Leadership Profile

101 Years Ago: The Titanic lives on in the collection of Chief Mark Vitalos

Originally posted last year for the 100th aniversery of the Titanic disaster. All photographs are from Chief Vitalos' collection.

A postcard featuring the Titanic

When 13-year-old Mark Vitalos saw the film, A Night to Remember—the 1958 film based on Walter Lord’s book on the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912—he was hooked on all of the amazing storylines that have captivated a country for a century.

Chief Mark Vitalos and some of his Titanic collection

Since that fateful day in the late 1960s, he has devoted thousands of hours and dollars to collecting memorabilia and piecing together the many facets of the epic tragedy that interest him. Saturday, April 14, marks the 100th anniversary of the day the Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on a journey from England to New York City. A few hours later, the “unsinkable” ship was sunk.

Titanic's Captain“The story itself is fascinating. There was a great cross section of people on the ship, from some of the richest people in the world like J.J. Astor and George Widener, to immigrants who sold everything they had to buy a ticket to get to America,” said Vitalos, chief of police services at Cedar Crest College. “The story is filled with heroism, from wealthy men who waited with the ship and lost their lives, to cowards like the men who dressed as women to get on the lifeboats.”

One of his favorite stories is the one of Ida and Isidor Straus. Isidor Straus was a partner of R.H. Macy (of Macy’s department stores) who was offered space in a lifeboat and declined. After Isadore declined to save himself, Ida decided to stay with her husband “until death did them part.” They were among the 1,500 casualties on the massive ship (for the era) that carried about 2,200 passengers.

This Sinking of the Titanic, a book in the collection Vitalos said he owns more than 200 books on the Titanic, which he began buying at auctions and wherever he could find them as a teenager. Ebay and other online sites have made collecting much easier, and he mostly collects “post-sinking” items that were associated with the ships that tried to aid the Titanic, or associated with people who were on the Titanic during the tragic voyage. He said the few items that were rescued from the ship are in such great demand that most are cost prohibitive.

He spent the better part of a year putting together an extremely well detailed model of the ship during the 90s, and he owns a collection of 11 CDs containing interviews of Titanic survivors compiled by David Raker, assistant professor of chemical and physical sciences at Cedar Crest.