Remembering the Titanic

TitanicOn April 15, 1912, the majestic ship Titanic slipped beneath the freezing waters of the north Atlantic Ocean. More than 705 passengers and 701 members of the crew lost their lives—of 2,228 souls aboard. It is these people—millionaires traveling in the finest luxury to laborers sleeping in the bowels of the ship, dreaming of a better life—that the Titanic Exhibit currently at the Center Of Science & Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio.

 I’m in this lovely Midwestern city for the Romantic Times BookLovers Convention. Before the workshops and luncheons got into gear, my roommate and I took in the Titanic Exhibit.  From the moment you step up to exchange your ticket for a Boarding Pass, issued by the White Star Line, you are immersed in the experience, in what the Titanic was and is.

 My boarding pass gave me the identity of second-class passenger Mrs. Edward Nye (Lizzie), widowed, returning to the United States after a trip to Europe to recover from her grief at the recent death of her husband. She has a small cabin on F deck, one of the few second class cabins down that low on the ship. As we perused the exhibit, I found myself searching for hints of her existence, her presence on the ship.

As we stepped around the corner into the darkened exhibit area, a ship’s horn blasted from somewhere overhead. Wall displays and videos documented the recovery of items from the magnificent ship. We walked from case to case, looking at artifacts recovered from the debris field on the ocean floor. In the long string of debris, which stretched more than a half a mile between the stern and bow sections, they found eyeglasses with the lens intact, leather suitcases with the clothes still inside, relatively unscathed; china; crystal; champagne bottles with the champagne still inside; even a man’s bowler hat, lying alone in the sand near the ship, intact and wearable. The curators of the exhibit placed the artifacts in front of 4×4’ pictures of the items as they were found on the ocean floor. Gratin dishes stacked one in front of the other, sat angled in the sand as if the wooden crate were still in place.

Next came the documentation of the maiden voyage. There was such an air of adventure among the passengers, of hope that they were going to better lives in America. Whether their JJAstorIVbelongings came aboard ship in simple cases or elaborate chifforobes, every person on board was looking forward to the twenty plus days on board.

Moving deeper into the ship, we studied the first class cabin that was carefully recreated, right down to the ladies’ gloves lying on the small side table, waiting for their owner to take them as she left for dinner. The shiny baubles she might have worn with the pink silk gown hanging on the door were laid out with care in a nearby case. Docents in period costumes explained where the grand oak staircase led, and who they’d shared dinner with that evening.

The carefully arranged artifacts led us deeper into the ship, down a white and gold gilt hallway of first class, through second class, third class, the crew’s quarters, and into the boiler room, then up to the telegraph office where the ice warnings were received by the crew member and never delivered to the captain.

As we entered the next room, and eerie scraping sound could be heard as the big ship struck the submerged portion of the huge iceberg. The ship’s bell sounded, calling all to life boats, but Mrs. John Jacob Astor IV refused to leave her husband. They’d spent too many years together, she told him, to leave him now. Lifeboats were launched, but there weren’t enough for all the passengers and crew, and those that were used left the ship less than half full.

titanic-bow-railingAs we read the history, the heartbreaking stories of those who had no way to escape, we looked down and realized we were standing in a lifeboat, the image projected onto the floor under our feet. Finally, we emerged into daylight and rescue ships approached to lift the terrified, half-frozen passengers to safety. On the wall of the exhibit of this silent room was a list of all the passengers and crew. Divided into First, Second, and Third Class, and Crew—Survived and Did Not Survive. As we compared our Boarding Cards to the list on the wall, each of us felt a kinship with the passenger whose identity we’d borrowed.

What an amazing, moving experience. For an hour, the designers of this exhibit transported us from a cool April morning to a freezing April night on the open water of the Atlantic Ocean. If the exhibit comes to a museum near you, don’t miss it!

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22 thoughts on “Remembering the Titanic”

  1. What a gift you have for telling a story, Tracy. I felt like I was right there with you looking at all these things on the ship. Amazing post.

  2. I love how museum exhibitors now create experiences that put you in the midst of the event. The Holocaust museum in DC does this as well. And it is so effective, as you discovered.

    I am assuming that “you” ,due to the location, did not survive but let us know!

  3. Thank you, Karen! The exhibit was very moving and I hoped to share some of that emotion with you.

    Julie, one of these days I’ll get to the Holocaust Museum in DC. I can’t imagine how effective and intense that exhibit would be.

    And “I” survived – one of the hundred or so second class passengers who did.

  4. I would love to see this if it comes to the Carolinas. I’ve always been fascinated with the Titanic story for some odd reason.

    I had a similar experience in the Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA a few years ago. My husband was in a performance there of an audio play so while they were rehearsing, I took the time to walk the museum. You’re given a tape player and walk through the museum, listening to the talk, and begin to lose yourself as you observe and read. Very well done.

  5. What an amazing experience, Tracy. Always wanted to do that. Some time ago I heard a radio interview with Robert Ballard (name?), the man who found the Titanic. I was touched by his respect for the ship and his resolve to leave it as a monument to the people who perished. Thanks for a great blog.

  6. wow tracy–that was a great post…i too felt like i was there–you did a great job sharing your experience–i can’t imagine how moving it would be to actually have been at the exhibit! sounds like they’ve done an amazing job!
    which midwestern city were you in?
    i’ll have to look to see if it is anywhere around me
    thanks for sharing!

  7. ps–forgot to add that in high school (long ago) our concert band played “Nearer My God to Thee”-the song the Titanic band played while they were sinking
    just playing the song touched me deep in my soul and it was all I could do to keep from crying…many of the attendents at that concert were also in tears–i cannot imagine actually being on the ship–waiting to die in freezing waters–hearing that song–though i’m sure it provided comfort for many–what a gift those band members gave to all those people in their last minutes

  8. Great post! What an amazing experience, I would love to do something like that! I love going to exhibits there is just not many here! Thanks for sharing with us!

  9. Tracey, what a cool exhibit.
    I think one reason the story of the sinking of the Titanic never loses it’s fascination is because it is one of history’s great ironies.

    The maiden voyage.
    The unsinkable ship.
    The lack of lifeboats.
    The rescue ship that didn’t recognize the distress flairs.
    The wealthy people whose money couldn’t save them any more than it could save the people in steerage.
    Even the lifeboats not being full.

    All of those factors. It is just an endlessly fascinating tragedy.

  10. Tracy – Wow!! what a great blog. I would love to see an exhibit someday. I hope you’re having a ball at RT!! Never been. Maybe when it comes to the West Coast.

  11. Elizabeth,
    Dr. Ballard found the Titanic, but wouldn’t remove anything from the site. However another explorer located it a second time and that is the corporation that is displaying the artifacts. While I agree with Dr. Ballard that the ship should have been left alone, this exhibit proved to me that they can share the memories of the passengers in a respectful manner, for which I’m grateful.

  12. There is a new Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge, TN.
    Friends went and said it was wonderful.

  13. Wonderful post, Tracy. Here in Halifax we have a permanent Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The Titanic story is an integral part of the city’s history. The survivors and those who perished were brought ashore here, and many were buried here. Whenever I visit the museum I feel transported back in time.

  14. What an awesome experience. Do you know how long the exhibit will be in Columbus?

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

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