Shoes from the Titanic

This photo, taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows a pair of shoes resting on the sea floor amidst the wreck of the Titanic. It's a powerful image, on its own. But with the background information, it becomes downright tear jerking.

Note the position of those shoes. Now think about the position of your feet if you were to lie on the floor, on your side, with your ankles crossed. This is not a coincidence. On his blog, NPR's Robert Krulwich quotes Titanic explorer Robert Ballard:

"There used to be bodies in those shoes. The body parts deteriorated, and the skeletal remains decalcified. The only thing left are the shoes, and the leather is perfectly preserved." The tannin in the shoe leather had apparently resisted the bacteria.

Read the rest of Robert Krulwich's post on shoes at sea, including information about the Titanic, as well as shoes spilled from lost shipping containers.


    1. Because the Titanic was unsolved for nearly a hundred years. I guess I’m ‘dating myself’ when I say I can remember when they finally found where the wreck was at! Until then it had been a mystery.

    2.   There were some very rich and  prominent people at the time on the ship.  It made for an exciting story.  Famous people, regular people, poor people, all on an extravagant ship, plunged into  the ocean, some died, some survived, it was a bit mysterious who might have been at fault, corporate greed, human error, nature, fate.   It had star power, adventure, tragedy, triumph, and  mystery that captured the public’s interest and made it a big deal. 

    3. The Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time. It was on its maiden voyage. Notwithstanding that its passengers included many of the wealthiest people on the planet. That wouldn’t cloud people’s judgement, would it?

      1. Agree with all of the above. It isn’t hard to understand at all why the Titanic captures so much imagination (if you give it a few seconds thought). Unless, of course, you’re just using the story to be a wee bit pedantic (not that that ever happens in the Internet!), or, for some reason, you think numbers are more interesting than the narratives around which we structure our lives.

        (Meant to reply to nanuq, by the way.)

  1. Not to mention of course, that in all likelihood, no pair of boots could independently fall 3.8km through the ocean and come to rest exactly beside eachother. 

    A human being was their vessel. Their owner is long gone, but those two shoes will be together as long as their last, an eerie tombstone on the sea floor. 

  2. That place should be designated something like a grave site, and left alone.  I wouldn’t want people gawking over my boots in my final resting place.

    1.  If the Titanic had sunk in 150 feet depth, she’d have been salvaged to a faretheewell by 1920, bodies or no bodies.

  3. I remember reading somewhere that, when people are exploring the ocean floor, the incongruous thing they find most often are lightbulbs.    Strangely intact; often they don’t seem to break on impact or due to pressure as you’d think they might.

  4. Are they suggesting the wearer of these boots was lying on their side, with their ankles crossed when they died?  Clearly the body would float for several days after death before sinking to it’s final resting spot.

    1.  Not necessarily. They could have belonged to a body that was dragged down with the ship, and never got a chance to bob to the surface before finally settling to the ocean floor.

      1. It would not have bobbed to the surface but it would have bobbed to the cabin ceiling.  The cabins would not remain airtight at those depths.

        1. Or maybe it was one of the people who jumped overboard and froze to death in the sea. I heard something on NPR the other day about a woman who, as a very young girl, was on the ship that passed through the area a few days after the sinking. They stopped to pick up bodies that were still floating there.

        2.  Right. the cabin could have been flooded, but not in a way that allowed the trapped body to reach the surface. After a few weeks or so, it falls to the ocean floor.

          I’m not prepared, really, to think about the specifics of the duel between the pressures down there versus the gaseous swellings of a decomposing body….

          1. I remember reading about kayakers discovering a dead body floating just below the surface of the East River (NYC) a few years ago. Apparently the person drowned sometime during the winter and the corpse remained on the bottom of the river for the duration of the cold weather. Then spring came and the water warmed up enough for buoyancy to re-establish itself and the body floated back up.

        1.  Never meant to sound like I was endorsing the “sucked down” myth – I watch “Mythbusters”, too, and I understand that it’s a falsehood.
          I was talking about people who could have been trapped in their cabins, or entangled in rigging or anything else – They got just as dead, but the ship itself prevented their corpses from getting back to the surface.

          Yeesh, people – This whole debate is getting almost as disrespectful as the “preservationists” who have been looting the Titanic’s resting place…

    2. If you aren’t obese then all you have to do is breath out and/or inhale water and you tend to sink. You are no longer buoyant. You are made of bones and muscle and without air in your lungs or a big fat reserve you are denser than water and tend to go down. 
      People drown and rest on the bottom of whatever body of water they are in. It’s the horrible reason we send divers to find drowned swimmers in rivers and lakes. They may bloat up later and float up again or they may not, That depends on what’s in their stomach, if it can’t be outgassed and if their body is caught on something.

  5. …and the more I think about it, the more unlikely it seems that the body rested in this position.  Don’t bodies tend to bloat when submerged?  The legs should have been outstretched. 

     *takes off sunglasses and turns from body* somebody made a titanic effort to make this look like a drowning….YEAAAAHHHHHHH!

    1. There’s a lot of pressure down there, so I imagine bloating wouldn’t really overcome that — though I’m not an expert in deep sea decomposition or anything.

  6. I was going to object to the grave-robbing by RMS Titanic, Inc., but then I found the parent company, Premier Exhibitions, makes most of its money displaying cadavers from China to the public, so what’s the use?
    There oughta be a sea law!

  7. somewhat related, the on-going arrival of leg-and-running shoe combinations washing up on the beaches in British Columbia…

    Best theory is that the owners of these feet-and-shoes either fell/jumped off a bridge, or a boat out at sea and sank, and their bodies were consumed by marine life to the point that the weight of the body could no longer keep the buoyant running shoes below, and the legs separated from the body and floated to the surface, eventually washing up on shore.

  8. Poetic. Don’t mention the whale fall sort of scavengers that probably were part of the process, that would make the scene horrific.

  9. Interesting.  I wonder if any if those shoe pairs were custom work, that could be identified after all these years?  Possibly someone would like to know an ancestor’s last resting place.  And then again, perhaps not.  Anyway, I routinely wear my old military dog tags on airplane flights, just in case.  Maybe I should tuck a pair in my shoes if I’m ever on a cruise?  

  10. I don’t buy this interpretation, but that’s the fun with archaeology.. much of it gets to be interpreted however you like!

    I just can’t envision how a corpse would naturally settle in such a significant manner and then survive 100 years to be discovered in the same position. I mean, the Titantic sank two and a half miles. The owner of those boots was probably dead within a quarter mile of sea level. 

    The other debris in the photo says to me it’s the contents of a suitcase that decomposed away. But I guess it’s just as possible that it’s random debris from the ship that just happened to settle nearby. Again, that’s the fun wit archaeology. 

  11. Given that many people will remove their shoes if they must jump into the water, tying their shoes together in order to help hold on to them (or to put them on the deck), I wouldn’t necessarily leap to the conclusion that there was a body in them–not without evidence.

  12. So, what you’re telling me is that I should keep a copy of my ID in my SHOES, so that I can be identified in 100 years, in the event of death by berg, or some similar cause.

    1. Be sure that your ID is made out of similar shoe material or encased in similar shoe-materials.  There have been specific instances of paper from the Titanic being brought to the surface, but they are the exception due to protective cases, not the rule.

  13. I don’t know why it hasn’t been linked, but there’s a, ‘coat and shoes’ release, of a previously cropped photograph. Dating from the late 1990’s. A pair of shoes reinforced by a coat lying face down.

    I was convinced this was on the BBC website, but it seems to have vanished. Some of the links may be a tad ‘tabloid-ish’, as a result. Humble apologies..

    1.  Yikes.  The IrishCentral link includes an article that argues with a straight face that the teaching of evolution led to the Columbine massacre.  Not to criticize you, but “a tad tabloidish” is putting it mildly.

  14. On the local news, they had this story, but had a graphic warning, said this might be disturbing..  BODY parts found.. there’s no body.. just shoes.. 

    I wonder what the body would have looked like though, under all that pressure.

  15. According to Dr Ballard’s book on discovering the Titanic, the cold temperatures keep bodies from producing gas and floating.  So instead, people who drowned stayed at the bottom once they sank.  And if you take a water logged heavy object and sink it in over 12,000 feet of water, I imagine it can land in any wacky way.

    the FiatRN

  16. i don’t feel it is correct that “the bones decaclified”. Where i used to live they found a wooden boat COMPLETELY intact from prehistoric times. What i think happened is that someone had their shoe-pair tied in a suitcase. In the past people used to tie their shoes one to the other with the laces. 

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