With the 20th anniversary of Titanic, the strange mystery of who laced the cast and crew's seafood chowder with PCP remains unsolved.
“Some people were laughing, some people were crying, some people were throwing up,” Bill Paxton, one of the film's stars, recalled later.
The chaotic scene at the Dartmouth General Hospital in Nova Scotia makes for one of history’s best drug stories, even if the affected crew members didn’t know it at the time. “Eventually we all got put in these cubicles with the curtains around us, but no one wanted to stay in their cubicles,” said set painter Marilyn McAvoy.
“Everyone was out in the aisles and jumping into other people's cubicles. People had a lot of energy. Some were in wheelchairs, flying down the hallways. I mean, everyone was high!”
Director James Cameron who says he was "bleeding and laughing" after being stabbed in the face with a pen by a crew member, recalls the director of photography leading a highly vocal conga line along the corridors.
"People are moaning and crying, wailing, collapsed on tables and gurneys. .. You can't make this stuff up.”
Of all the legends that have grown around the production of Titanic, at the time the most expensive movie ever made, the case of the poisoned chowder is the most spectacular—all the more so because it remains an unsolved mystery. Twenty years after Titanic opened in theaters, no one knows for sure who laced the chowder with P.C.P., or why.
It happened on August 8 1996, the last day of filming in Nova Scotia before the production moved to Mexico where a massive reproduction of the doomed ship was waiting on an outdoor soundstage in Baja.
Filming at night in Shearwater, just across Halifax Bay, the crew broke for “lunch” around midnight according to Vanity Fair; a local catering company had provided, among other options, a seafood chowder.
For the more than 60 people who did eat the chowder, it didn’t take long for the effects to take hold.
The police were called later in the afternoon, and a toxicology report revealed that P.C.P. was to blame.
But who laced the chowder? Officially, it’s unknown—the Halifax Police Department investigated the matter for two and a half years, executing a warrant for Department of Health records and getting a list of every person who had worked on the set. The case was closed due to lack of suspects on February 12, 1999—when the crew of Titanic had long since moved on, and the glow of a box-office hit and best picture winner had probably taken some of the sting out of the disaster.
Theories, however, remain. “It was the Hollywood crowd bringing in the psychedelic s—” insisted the catering company’s C.E.O., Earle Scott at the time. “I don’t think it was purposefully done to hurt somebody. It was done like a party thing that got carried away.”
Though Cameron has never named a suspect, he is pretty certain he knows who did it: “We had fired a crew member the day before because they were creating trouble with the caterers. So we believe the poisoning was this idiot's plan to get back at the caterers, whom of course we promptly fired the next day. So it worked.”