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 700 miles west of the spot where the ocean liner hit an iceberg; the ships bringing bodies back to land arriving 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.
That the J. Dawson buried here is not the character in the movie did not stop the flow of mourners, said cemetery tour guide Blair Beed, a Halifax historian and grandson of an undertaker’s assistant at the funeral home.
“After the movie I saw fathers with their daughters standing here crying,” he said. “For two or three years that lasted. Instead of spring break, [they came] here to see J. Dawson.”
The real J. Dawson, or Joseph Dawson, shoveled coal in the bowels of the ship and didn’t win his Titanic ticket gambling as DiCaprio’s character did.
“It wasn’t until after the movie came out that we found out that there was a J. Dawson gravestone,” said the film’s producer, Jon Landau, in an interview.
Whoever J. Dawson was, “He received more notoriety decades after his death than he ever would have had in life,” said Lunn.