Thursday, July 3, 2008
This exhibition offered a chilling, up close look at the Titanic story .........
PITTSBUGH, Pa. – For about an hour today, I pretended to be Mr. Wallace Henry Hartley heading to America aboard the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
That was the name I was given on the boarding pass allowing me into the “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” at the Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh's North Shore.
It remained unknown until the end whether I would be among the survivors of the White Start Line ship that struck an iceberg and never arrived on its maiden voyage to America in April 1912.
Hartley set sail as the leader of an orchestra that played light music for first- and second-class passengers. He was a talented violinist who had been hired for the job only two days before the ship embarked on its journey from Southampton. “Wallace was no stranger to the Atlantic; he had made over 80 crossings,” according to the passenger facts on the reverse side of the ticket.
The exhibit walls were painted as black as the ocean night the Titanic and 1,517 of its passengers went missing as the ship settled to the bottom of frigid water two miles deep off the coast of Newfoundland. Soft blue lights and spooky background noises combined to make some people think twice before rounding each corner, one of which revealed itself to a mock up of a highfalutin cabin for ultra rich travelers. It had a well-appointed bed, fainting couch and table set with an old pair of sterling silver binoculars. Ahead, a life-sized photograph of the ship’s grand stairway appeared behind a statue of a cherub that once decorated the boat's steps. That sculpture was pulled from the wreckage after it was discovered Sept. 1, 1985 by an American-French expedition.
Some walls contained telling phrases spoken by passengers who survived the accident that took place at 2:20 a.m. April 15, 1912. “My feeling was so strong that I would never reach America in that ship,” said Edith Russell, a first-class passenger.
More than 200 artifacts were selected for the exhibit, including bathroom floor tiles, a porcelain chamber pot, dishes and even a hot water tap from a bathroom. The passengers were immortalized through pieces of their jewelry, clothing, money and boarding passes that were recovered from the deep. The finds were chilling reminders of real lives that were lost in a story that has otherwise been romanticized in film and through popular music.
The passengers' names were eventually revealed on a large wall at the end of this remarkable exhibit. More than half of the 324 first-class passengers survived, while 527 of the 710 third-class ticket holders died. Just 212 members of a crew of 910 made it to safety.
My heart skipped a beat as I scrolled down the ranks of second-class passengers and found the name of the man from Dewsbury, England, on my ticket among those who died at sea. I had hoped it wouldn't end that way for a guy who was just 33 years old and engaged then to be married.