Journal - Titanic: Treasures from the Deep

I vividly recall when the wreckage of the Titanic was discovered. The story of the ship, the poor planning and all the lives lost has always held an allure. Yes, I watched the movie…seemed pointless I already knew the ending - ship sinks. So, imagine my surprise when I found out that the Titanic would be in Denver! Time for another of our Excursions, so students on board, we made the dry land trek west.

There is something special about that ship, the RMS Titanic, which sank over 95 years ago on April 15, 1912. The ship, built in Belfast, Ireland, set sail for America at noon on April 10, 1912 on its maiden voyage and sailed off into history and folklore as well.

The ship first stopped in Cherbourg, France to pick up additional passengers, including Margaret Brown, (the Unsinkable Molly Brown), the Astors and the Wideners. From there, the ship next went to Queensland, Ireland for additional passengers, and then headed for the open sea. Friday, April 12, 1912 at 1:30 p.m. was the last time the Titanic and most people aboard would ever see dry land.

By now, most people know about the claims made that this new, great ship was "practically" unsinkable and how the bulkheads which were supposed to ensure these claims actually were the secondary cause of the ship's demise. The primary cause of the ship's failure was that iceberg it struck at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday night, April 14, 1912. If only there had been enough lifeboats on board, and if only they had been employed to full advantage.

On board the Titanic when she struck ice were 338 First Class passengers, 279 Second Class passengers, 712 Third Class passengers and a crew of 908. Only 706 were rescued by the Carpathia when that ship came to the rescue and, later recovery missions would find only 330 bodies. The rest went on to Davy Jones' Locker and eternity. Yet, like a modern Flying Dutchman, the Titanic and its fated passengers continue to sail.

There is such a fascination with the tragedy that it takes very little hype and a very little offering to attract hoards of curioius onlookers. It is almost like that wreck on the side of the road that every driver has to slow to take a look at. Ifa museum had only a scant few artifacts to display, the hype of the story alone would be enough to attract a large crowd. So it is. There is not much to see at the Titanic Exhibit, but there are still the crowds and there is still that aura that continues to surround the event. People just want to get close enough to the history to see if they can touch some of the mystique.

We had a tour time scheduled with the Denver Nature and Science Museum. Upon our arrival we were each given a boarding pass to the Titanic. The pass identified each of us by the name of a passenger on the Titanic. We then picked up the audio players for the tour and set about to explore the exhibit.

It’s a typical museum display in that the artifacts are concealed in thick clear cases. The boiler room was an interesting display with its red lighting, and the room where they were showing the Discovery Channel images of the Titanic and the large digital display of the iceberg.

All throughout the exhibit are placards telling the stories of some of the people on board. Some of their stories had happy endings, and some didn’t.

On nearly every wall, there are facts about the ship and what happened. The audio tour provided additional stories. Seeing this information in black and white and listening about the Titanic and that fateful journey in April of 1912 just reiterated the fact that they didn’t have a chance. They were ill-prepared, over-confident, and ultimately doomed. Granted hind-sight is always 20/20, but the outcome was devastating.

Seeing this with my students put a whole new spin on it that I wasn’t expecting. They had a ton of questions about everything, like they sometimes do, and of course so many of them are fascinated by death, their reaction to stories like the one of the woman who had her baby ripped from her arms and tossed into a lifeboat, only to be on a different life boat and not know if he was alive, made for more than a few misty eyes. They were eventually reunited, but the story was admittedly touching.

It’s these stories that make the exhibit real.

The Titanic wasn’t just a ship that sank. It wasn’t just a compilation of errors that ended tragically. 2,228 lives were forever changed that day. 705 survived. 1,523 did not.

It really makes me sit back and think about the things that are most important to me.

When we got to the end of the display, we were faced with a wall of names: those who had lived and those who hadn’t. We had the opportunity to see how our character fared, the character we were randomly given when we boarded the Titanic. Sadly, my character didn’t live. His whole family perished as well.

In a companion IMAX event entitled, "Ghosts of the Abyss", film crews chronicle the adventure of actor Bill Paxton as he goes down to the site of the wreck aboard a Russian recovery vessel. As with most Titanic attractions, there is a lot more hype than product. I expected to see more of the ship and less of the people in the show, and I was disappointed.

In this feature, the editing crew does a nice job of imposing images of the ship before it sank over images of the sunken Titanic so that we got an idea of what it was like those 95 years ago before the tragedy. In ghost-like fashion, the movie shows where significant people were sitting or standing when significant events occurred. In that respect, the movie lives up to its name. Personally, I believe anything in IMAX is going to be more spectacular than what we are all more accustomed to. I wish the movie spent more time exploring the vessel and the actual history and less time with the antics of Bill Paxton and the crew.

Overall, the Titanic exhibit and the IMAX feature, "Ghosts of the Abyss" was worth the cost of the trip and experiencing it with college students was interesting and provided them with an opportunity to contrast the exhibits with the movie starring Leonardo and Kate. People will continue to be fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic and will flock to see artifacts as simple as a man's old hat. It would be just a hat under normal circumstances, but it is special because it is a Titanic hat. The same is true of the ship it came from. Few sunken ships have excited the public in recent years as the RMS Titanic has. The Titanic is and always will be the greatest legend since ships starting sinking below the waves.

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