Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

We went to the Titanic exhibit at the Miami Science Museum and Planetarium on Sunday. I have always been fascinated with the Titanic; from its discovery and salvage operations, to the personal stories behind its passengers. It's always been a little eerie for me as well when I view the underwater images. I don't know why but, as with the Crusades and my 14th century Flemish painters, I get all goosebumpy and tingly all over when I see anything about Titanic. (Except maybe that movie with Leo diCaprio and Kate Winslet, which I thought was a CGI gag fest that should have gone down with the ship. No joke, I remember being on line to see it and casually saying to the person I was with, "You know, the ship sinks in the end", and this man and woman behind me getting extremely pissed off that I gave away the ending. Seriously. You gotta love the American educational system, it sure spawns some winners.)

Anyhow, I have seen a Titanic exhibition back in the day already but I can't remember when and where. I do remember that I was young enough to have been there with my mom and dad and brother, yet old enough to walk at least 10 feet away from them for fear of being "uncool". In any event, I do remember having already seen artifacts in person so I was pretty excited to see what was going to be on display here in Miami.

You know, for a 20 dollar ticket price, I wasn't that impressed. Both Randy and I were a little disappointed. Dante loved it, as the exhibit was set up as though you were moving through the ship's various areas (the deck, 1st class, 2nd class, 3rd class or steerage, the boiler room, etc.) Dante was especially enthralled by the boiler and engine room area as it was completely flooded in darkness except for a few spots of deep red light here and there. Also, the simulated roar of Titanic's engines (what those poor men had to listen to as they fed the fuel for the great ship) certainly was a new sound to Dante's ears and he was definitely entertained. Between the cool sounds and the funny lights, our baby was in curious land and took everything in.

As far as Randy and myself, it was "just okay". As I said, the exhibit was set up as though you were moving through the ship; each artifact display reflecting which part of the ship you were in. There were also reconstructions of what first class, second class, steerage and crew cabins looked like. It was interesting to note that in first class, the surrounding ambiance was lovely chamber music (probably played by the doomed orchestra who went down with the ship) and as one moved through the ship and changed classes, the music became fainter. By the time we got to steerage, the hum of the engines drowned out that lovely chamber music. In any event, the artifacts were really nothing that hasn't been seen before. Whether on a Discovery channel documentary or on the IMAX screens. The fact that they were up close sure made them more interesting, but as I said, it was nothing that floored us. Some of the first class jewelry would have been nice to have in my hot little hand, but other than that, how many times do I have to look at the White Star Line plates and forks?

I think the best part of the exhibit was the Boarding Pass. As we entered the gallery, we were each given a White Star Line boarding pass with the name of a passenger, their cabin and class, and a brief history of who they were and where they were going. At the end of the exhibit, we were to look on the Saved/Not Saved roster from the ship to see if "we" made it off Titanic or became one of its victims. My boarding pass belonged to a woman in second class, travelling with her husband and newborn son. Randy's boarding pass belonged to a man in third class travelling with his 2 sons. Can you guess who lived and who died?

As a woman in second class with a baby, if you guessed that me and my baby lived, while my husband bit it, you are correct. If you guessed that Randy and his entire family were goners you are correct as well. Seriously, as soon as I saw that I was a chick in second class and Randy was a man in thrid class, we both knew who was going to make it off Titanic. It was interesting to see on the passenger rosters what huge discrepancies there were between the classes in regards to lives saved and lives lost. In first and second class only about 130-150 people actually died (most of them men), while in steerage and crew 537 and 699 were lost. First and second class were able to save 199 in each, whereas the lower classes only saved 100 or so. As steerage was the class carrying most, if not all, the immigrants coming to America in search of a better life, it makes it that much worse seeing all those names of the lost.

Fun Facts:
First class tickets in April of 1912 cost an average of $2,500, which in today's economy averages out to about $48,000. The two deluxe suites on the Titanic that cost $4,500 at the time, would now run about $78,000 in today's market. A steerage or third class ticket cost $45.00, which translates to about $620 today.
Lillian Gertrud Asplund, the last American survivor of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 died in May 2006. Asplund, who was just 5 years old, lost her father and three brothers, including a fraternal twin. She was the last Titanic survivor to remember the actual sinking. There are a couple of women still alive who were on the Titanic but were just little babies and do not remember.

All in all, I wish the exhibit had had more oomph to it. I found it to be a little monotonous and subdued. The personal effects, although few and far between, were lovely, from the cufflinks, to the small child's toy, to the gorgeous gold bracelet with "Amy" written in diamonds. The personal effects are always interesting, as they bring the humanity behind the disaster to light. The names of the passengers are not just names on a roster, but rather real people who lived, breathed, and unfortunately for most, came to a tragic end that night. After almost 100 years underwater, Titanic still commands the opulence and amazement it did in her heyday.

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