Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition  

Posted by inkstainedhands in ,

As I was walking from the train station a few months ago to the Broadhurst Theater on West 44th to see Hamlet, I noticed the Discovery Times Square Exposition advertising its new Titanic exhibit. Well, I finally saw it today.

The haunting line on the flyer I picked up reads, "After nearly a century... Titanic finally arrives in NYC." What a chilling introduction! Think about it.... The ship that set sail for New York from England in 1912 and sunk to the bottom of the ocean has finally reached its destination -- but only the artifacts lived to see New York.

As you enter the exhibit, you are given the 'boarding pass' of a person who was actually on the Titanic with his/her name, age, class, reason for voyage, and a passenger fact. You are told to hold onto this boarding pass and at the end of the exhibit see if 'your' passenger survived.

Various artifacts were on display throughout the exhibit, and some of them were identified as belonging to certain people. Rooms on the Titanic were replicated, as were certain corridors and the grand staircase (where you could take a picture). The Titanic was apparently the most luxurious ship made, and that becomes quite obvious as you see the pictures of the dining halls and the replicas of the first class rooms and the grand staircase. Something about that makes the tragedy even more tragic -- kind of like a last supper, when you look at the culmination.

Artifacts included perfume bottles (some of which contained perfumes that still had a scent), champagne bottles with champagne still inside, mirrors and hairbrushes, pocket watches and wristwatches, toothpaste jars, floor tiles, china plates and cups, playing cards, traditional straight razors and modern Gillette safety razor blades, wax stamps, etc. There were matching pants and a vest on display which had been preserved because they were in a leather suitcase, and since leather is tanned, it repels microorganisms and prevents water damage. According to a display hanging on the wall, there are no conservation techniques to preserve the ship itself, and it is being consumed by iron-eating microbes and will implode and collapse on itself within 40 to 90 years.

We often hear stories about people who were saved in tragedies such as 9/11 because they happened not to be there at that time on that day, even though they normally would have been there. Well, the stories about some of the Titanic victims were the opposite. There were people who were supposed to be on different ships, and some were even supposed to leave up to a week later, but certain circumstances forced them to switch to the Titanic last minute. One such passenger, Edgar Samuel Andrew, wrote in a letter before the voyage that he would rather be on a different ship and sail some other day, and added, "I wish the Titanic were lying at the bottom of the ocean." Little did he know that a few days later, that is exactly where it would be, and he would perish with it.

Two days before they were scheduled to land in New York, some of the First Class passengers made a gala dinner in honor of the captain, to congratulate him for a safe crossing. Little did they know....

Near the end of the exhibit, there were lists of all the survivors and victims in first class, second class, third class, and the crew. The woman whose boarding pass I held -- Miss Ellen Hocking -- survived, along with her mother. But it seems as if the rest of her accompanying family -- which included her aunt, brother, sister, and 3-year-old and 10-month-old cousins -- did not.

Seeing all the people there checking those lists to see if 'their' passengers survived made it so much more real, as did seeing all those little artifacts that once upon a time belonged to somebody -- mirrors that were once held by the women, razors that were once used by the men, the china on which they ate as they awaited the day when they would arrive in New York, and so on.

The souvenir shop was actually selling tiny pieces of coal from the actual wreck of the Titanic. I was more tempted by that than by any of the other souvenirs. I am fascinated by history, and that was an opportunity to own a little piece of it. But I needed the money for other things, so I did not buy it. I suppose I can at least know that I once had the opportunity to own a piece of history.

This exhibit made it come alive for people who might otherwise not have understood the enormity of the tragedy. Events sometimes get lost in history and risk becoming just another piece of information and the people involved become mere statistics. I would definitely recommend that people go see this exhibit while it is still open (but please leave the kids at home, especially if you know that they will disturb the other visitors). This exhibit closes on February 28th, so if you are interested, now is the time.

I would also like to take this chance to thank my parents for agreeing to sponsor this little trip and my school for making this all possible by giving us a day off.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 15, 2010 at Monday, February 15, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Been there past summer after reading one of the books about it when I was 10. Cool place.

My person did not survive though...

Though I doubt people in 100 years form now will be any interested in the artifacts of this tragedy.

February 16, 2010 at 9:23 AM

It sounds like a fascinating trip.. kinda similar to a Holocaust museum I went to years ago. That one also had a card with a person's name and info, ect and you see if they survived or not.

I love how these exhibits make history come alive.

February 16, 2010 at 9:19 PM

BTS -- Oh wow, it's really been open that long? I first passed by it in October and then in November and then in December before finally seeing it yesterday.

I don't know about 100 years from now since I can't even imagine it, but I would say that there will always be people interested in these kinds of things. The ancient Egyptian exhibitions are still going strong even though they're thousands of years old. (The treasures of King Tut will actually be on display in this same place starting in April!)

Lost -- It seems that Discovery is pretty good at making history come alive every time there is another exhibit there.

Which Holocaust museum was that and where was it?

February 16, 2010 at 9:48 PM

Honestly I thought it was closed back in fall - I haven't seen any ads in a while.
I agree that people care about major things, but I think that in 100 years from now this tragedy would not be even close to historical events from thousands years ago and from XX century.

February 17, 2010 at 1:05 AM

Hm. ...I should go. I've been thinking about it since those advertisements appeared in the streets..

February 17, 2010 at 3:41 PM

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