly for the most part, aside from some inaccuracies in the D and E deck landings, but in the aft grand staircase there is no clock present on the A-Deck landing.
There are also several Titanic museums that have detailed replicas of the grand staircase. The ones featured at the Titanic museums in Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee were built using the ship's original deck plans but each differs from the original by featuring brass hand rails below the original handrails (for guest safety). The one at Titanic Belfast was again forced to make subtle changes to accommodate current regulations.
The main staircase of the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, England has banisters from the Olympic's Grand Staircase, which is presumed to have been identical to the Titanic's. The hotel's dining room is lined with the panelling from the first class lounge and the short section of stairs leading to the Dining Room. It also has railings from Olympic's grand staircase.
- Titanic deckplans from the Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 22 April 2007.
- 360-degree view of Titanic fore Grand Staircase (A-Deck level). Requires IPIX plugin to view. and 360-degree view of Titanic fore Grand Staircase (Boat Deck level). Requires IPIX plugin to view.
- The Discovery of the Titanic by Robert D. Ballard and Rick Archbold. ISBN 0-340-41265-8
- Olympic's Fittings at White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, England Accessed 15 February 2008.