A Childhood Dream Come True

Author: Sara Wheeler

Kelly Skwarcan holding her book."

“It was like time stopped.” Notre Dame senior Kelly Skwarcan’s expression emanated delight as she recounted her first time exploring the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, at age 10. Skwarcan and her father managed to wander through the museum for 14 hours. Human physiology seems to have stopped, too — to this day Skwarcan can’t recall eating or even using the bathroom the whole day.

Skwarcan was in the fourth grade when she caught the Titanic bug. Assigned a “passion project” in school, Skwarcan laid out for her father what she deemed were the only worthwhile topics: giraffes or Queen Elizabeth II. Skwarcan’s father offered an alternative: the Titanic. Although Skwarcan was presented with nothing more than a “black and grainy” old VHS tape about the Titanic from the 1980s, she was captivated by the story.

The Titanic consumed Skwarcan from there on out. In school, it would take just a couple of days in a new class before Skwarcan would become branded as the “Titanic kid.” Unable to contain her obsession, Skwarcan requested that her friends “quiz” her on her Titanic knowledge. One day, a friend who was a bit fed up with the constant Titanic talk begged: “Kelly, just write it all down!”

“Famous last words,” Skwarcan said, in retrospect. Her friend’s exasperated plea led to a decade-long writing project that culminated in the publication of Skwarcan’s book titled “Iron & Ice: The Full Tale of the Titanic.”

Skwarcan started writing the summer after fourth grade, returning to her book each succeeding summer, often tearing up what she had written before as her writing developed and her knowledge expanded. Remarkably, the determination to publish her book in earnest was present from day one. “I think the funny part about starting really young is that I didn’t quite understand what [publishing a book] entailed,” Skwarcan said.

Skwarcan wrote the book she wished she had growing up: one that provides “the detail and meat of the story” but that also engages the reader with an accurate representation of the “characters as people — not just a flat detailing.”

Although it took over 10 years of writing (or five years starting from the time she began working with an editor), Skwarcan looked back on her journey with gratitude, not regret. “I truly could not have asked for better timing,” Skwarcan said.

A month before Skwarcan’s July 2023 publication date, the underwater exploration company OceanGate sent their submersible Titan on a journey to visit the wreckage of the Titanic. Unfortunately, the Titan went missing for several days before debris from its implosion was discovered. Due to the timing of this event, Skwarcan gained the distinct opportunity to “incorporate the Titan into the overall Titanic timeline.” She devoted her book’s last chapter, which came to be her favorite in the book, to the Titan.

For Skwarcan, “Iron & Ice” is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Her book is a testament to the power of persistence and trust in timing. “If it's meant to be, it will be, even if it’s not on your timeline,” Skwarcan said.

“Iron & Ice” is available on Amazon, the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, the St. Mary’s Bookstore, and in various Titanic museums across the U.S.