The wide brim of Margaret Brown’s Edwardian-era hat rose as she recalled, at the request of attorney Philip Koelsch, her experience of being in a lifeboat as the luxury liner Titanic sank into the icy Atlantic ocean in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.
Brown recounted that fateful night, one marked by chaos and half-empty lifeboats, as she sat in the witness chair in a Mayborn Museum auditorium serving this week as courtroom.
Then came a cross-examination by Mike Hartnett, who sought to shift jurors’ attention from her action in the disaster that cost about 1,500 lives to an admission that, maybe, just maybe, her view of confusion and lifeboat operation that night might be a limited one, and not the whole picture of what was happening.
Brown, of course, was not the real Margaret "Molly" Brown, who died in 1932, but Waco actress Cathy Hawes. Attorneys Koelsch and Hartnett are third-year Baylor University Law School students taking part in this week’s "Titanic On Trial." The trial’s robed presiding judge, Gerald Powell, is a law professor who teaches the school’s Practice Court.
The trial at hand, a civil liabilities case, pitted Titanic survivor Madeleine Astor and Esther Hart, whose husbands died in the ship’s sinking, against White Star Line ship company owner International Mercantile Marine Co. and the Titanic’s builder, Harland & Wolff.
The legal action never happened but is a fictitious Practice Court case that became this week’s publicly viewed example not so much of living history but living jurisprudence.
The Mayborn Museum’s current touring exhibit, "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," provided an opportunity for the law school and museum to collaborate on a mock trial that offers a different angle to the 1912 passenger ship sinking that has captured the public’s imagination ever since: Namely, whose fault, legally speaking, was it?
The Titanic case, a fictitious one but built from actual testimony at both U.S. Senate and British Board of Trade hearings, was part of the Practice Court case rotation for about 10 years, but had been retired for some time because of the number of students needed and some 1,000 pages of […]