Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coming Aboard the RMS Titanic: The Titanic Artifacts Exhibit

Since I watched James Cameron’s Titanic when I was eight, I have been fascinated with the sinking of the infamous ship.  The film actually was one of the first movies to peak my interest in the film industry.  Having this interest in the ship’s sinking, I knew I had to go see the Titanic Exhibit at London’s O2 when I saw the posters advertised around London on the Tubes and streets. 

The exhibit had many items found in the ship’s wreckage along with commentary that helped put together the pieces of the ship’s demise.  Everything from the bell that was rung to announce the iceberg that was right ahead to different passenger’s personal items.  The personal nature of the exhibit was very fascinating.  They really wanted to make you experience the ship’s journey.  Different bios on notable passengers helped to grasp some context of who was on the ship along with connecting the factual information of the ship’s passengers with the story told in the film.  Many of the characters I recognized immediately, which was an added bonus as I worked to connect the fictional storyline with that of the people who really were on the ship.  There were items in different viewing cases, also, that researchers uncovered and paired with particular passengers.  One case had a woman’s perfume sample collection belonging to someone who made perfume.  Visitors were actually able to smell the scent through small holes in the glass, which provided a great experience. 

Visitors were also able to get to know one passenger personally during their time in the exhibit as everyone received a boarding pass of an actual passenger when they entered the exhibit.  I received the pass of a Mr. Kimball who was a first class passenger traveling with his wife.  Both he and his wife survived.  To figure out the outcome of your passenger, visitors needed to look at a list at the end that had who lived and died according to class or crew.  Seeing the list really made the experience come to life.

I also really liked the way that the exhibit compared and contrasted the conditions of passengers in different classes.  Different display cases had items like dishware that had commentary on how according to class the dishes had varied designs from intricate and elegant designs for first class to more simplistic yet stunning images on those for second class to ones with simply the White Star Line logo printed on it for third class.  A life-sized display of the living quarters for a first class and third class citizen provided a perfect idea of what things on the ship were like.  The interesting thing was that the third class wasn’t really too terrible as people would assume.  One of the commentaries said that those planning the ship’s events and layouts made sure to make the “steerage” (another name for third class) nice enough so that passengers would ride in those quarters since they really needed their money (averaging around 8 pounds per ticket or over 500 pounds today).

I truly enjoyed the exhibit throughout.  Getting to touch a huge chunk of ice the temperature of the water that fateful night was quite interesting, and it brought the reality of the event to life.  I was saddened to learn at the end that the wreckage should collapse entirely in the next 40-90 years due to corrosion and the pressure at the depths where it lays.  Thankfully excavators have preserved much of the ship’s contents so as to preserve the history of the wreck many years after the ship is no longer intact.

--John Barr

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