Molly On Deck

On April 14, 1912, RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic: Every April 14, Vickey Gearring dons Victorian garb, gets out her set of Titanic china -- she owns replicas of the first, second and third class patterns -- and hosts a tea party to mark the day.

From reel life to real life: Gearring fell in love with the doomed ship after seeing "Titanic," the movie, in 1997. She read everything she could about the tragedy and joined the Titanic Historical Society. "It's a story everyone can relate to because of the people," Gearring said. "Most were just ordinary like you and me. You hear their stories, put yourself in their position and think about what you would do."

The mysteries associated with the story will "never dry up," she punned . "Fifteen hundred people were floating in the sea. They only picked up 300. Where did the rest go? You never have all the answers and you never will." To get obsessed, and stay obsessed: When Gearring does things, she does them with intensity. She once put one of her children through private school with money she earned selling homemade crafts. "A lot of wood painted items, wreaths, you name it," she said.

Now, as a self-described Titanicologist with a loyal crew beside her -- her mom, sisters, best friend and daughter, all in costume -- she visits local schools and church groups to share her knowledge of all things Titanic.

Channeling Molly: Gearring always plays aristocrat Molly Brown, who survived the sinking, earning her the nickname "Unsinkable." "She was the coolest person. She thought it was her job in life to take money from her rich friends and give it to people who needed it. She ran for public office once. She was a woman way ahead of her time," Gearring said.

Guest room or state room?: Guests who stay the night can stay in Gearring's "Titanic Room" which holds furniture from the era as well as a life vest used in the filming of "Titanic" that Gearring found on eBay. "I used to have portraits of the Strausses (a couple who perished) on the dresser, but I had to take them down. People thought it was too spooky in there," she said .

You'll never be alone: Gearring wants to meet television psychic Sylvia Brown, because she's pretty sure ghosts from the Titanic are around her all the time. "I love them. I know their histories," Gearring said. When she does her presentations, she takes along 16 thick notebooks filled with facts about every last passenger on the ship. Gearring gives each of her listeners the identity of one of the passengers.

Afterward, audience members get to look up that person, see what they looked like, and whether or not they drowned. "Grade-school kids like to have their pictures taken in life vests, thumbs up if they made it, thumbs down if they didn't," Gearring said.

Life-sized in sentiment: After Gearring spoke to fourth- and fifth-graders at Linder Elementary in Meridian, they presented her with a 22-foot-long model of the Titanic they'd made with found objects. "It's pretty interesting, but kind of hard to store," she said. From the North Atlantic to Idaho: Gearring researched one family, the Colliers, who were Titanic passengers leaving England to settle in Idaho. The Colliers sold their business, and Mrs. Collier sewed their money into the lining of Mr. Collier's jacket. As the ship was sinking, Collier loaded his wife and daughter into a life boat, but forgot to give them his jacket. To add injury to insult, Mrs. Collier's hair got caught in the oarlock and pulled a hank of it from her scalp. The surviving Colliers came to Payette, but were so destitute they had to return to England.

Inquiring minds want to know: People ask Gearring one question more than any other, whether Jack Dawson and Rose Bukater, characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the movie, were real people. The answer is no, but a Nova Scotia grave yard where many Titanic victims are buried has a stone marked "J. Dawson." Women leave flowers there.

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