By Michael Williams
The violin played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley as the Titanic slipped into its watery grave is now on display at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. Along with the violin, in a separate display, is a Bible that belonged to a Knoxville minister who perished with almost 1,500 other passengers when the ocean liner sank after striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912.
In the blockbuster movie “Titanic,” Wallace Hartley and his bandmates played gospel tunes as the ship sank. According to eyewitness accounts, Hartley and the band members realized there were insufficient lifeboats to save everyone and opted to remain behind as the women and children fled the stricken vessel.
The final tune played as the ship sank was “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” The shrill notes of the haunting melody filled the air as the panicked screams of desperate passengers echoed through the night. Hartley and his bandmates all perished. Hartley’s body was recovered with his violin still strapped to him.
The instrument sustained only minor damage. The violin was sold at a private auction in Oct. of 2013 for $1.7 million to an anonymous collector. It is now on display at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge until August 14.
The Bible, owned by Knoxville pastor Rev. Robert J. Bateman, will be on display until Dec. 31. Bateman is the only person on board the ill-fated ship that was known to have a local connection.
Bateman, one of the second cabin passengers, was a former resident of Knoxville and founder of the People’s Tabernacle, established on East Cumberland Ave. in the spring of 1897.
A native of England, Bateman, a Wesleyan minister, had come to Knoxville as a missionary and evangelist. He lived on Highland Ave. in a now-razed home that would have been where the parking lot—or the west side of World’s Fair Park—is today.
The People’s Tabernacle Church provided mission work to the poor as a large part of its outreach. Bateman had left for England in February 1912 to visit his old home. He was returning aboard the Titanic with his wife’s sister, Ada Balls.
Numerous unverified stories of apocryphal sources concerning Bateman may be found on the Internet. One says he was in a lifeboat preparing to be lowered into the water. He mistakenly thought his sister-in-law was in another lifeboat. When he saw her still on the Titanic, he gave her his seat and his Bible and returned to the ship.
The Bible reportedly was later given by his wife to the head of Baxter Seminary, which became part of the Putnam County school system in 1959.
In another account, Bateman was said to have asked the ship’s band to play the song “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Some stories claim that survivors remembered hearing the band play that song as well as later when the ship was going down.
Bateman was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning film “Titanic.” Although, his name is not used.
His body was recovered 12 days after the sinking by the Mackay-Bennett salvage ship. He was identified through such items as a gold watch and Masonic chain pin. He was buried on May 12, 1912 in Jacksonville’s Evergreen Cemetery in a ceremony attended by a large crowd.
When the crew members prepared to display the Bible, it fell open to this scripture to John 6:16-21, which relates to Jesus walking on the water.