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History buffs, descendants mark Titanic centennial on land and sea

In the birthplace of the Titanic, residents gathered for a choral requiem. In the North Atlantic, above the ship's final resting place, passengers were set to pray as a band struck up a hymn and three floral wreaths were cast onto the waves.

A century after the great ship went down with the loss of 1,500 lives, events around the globe were marking a tragedy that retains a titanic grip on the world's imagination -- an icon of Edwardian luxury that became, in a few dark hours 100 years ago, an enduring emblem of tragedy.

Helen Edwards, one of 1,309 passengers on a memorial cruise aboard the liner Balmoral who have spent the past week steeped in the Titanic's history and symbolism, said Saturday that the story's continuing appeal was due to its strong mixture of romance and tragedy, history and fate.

"(There are) all the factors that came together for the ship to be right there, then, to hit that iceberg. All the stories of the passengers who ended up on the ship," said Edwards, 62, a retiree from Silver Spring, Md. "It's just a microcosm of social history, personal histories, nautical histories.

"Romance is an appropriate word right up until the time of the tragedy -- the band playing, the clothes. And then there's the tragedy."

The world's largest and most luxurious ocean liner, Titanic was traveling from England to New York, carrying everyone from plutocrats to penniless emigrants, when it struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. It sank less than three hours later, with the loss of more than 1,500 of the 2,208 passengers and crew.

Aboard the Balmoral, a cruise ship taking history buffs and descendants of Titanic victims on the route of the doomed voyage, passengers and crew were holding two ceremonies at the site of the disaster, 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland -- one marking the time when the ship hit the iceberg, the other the moment it sank.

At 2:20 a.m. ship's time today -- 12:47 a.m. EDT -- a minister was to lead prayers, wreaths were to be thrown into the sea and a shipboard band was to play "Nearer My God To Thee," the tune the Titanic's band kept up as the vessel went down.

The centenary of the disaster has been marked with a global outpouring of commemoration and commerce. Events have ranged from the opening of a glossy new tourist attraction telling the ship's story in Belfast to a 3-D re-release of James Cameron's 1997 romantic weepie "Titanic," which awakened a new generation's interest in the disaster.