Titanic: Artifact Exhibition

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You know that feeling you get when you are standing in a famous place, or looking at some important artifact from days long gone? Like when you go to a museum and see the bones of a dinosaur, and think to yourself, “That thing was really walking around Earth millions of years ago?” Or, “That is really the outfit Jenny wore in that scene from Forest Gump?” Sometimes it’s so amazing that these artifacts are now in front of you that it’s hard to fathom they are the real thing.

When I heard that Titanic: The Exhibition was coming to San Diego, I just had to go.  For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the tragedy and the story surrounding the sinking of the “unsinkable”  Titanic.  I was excited to capture some photos of the artifacts, but unfortunately there was no photography allowed inside the exhibit. We got to the Natural History Museum inside Balboa Park, and there was a line to enter the exhibit, but it didn’t take long. People had left flowers at the entrance sign, as if it were a makeshift memorial.

While waiting in line, we each received a “boarding pass” that belonged to a real passenger who boarded the actual Titanic. I had a seven-year-old girl whose family was in second class. Brian had a 49-year-old man  in second class. We made predictions before we entered – I guessed that I would be a survivor, and that Brian would not.

The exhibit was divided into a bunch of rooms, as if you are going from area to area on the ship. You were given the option to buy an audio tour to go along with the exhibit, but we opted to just walk around and read the various signs and such. There were rooms depicting the various cabins (first class, second, and third), a room recreating the dining room, the boiler room, and the grand staircase, with various artifacts in each.

Third class cabin, you can see some real artifacts in the glass case

First class cabin

RMS Titanic, Inc., has been dedicated to retreiving and restoring the artifacts that have been brought up from the wreckage site on eight different recovery missions. And let me say, you can tell the artifacts have been painstakingly and beautifully taken care of. Being able to view the belongings of the passengers of the ship, most of who did not survive, is a sobering experience. Among the more memorable artifacts were a man’s jacket, various bottles of wine that still contained their original liquid, handwritten letters, a pair of brand new black socks that had not yet been worn, and postcards that were brought on by travelers that probably considered the voyage on the Titanic just another part of their journey – another postcard for their collection.

My favorite artifact was the glass case of white china – on the wall in front of it, was a picture of the same white china lined up neatly in rows, sitting in the sand at the bottom of the ocean. The hutch that had been holding the china had landed on the ocean floor at the time the ship sank, but the wooden hutch had disintegrated, leaving the china alone in rows as if someone had placed it neatly in the sand years later.

One of the oddest and most sad (in my opinion) facts that I learned from the exhibit was that in a mere 50 years or so, the ship and the artifacts that are left down there will disintegrate and will no longer exist.

Titanic rests in an incredibly hostile environment, 2.5 miles below the sea on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Over time, human-made objects will be consumed by bacteria, abraded by sediments, and corroded by salt and acids. Even the Ship itself is slowly being destroyed by iron-eating microorganisms, and will one day collapse on the ocean floor. Artifacts that are not recovered from the wreck site will eventually be lost.”

At the end of the exhibit was a wall of names. As far as memorials go, I am partial to a wall of names because it is so much easier to tally the loss of human life than by just hearing a number. The names were divided up into first, second, third classes and the ship’s crew, and also by survivors and those who perished. It was very interesting to see the ratio of those who survived in relation to class. Unfortunately, if you were not traveling first class, your likelihood of survival was much lower. And if you were crew, your likelihood of survival was abysmal. Brian and I searched for our passengers on the wall of names – I survived, as a young child, and he did not, as he was a second class older male.

Having the opportunity to view artifacts from the wreckage of the Titanic humanizes the story that is often portrayed more fictionally in pop culture – many elements that appeared in the movie were embellished by Hollywood. The exhibit is currently in San Diego until September, and costs $25 (discount for military and students). It is also showing in Las Vegas, Orlando, Kansas City, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, and Singapore. I recommend it if you are at all interested in this timeless tragedy.

Disclaimer: I was not paid or perked for writing about the Titanic: Artifact Exhibition – just wanted to share my own experience! Photos courtesy of RMS Titanic, Inc. and myself.

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7 responses »

  1. It must be amazing to see all of those artifacts in person knowing that they were actually on board the infamous ocean liner.

    • It was – I was constantly telling myself, “This actually went onboard the ship, and they pulled it up from the wreckage years later,” because it’s almost hard to believe!

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