Titanic Museum Visit

Titanic is a tale of heroes and cowards, of greed and generosity, astounding bad luck, incredible good fortune, and the sea is claiming her remains.  

~James Cameron~

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She was 882 feet 9 inches in length and 92 feet in breadth. Her gross tonnage was 46,328 tons. Three propellers were driven by two four-cylinder, triple-expansion, inverted reciprocating steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine. Steam was provided by 25 double-ended and 4 single-ended Scotch-type boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that gave her a theoretical top speed of 23 knots.

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Titanic Artifacts Display, Indianapolis Museum – Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The minutes spent absorbing this illustrious ship’s artifacts left me not only humbled but grief stricken for the passengers, builders, and crew members; that participated in the planning, assembling, and/or traveling aboard this doomed luxury liner.  (Just a quick note…we were not allowed to have any photographic equipment in the museum display rooms, so I did my scanning the internet for authentic matches. (see link at bottom of blog)

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After purchasing our tickets we stood outside the museum gallery anxiously awaiting our turn.  When the attendant at last motioned us through the doors, we were then met by two museum guides that provided us instructions before personally giving us an authentic passengers’ boarding pass. As my eyes scanned anxiously over my pass; discovered I was a first class passenger named Dr. Alice Leader (Alice Farnham). She was a retired pediatric doctor that had returned from a holiday in Europe. Her husband was deceased and she had no children. Her home address was listed as New York, New York.

The museum display was arranged by rooms in a “galleries” format. All the artifacts were protected in glass cases. The first gallery we progressed through was the “Construction Gallery”.  On the wall hung two authentic black and white, wall-sized photos; one, engineers drawing up the design of the ship on drafting paper, and second, the laborers from Harland and Wolff, screwing rivets into the hull by hand.

The Facing wall displayed, a gear wheel, that was found on the ocean floor by the ship and wrenches and some rivet tools from the wreckage. On the end was a large photo of Captain Smith welcoming you to the RMS Titanic.  

As we turned the corner to enter  the “The Passenger Gallery” the first ice warning was posted: 4/14 9:00 am Caronia – Captain Titanic, west bound steamers report bergs, growlers and field ice in 42 degrees N. from 49-51 degrees W. Compliments, Barr.

As we proceeded, an object in the first cased display caught my eye. It was an 18-carat gold star necklace centered with a small diamond. It was a magnificent looking piece of jewelry with minimal damage. Beside it laid a stick pin that appeared more weathered. The rest of the items in that particular case were old American dollars and coins from the early 1900’s. There was a note indicating that particular dated paper money would have been good until the mid 1930’s.  

The next artifact that caught my eye was a marble-topped sink basin with the faucets still intact. You immediately thought ‘who used this last’? The case next to it displayed most of a base from a table in the Smoking Room.  As we proceeded through the rest of the Passenger Gallery certain items stood out…one case displayed a stack of white bowls, laid out like dominos, wine glasses, water decanters, sherry glasses, a teapot, large copper pans (very beaten up), spoons, forks, etc. Each piece had been engraved with “The White Star Line” logo.  The white bowls had sand placed around them and many of the water decanters were lying on their side. It appeared as though the artifacts were displayed as they were found in the debris field. In the back section of that case stood 3 or 4 champagne bottles. One corked, still had the champagne inside.  One of the more magnificent displays was a spectacular wall sconce, gilded in gold, and included three French light fixtures. A phone cabinet in oak and still fully intact, completed the larger displays. The rest of the displays included; a hand mirror, brush, leather strap, a wooden razor base, a sock garter, a curling iron, and a toothpaste decanter. On the one wall, they had set-up a replica of a first class setting room with Edwardian furniture.

Leaving that section of the “Passenger Gallery” the second “ice warning” was posted: 4/14  1:45 pm – America, passed two large icebergs in 41 degrees, 27 N, 8’W,  April 14.

As we progressed down the hallway we entered the next section of “The Passenger Gallery”. It was a replica of the third-class hallways and berths. They have the exact ceiling height, hallway width and room sizes that third class passengers roomed in while on board the Titanic.  While making my journey through this area and observing the third-class berth display, sounds of an engine sounded in the background. The berths had two bunks with a red blanket on each, and a pull down wooden shelf for the suitcases. Red blankets decorated the beds (that may have been an error, since most third class berths photos displayed off-white blankets). I did learn that those blankets were all they had for warmth… no sheets or pillowcases were provided.  Looking back at this section of the tour, this particular section left more affect on me than any other.

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‘Men, you have done your full duty, you can do no more. Abandon your cabin. You look out for yourselves, I release you. That’s the way of it at this kind of time. Every man for himself.’
Capt. E.J. Smith

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Before we entered the “Sinking and Restoration ” gallery, we passed by the last ice-warning: 4/14 7:30 pm Californian– Latitude 42 degrees 3’N. Longitude 49 degrees 9’W. Three large bergs 5-miles to the southwest of us. Regards, Lord.

There was one more ice warning received approximate 9:30 pm from the Mesaba…since radio operators Harold Bride and Jack Phillips were too backlogged sending messages, that warning was ignored. An interesting piece of information…the previous day, no messages could be sent due to a fault in the Marconi transmitter…Harold and Jack stayed up the previous night, located and repaired that fault. If it had been left to repair by a Marconi operator, as was required, all lives on board may have been lost. 

The “Sinking and Restoration” gallery was eerie to enter. A huge 2D section of ice along one wall, was illuminated by blue lighting. Touching it was a shock…perhaps, a stark reminder of the freezing temperatures that fateful night.  The lighting in this gallery was much more condensed and the background music produced sounds of a small string orchestra. The section only had three-artifacts displayed…a pair of men’s shoes and two-sets of boat whistles. According to the texted description, the boat whistles had been finely tuned blended to not sound shrill. The whistles had announced lunchtime on the ship. 

The “Restoration” section had a wooden model replica of the bow section, approximately 4.5  ft by 1.5 ft in size.  Off to the side was a small instruction video displaying how the artifacts were removed from the ocean floor and the steps followed in restoration for museum’s display.

We next entered the final room; “The Memorial Gallery”. A wall sized photo of Isador and Ida Straus eerily peered down on us. Mr. Straus had been the original owner of Macy’s Department Store. He had been offered a place on a lifeboat and refused. Mrs. Straus refused to leave without him stating, ‘where you go I go’. They perished together. His body was later recovered by the Mackey-Bennett recovery ship and then sent to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx for interment.

Along one wall was the listings of passengers, by class, and then whether they survived or perished. Our characters all survived.

The artifacts at “Memorial Gallery” displayed the ship’s passenger’s more personal items. The most interesting display; was a set of pin-striped gray trousers matched up with a vest. The clothing had been packed away in a leather suitcase and had fallen out onto the debris field when the ship broke in half. That suitcase had remained somewhat stationary on the ocean floor for somewhat 70-80 years. Completing that display was a Bowler hat. The clothing was in remarkable preservation; not so however with the very tattered hat.

Other cases in the “Memoria Gallery” display section included; an18K gold writing pen, letters, postcards, playing cards, and perfume vials. The perfume was created by Adolphe Seafield, and was processed in Manchester, England. When the vials were retrieved, a chemical scientist established its chemical composition to determine its components. The fragrance was due to be recreated in 2005 for public sale. It had a rose and violet scent. As of now, it’s still not on the market. Adolphe was a German Jewish immigrant and was traveling first class. He lost the vials, when the boat sank and he jumped into a lifeboat. The only display where the public could get an actual whiff, was at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. The perfume may be named: “The Heart of the Ocean”, after the necklace. Other cases displayed, combs, hair brushes, brooches and a small black Edwardian styled purse.

At the end of the display in the “Memorial Gallery” was a wall photo of Titanic’s last survivor, Millivina Dean. She died May 31, 2009, in a nursing home at Southampton, England, the port where she and her family boarded the doomed ship. According to Charles Haas, President of The International Titanic Society, her death came on the 98th anniversary on the launching of The Titanic, May 31, 1911.

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