Even though Titanic is finally starting to sink at the box office, the highest-grossing movie of all time continues to spread the wealth — and, in some cases, to unusual beneficiaries. Take Fairview Lawn cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The seaside town’s Titanic ties run deep: Not only were parts of the blockbuster filmed there, but Halifax was also the closest port to the site of the real sinking in 1912, and several ships were dispatched from its piers to recover the victims. Which explains why moviegoers-cum-history buffs have turned Fairview, the burial site of 122 of the doomed ship’s passengers, into a Titanic mecca.
The scene at Fairview last weekend was typical: Just days before the 86th anniversary of the April 14 disaster, a steady stream of gawkers, curiosity seekers, and the Leonardo DiCaprio-obsessed visited the graveyard. Kayla MacLellan of Wellington, Nova Scotia, took her friends to Fairview for her Titanic-themed 11th-birthday party before they all headed to see the movie again. Two of the girls ran between the graves shouting ”I’m the king of the world!” But the cemetery did evoke some somber emotions. ”I can’t believe it sank,” Kayla lamented. ”Stupid iceberg.”
A few days later, visiting maintenance worker Ron Jesseau, 52, went from headstone to headstone writing down names. ”After I saw [the movie] I decided I wanted to do this,” he explained. Another visitor who identified herself only as Claudine said the graves remind fans that Titanic ”is not fiction. It really touches you.” Halifax resident Tammy Munroe, 21, who says she’s visited Fairview at least 100 times, agreed. ”The J. Dawson grave is sad. Your eyes fill up and everything.”
Yes, J. Dawson. No, not Jack Dawson, DiCaprio’s film character. In a bonus for Halifax tourism, Fairview is the final resting place for James Dawson, a worker in the real ship’s engine room, whose grave site has been turned into a shrine by Titanic mavens. While James Cameron hasn’t commented about the origin of the character’s name, here’s what’s known about the man who might have been king: An Irishman who lived in Southampton, England, the real Dawson joined Titanic’s crew as a trimmer, a person who evened out piles of coal in the ship’s engine room. No photos of him have been found — not that it matters to lovelorn fans. ”Everyone thinks this was the character in the film,” says Fairview’s caretaker Bill Cleary, who notes that devotees have left flowers, ticket stubs, even notes to Dawson. ”After a while,” says Cleary, ”they blow away.”
Now Fairview officials are battening down the hatches for a heavy tourist crush this summer. ”We’re going to have to look at some security” for the cemetery, says John O’Brien, spokesman for the Halifax Regional Municipality, which owns Fairview. He estimates 5 to 10 tour buses per day this summer, so they may post someone ”at least 20 hours a day.” While conditions at the aging cemetery have not been helped by the extra traffic — especially at Dawson’s tombstone — so far the site hasn’t become a clone of Jim Morrison’s graffiti-covered Paris grave. ”There haven’t been problems yet,” he says. ”The younger people have shown respect.”
(Reporting by Lisa Clifford and Matt Ashare)