It was sad when the great ship went down, the old song goes, but the songwriter didn't speculate about how people would feel when the Titanic was found.
The announcement Sunday that the Titanic had been discovered under two miles of water by a joint U.S.-French team was greeted with talk of long-lost diamonds and gold stored in the ship's strongroom. But yesterday the scientists who located and photographed the ship said that while the hull is in "near-perfect shape," they would not try to raise it or recover whatever valuables are still on board. They also said that in an attempt to discourage salvage operations, they won't reveal the ship's exact location.
"Take a photograph of the Titanic, remove the No. 1 forward stack, put it on the bottom of the ocean, put a little sediment over it and some growth on it -- that's the way it looks now," said Robert Ballard, the leader of the French-American expedition that found the ship. Ballard spoke ship-to-shore to reporters at the Woods Hole, Mass., Oceanographic Institute, one of the expedition's sponsors.
He said that soon after the Argo, an undersea robot search craft, transmitted pictures of the Titanic to the U.S. Navy research vessel Knorr, the scientists and crew held a memorial service. A spokeswoman for the institute said the scientists "want to see it the site preserved as a marine memorial for the time being."
That was a sentiment at least one of the few remaining survivors of the 1912 wreck and others interested in the Titanic seem to share.
"I think other survivors would agree that the Titanic should be left in peace," Eva Hart, who was 7 when her father put her in a lifeboat and waved goodbye, told one reporter. "I would prefer my father's grave to remain undisturbed."
Speaking earlier on the CBS Morning News, Hart had said, "But if it's going to aid science tremendously or prove how clever we are by raising the Titanic, then nothing I say will stop them from doing it.
"I only have the personal feeling of a woman whose whole life was altered, and whose father was drowned that night when he needn't have been if there'd been enough lifeboats, and for that reason I think it should be left where it is."
Shelley Lauzon, spokeswoman for the Woods Hole institute, said Ballard called a salvage attempt "ridiculous." "It's at a tremendous depth," Lauzon said, "and we wouldn't want to endanger the lives of people. It would have to be done with remotely operated vehicles, and we have no plans to do that."
"We're not looters or plunderers," said a spokesman for the National Geographic Society, an expedition cosponsor. "We don't want to reach down there with the mechanical arm and grab anything.
"We've been involved with sensitive archeological projects before," said Paul Sampson, director of the society's public relations department, "and we're very aware of the sensitivities that go with disturbing a site like that. I don't think Ballard or anybody has any idea of disturbing remains."
But British salvage expert John Pierce was reported to be planning an operation with his own system of inflatable bags. He used similar bags to raise the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior from the bottom of Auckland harbor in New Zealand after it was destroyed by a bomb.
Reports said Pierce believed the almost total absence of oxygen two miles down would have preserved the Titanic.
"You'll see bright black and white paint when she comes up," he was quoted as saying.
And Texas oil millionaire Jack Grimm, who already has financed two Titanic searches and who claims to have photographed the ship's propeller in 1981, said yesterday he will finance a salvage attempt in 1986 or 1987.
"We haven't given up," Grimm said. "It's a one-of-a-kind ship with all the history and mystery surrounding it. It doesn't have to be gold or silver or jewelry retrieved from the ship -- just a dinner plate."
Titanic expert Russ Lownds of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said that the dreamed-of Titanic treasure may indeed be closer to dinner plates than gold. Gold bullion and diamonds are not included in the cargo manifest and no insurance claims for them were ever made, he told the Canadian Press news agency.
Ballard refused to comment on Grimm's plans, but he hinted that the wreck now may need government protection to keep it from being disturbed.
Clive Cussler, author of the bestselling novel "Raise the Titanic," said he thinks the cost of raising the ship will be protection enough.
"If no one was willing to spend the money to raise either the Lusitania or the Andrea Doria -- both down in about 250 feet of water -- they certainly won't be bringing up a ship from 13,000 feet," he said.
Grimm is right about the worth of such mundane items as dinner plates, which surely would appeal to collectors of Titanic memorabilia. But some of them admitted to feeling more sadness than acquisitive glee when they heard of the discovery.
"A little disappointed" is how Rudy Franchi, a Titanic memorabilia collector from Rhode Island, described his response. "It's being robbed of the great mystery -- where it is, what's in it. I think a lot of the romance of the Titanic will be gone now that it's found. It's sort of exposed to the air."
The Philadelphia Maritime Museum has a large collection of Titanic-related objects, including Mrs. John Jacob Astor's life jacket. Museum public relations director Peggy Pugh said that although the Titanic exhibit has always been popular, she expects crowds will now increase. But like Franchi, she hopes the ship and its contents will remain on the bottom of the sea.
"What would be the point in bringing it up? I see it as sensationalism," she said. "People would say, 'You can now walk on the Titanic!' That bothers me."
But despite such sentiments, Franchi doesn't expect the ship to be left untouched.
"The same compulsion that leads mankind to build the biggest, the best, is the same thing that makes us look for it. Mankind is like that."
"It's the old Everest thing -- it's there," said Sampson. "You want to flex your muscles a little bit technologically and find it. Stepping on the moon destroyed a lot of romance about the moon, too."