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Spokane Native Helps ‘Titanic’ Stay On Course Historically

When Don Lynch was growing up in Spokane, he dreamed of being in the movies. Not that the longtime accountant wanted a career on the silver screen.

“I thought it would be fun to be involved in just one movie,” he said.

Yeah, it’s corny, but dreams really do come true, sometimes Hollywood-style.

That’s Lynch’s name listed in the credits on “Titanic” as a historical consultant. As the author of a book on the doomed ship, Lynch worked closely with director James Cameron throughout the long filming to ensure details on the set were historically correct.

“Jim has gone to incredible effort to make it accurate,” said Lynch in a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles.

Right down to using The White Star logo on china patterns and painstakingly re-creating the ships’ public rooms, including a dining salon that sat 400.

“You would never have known you were on a movie set,” Lynch said.

In 1992, Lynch’s detailed history of the Titanic was published by Hyperion Books. The coffee table book, illustrated by Ken Marshall, proved to be an important resource for Cameron.

“He had asked the principles (the actors) to read the book, and they knew who I was before I knew who they were,” he said. “I’m embarrassed to say that when Leonardo DiCaprio walked up and complimented me, I had no idea who he was.”

Lynch, like some 5,500 fellow members of The Titanic Historical Society, can’t really account for his intense interest in the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable.

“It’s like asking someone why they collect stamps,” he said. “I read a book about it in 1973 and it grabbed me. There’s just so much drama to the whole thing.”

During one of his many trips down to the Mexico studio where most of the film was shot, Lynch also worked as a featured extra.

“I have one line,” he said. “But it was exciting because I got to play a man, Frederic Spedden, whose family I know through my research.”

In his years of scrutiny, Lynch has become well-acquainted with the lives of many passengers on the Titanic, including several people with connections to Spokane.

For instance, the newlyweds who refused to be parted in the 1958 documentary-like film “A Night to Remember” were based on the real-life couple named John and Elizabeth. They were on their way to live in Spokane.

“The husband had settled in Spokane and went back to England to marry his childhood sweetheart,” Lynch said.

A woman named Margaret Rice and her five children were returning to their Hillyard home after a visit to Ireland. They were in third class, where many passengers died when the ship sank.

Another casualty with local connections was a businessman named James Bert Brady from Pomeroy, which is between Pullman and Walla Walla.

Lynch’s last trip to the set turned out to be an emotional experience.

“The forward end was sinking. It was so well done that it was heartbreaking to watch,” he said. “Even though it was a re-creation, it’s sad to think that it’s over and people will never walk those decks again.”

In September, Lynch was invited by Cameron to see a rough cut of the film. He was swept away by the movie, saying it didn’t seem three hours long.

“In the beginning, I didn’t know if this was going to be a great thing or not, but it was truly awesome,” Lynch said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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