The Titanic visits Virginia Beach


Pat Haley

Pat Haley


Virginia Beach, Va. is an old town. In fact, the Jamestown colonists first arrived in the area in 1607.

The coast is lined with hotels and resorts, and long before Las Vegas secrets were kept, what happened in Virginia Beach stayed in Virginia Beach.

According to legend, during World War II servicemen from the Norfolk Naval Station and nearby Army bases, as well as some of the toughest Marines you would ever find, gathered one Saturday night for fun and dancing at the conservative Cavalier Club with its outdoor dance floor and band shell.

As the night wore on, the music soared and Louie Prima and his band headed out the side door toward the Atlantic Ocean, playing “When the Saints Come Marching In” followed by hundreds of soldiers, sailors and Marines, dancing all the way down to and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Virginia Beach is the place to go for a couple of weeks during summer, and the practice for many Virginians goes back generations. It is not unusual to see young parents sitting on the beaches with their parents and grandparents accompanying them.

During our time in Virginia, my wife Brenda and I would often travel for a long weekend to Virginia Beach to escape the heat and humidity of the Virginia summers.

“Guess where our next conference is going to be held?” I asked Brenda one fall day.

“I don’t know. Where?” she asked.

“Virginia Beach!” I said. “I will be staying at the Sheraton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel, which has a remarkable view of the ocean, if you recall.”

I was working for the Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission at the time. The organization accredited law enforcement agencies throughout Virginia and this was their annual conference. The entire accreditation team attended the conference.

We had dinner outside on the deck facing the Atlantic Ocean, and our conversation turned to the trendy movie at the time, “Titanic,” which had come out the year before, and was still immensely popular. We talked about the freezing water, and someone said how difficult it must have been to navigate the churning waters that night in the North Atlantic.

The next day I attended several classes and enjoyed various speakers from around the Commonwealth.

The morning passed quickly. Around 2:30 in the afternoon the instructor gave the class a short break. I quickly headed back to my hotel room to get a notebook I would need later for class.

As I approached my room I heard the television playing, which was odd, since I knew I had turned it off before I had left that morning.

I inserted my key and took a few steps inside my room. I glanced at the TV and heard the actor, Victor Garber, who played the designer of the Titanic, Thomas Andrews, say, “She’s made of iron, sir! I assure you, she can! And she will. It’s a mathematical certainty.”

“One hour, maybe two … and all this will be at the bottom of the Atlantic. From this moment, no matter what we do, the Titanic will founder.”

As I turned toward the bed I heard a light snore. Just then, I saw an elderly maid lying under the covers fast asleep. She must have decided to take a momentary break to watch the iconic movie for a few minutes.

I knew a complaint from me would probably cost the maid her job. I found a chocolate peppermint candy inside the maid’s bag, and quietly lay the chocolate on the pillow beside her head and hurried out the door.

As I left the room, my thoughts drifted back to an old poem called Moon River.

“A lazy stream of dreams,” “Where vain desires forget themselves,” “In the loveliness of sleep,” “Float on …. drift on …”. “Moon River, to the sea.”

Was the maid dreaming of standing on the bow of the ship, hair blowing in the wind? We will never know for sure, I thought, as I quietly placed the do not disturb sign on the door and found my way back to class.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner.

Pat Haley
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