I have been fascinated with the great ship Titanic for ages, long before Leo DiCaprio made the words “I’m the King of the World” famous and before The Heart of the Ocean became a prized artifact. I have read countless numbers of books and even visited the last place on land it was ever seen, Queenstown, Ireland or Cobh as it is known today, but nothing can tell the story of the Titanic better than actual artifacts brought up from the ocean floor.
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit opened up at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. I have always wanted to see an artifact exhibit, but one never came close to my home, so when I found out about this I wouldn’t pass up the chance. The exhibit takes you through the birth, life, and death of the ship and its passengers.
When you arrive at the exhibition you are given your ticket to board the ship along with a name of one of the passengers. In my case, first class passenger, Miss Jean Gertrude Hippach. I was traveling with my mother Ida and was vacationing in Europe to try and recover from the loss of my two brothers in a fire. I am a lover of fashion and switched our tickets aboard the Olympic to the Titanic so I could spend more time shopping in Paris. With this ticket you not only board the ship but go on the same journey your passenger and thousands of other went on during the voyage. By the end of the exhibit you will learn whether you were one of the lucky ones that survived.
The unique thing about this exhibit is the recreations of parts of the ship.
Bronze Cherub Decorating the Grand Staircase
I walked through the hallways, and past the luxurious first class staterooms where the toast of society, like the Astor’s, Weidner’s, Thayer’s and Strauss’, could live in the lap of luxury or the modest third class rooms with their White Star Line blankets that held the hopes and dreams of an immigrant, like Rose Abbott or the Andersson family, hoping for a better life in America. The most magnificent of the recreations is the grand staircase complete with bronze cherub statue and the famous clock with its hands still frozen at the time of the disaster.
As you walk through the ship you experience the hard work of the Irishmen who built the ship, celebrate the ship’s launching from Belfast and Southampton, and have dinner in one of the luxurious dining rooms. All this is told by survivors recounting their stories. This is the heart of the exhibit. One can read about these people, but hearing it from them puts everything in perspective. And of course there are the actual artifacts. There are glasses, combs, purses, plates, bowls, wine bottles, and everything else you can think of. All painstakingly retrieved and restored. Most of the artifacts were obtained from the debris field in between the two sections of the ship.
As your journey reaches the fateful night of April 14th the harrowing stories of survival are recounted. Eva Hart: “From the lifeboat I saw the dreadful death throes of that huge ship. Despite my age, I knew I was looking at something too dreadful to describe, but couldn’t do anything but stare. Most of the other children in the lifeboat were so cold and sleepy that they didn’t want to watch it, but I certainly did. I heard the screams of the poor souls drowning, something that no one can possibly imagine. The bitter cold and the darkness also contributed to my terror.” Susan Webber: “I saw the leviathan part in the middle, the stern rose high in the air, the bow less high, then she went down slowly amid the painful cries for help of the hundreds of doomed men and women.” Lawrence Beesley: “The night was one of the most beautiful I have seen: the sky without a single cloud to mar the perfect brilliance of the stars…and in the place of the ship on which all of our interests had been concentrated for so long…in place of Titanic, we had the level sea now stretching in an unbroken expanse to the horizon…with no indication on the surface that the waves had just closed over the most wonderful vessel ever built by man’s hand; the stars looked down just the same and the air was just as bitterly cold.” At the end of the exhibit is a recreation of an iceberg that can be touched to illustrate the chilly temperature of the night is erected. This iceberg opened up a series of small holes only about 12 square feet long. Much of the damage was only as thin as a human finger.
As the ship sank it rose high out of the water and eventually broke in two under the immense pressure. Each section slipped under the surface. The bow having been slowly filled with water sunk to the bottom and gently landed on the ocean floor embedding itself in 45 ft of sand still standing tall as if it will continue on its journey across the ocean. The stern section having still been filled with air was rapidly filled with water as it sank. The pressure of the air and water caused the section to implode before crashing into the ocean floor, now a mere shadow of it’s former glory.
At the end of the exhibit you reach a wall with the list of the survivors. I took out my pass to see if my passenger survived. Seeing she was a first class female, she and her mother survived. My dad came with me to the exhibit and his passenger did not survive. There were 1517 deaths that night most of who froze to death in the frigid North Atlantic. 130 First Class passengers, 166 Second Class passengers, 536 Third Class passengers, and 685 Crew members were lost in the tragedy. The sad truth is even though Titanic was heralded for its safety and it was the safest ship to sail the ocean at the time, even exceeding safety standards. By law it only had to carry 16 lifeboats, but had 24. Still its watertight bulkheads did not extend far enough and there were way too few lifeboats for all on board, and the ones used were not filled to capacity.
The recovery of artifacts from Titanic is a controversial subject. Some view the objects as part of history and others view the site as a graveyard that should not be disturbed, but by the recovery of these objects we are preserving them forever and ensuring that the men and women who lost their lives and the ones who survived will never be forgotten, and that the lesson learned from the disaster will always be fresh on our minds.
I will end my review with my favorite quote from the event. A quote that sums up the impact the disaster had on the world. “There was peace and the world had an even tenor to it’s way. Nothing was revealed in the morning, the trend of which was not known the night before. It seems to me that the disaster about to occur was the event, that not only made the world rub its eyes and awake, but woke it with a start, keeping it moving at a rapidly accelerating pace ever since, with less and less peace, satisfaction and happiness. To my mind the world of today awoke April 15, 1912. – Jack Thayer, Titanic Survivor
The Bow of Titanic
See the rest of the images from the exhibit in our database.