Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition - A Review
The Titanic Exhibition comes to Fort Worth - is it worth the hype? Worth the money?
Congratulations, fortunate traveler. You have a boarding pass to enter the most magnificent ship the world has ever seen - the Titanic, a masterpiece of modern shipbuilding. Once aboard you will be treated to sumptuous delights of opulence, for aboard the Titanic, luxury is our most important offering. The First Class passengers will live like kings, and those in second class will enjoy accommodations that would normally be reserved for only the richest of the rich. Those immigrants in steerage... will get to have a toilet. We know they don't know how to use it, so we will make it flush itself.
The Titanic exhibition came to my home town of Fort Worth, and after a month or so of resisting the temptation to gawk, my curiosity finally got the better of me. My husband and I booked our reservation aboard the mighty vessel, and came away... well, not drowned or dying of hypothermia, but I think, a tad disappointed.
This exhibition is quite expensive - $28 apiece for two adults. I paid less to see the King Tut exhibit last year, and it was a much larger exhibition with many more objects for us to peruse. The people who put this exhibit have done a wonderful job of collecting information to tell stories, but the collection of artifacts was a tad sparse for the price paid.
Quick Titanic Facts
The Titanic was a luxury ocean liner chartered by White Star Line. An enormous vessel, over 882 feet long, it could travel 21 knots per hour and hold over 2000 passengers. Considered one of the finest ships ever made, it was believed to be unsinkable - an inaccurate belief that led to some arrogant and complacent decisions that cost many lives. On its maiden voyage, begun April 10, 1912 the Titanic left Southampton, England, on its way to New York City. It was carrying 2208 people: first class, second class, and third class passengers. The first class passengers included industry titans, entertainers, and other luminaries. The second class included people of more modest means, and third class included immigrants and others considered less desirable.
At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg, causing hull damage that flooded five airtight compartments. By 2:00 a.m. of April 15, the unbreakable ship had sunk beneath the ocean waves, headed to the floor, where it would remain, undiscovered and undisturbed, until 1985. Over 2/3 of the people on board the Titanic, including a disproportionate number of men and people from third class, were lost.
In 1985 a Franco-American expedition team found the Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland, split in two. In the years that followed exploration teams recovered over 5,000 artifacts from the wreckage, some of which were on display at this exhibition. One thing that struck both my husband and myself as we went through the Titanic exhibit was that they seemed to have set up a huge amount of room with a smallish number of actual recovered artifacts.
The people who put this exhbit together have compensated for the dearth of objects by using replicas of various things, and by blowing up old photographs of crew members and passengers who died during the disaster. The presentation of those artifacts they did preserve is exceptionally well done. The curators appear to have tried to breathe life into this topic by drawing our attention to the plight of individual people who died during the disaster. One room is dedicated to presenting the personal possessions of identified people who died during the disaster, and to tell their stories. They also have... these boarding passes.
Meet Helen, Titanic survivor
The photo below shows the flip side of the boarding pass I was given as I entered the museum. It describes the situation of a woman named Mrs. Edward Candee (Helen Churchill Hungerford), aged 53 and traveling alone.
As you can see, Helen has a first class ticket. I was given her profile at the beginning of the exhibit and I carried it with me, living with the concept that I was Helen's proxy for the modern-era virtual return to the Titanic. Bearing Helen's identity, I examined the replica of a comfortable first-class berth for such fortunate souls as myself, and then looked at the tiny, cramped quarters of the steerage passengers. I made a note when I saw the first class dining wares. When I got to the end of the exhibit, I saw Helen's name on the list of all passengers on the Titanic. They were categorized by what class they were in and whether or not they survived.
Helen was lucky. She was female, and she was rich enough to go first class. Women and the weathy were rescued much more quickly than the men were. The character my husband was given, a businessman named John Borland Thayer, was not so lucky.
Other objects of note
The museum exhibit did not allow photographs, but there were a few things to see that were genuinely quite interesting. They brought in one hunk of the Titanic's hull and encased it behind glass with a hole where you could poke in a finger and touch the hull of the Titanic with your own hand. I noticed that the area surrounding that touching place was dramatically more worn than the rest of the hull; being on display is causing it to deteriorate. They also created a small glacier, another touchable exhibit. Beside the glacier they explained the dangers of hypothermia as so many people perished in the freezing water. There were several computer program stations explaining the process of finding the ship and recovering its treasurers. There were also a few very large pieces of coal that had been stored for use in the Titanic's boilers.
On a disturbing note... small pieces of real coal from the Titanic are on sale in the gift shop for $25 apiece. There are even a small number of extremely expensive pieces of jewelry made from the same coal in the gift shop. I will... pass, I think.
Rating the Exhibit
My husband suggested to me as we left this exhibit that the felt the creators were trying to impress the public with creative display of a few items rather than a more generous display of more items.Some of the exhibits, such as the replicas of first and third class cabins, do an exceptional job of pointing out the difference in amenities available to the rich and poor. This exhibit is interesting, but it's overpriced and I don't think I would pay money to see it again. I am glad we did not take our children as well.