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April 11, 2012

Visitors drawn to town where Titanic's dead are buried

Movie, centennial, return Halifax to spotlight

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Among the graves of Fairview Lawn Cemetery, there is one that was a magnet for bouquets and weeping girls in the 1990s. The name on the tombstone: J. Dawson.

Jack Dawson, you will recall, is the name of the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 film "Titanic." And this cemetery is the final resting place of more victims of the Titanic than any other.

Now, with the movie's re-release in 3D and the upcoming 100th anniversary of the disaster, keepers of the cemetery expect more flowers, love notes and more weeping — though James Cameron, the film's director, has said there's no connection between his Jack Dawson and the J. Dawson buried here.

This is a place that has a deep connection to the tragedy. Halifax is 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) west of the spot where the ocean liner hit an iceberg; the ships bringing bodies back to land arrived starting late in April. Families came to claim the remains of their loved ones, and funerals and memorial services followed. Altogether, 150 of the Titanic's dead are buried in three cemeteries.

Gerry Lunn, curator of Halifax's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, said this city was in mourning for months after the disaster, with much of its downtown draped in black bunting. "This was not just a one-night story," he said. "It may have been for the ship and the victims, but for Halifax this story went on for months and months and hasn't ended to this day."

On April 15, the anniversary of the sinking, a candlelight procession will be followed by an interfaith memorial service at Fairview Lawn; flares will be set off at the time the ship began sinking; and the Nova Scotia provincial government will tweet the Titanic's final emergency messages.

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