You know the story: a supposedly unsinkable ship hits an iceberg and meets a tragic end, killing most of the passengers on board. But it wasn’t the the Titanic — it was actually a fictional ship called the Titan, written about in a book published 14 years before the famed Titanic set sail on its doomed voyage.

In ‘Futility,’ an 1898 novella by American writer Morgan Robertson, the Titan is described as “the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men … in her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession, and trade known to civilization” — words similar to those used to tout the Titanic in 1912.

So was Robertson prophetic? Probably not, says Titanic scholar Paul Heyer, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“He was an experienced seaman, and he saw ships as getting very large and the possible danger that one of these behemoths would hit an iceberg,” Heyer said, adding that Robertson’s knowledge of ship-building trends and his understanding of transatlantic travel likely helped fuel his story about a naval catastrophe.

‘Futility,’ though, wasn’t terribly well-written, so it didn’t get much attention until after the Titanic sank. When that happened, Heyer said, people began approaching Robertson and asking if he was psychic.

“No,” the author reportedly replied. “I know what I’m writing about, that’s all.”

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