The Titanic Artifact Exhibition at the Indiana State Museum ends its nearly four month run tomorrow (Sunday, January 16, 2011). If you missed seeing it, that's a shame. The exhibit displayed items recovered from various salvage operations made to the ship's final resting place on the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean (at a depth of two-and-one-half miles).
What made this exhibition memorable was its personalization. At the beginning, you are assigned a ticket with an actual passenger's name and descriptions about his/her personal life. You learn passengers' occupations, social status, traveling circumstances (alone or with companions), and a few interesting facts about these individuals. Then you walk through the exhibit, exploring recovered artifacts along side vivid descriptions of the ship, its crew and passengers, and circumstances of the ship's maiden voyage leading up to the crucial iceberg collision. There were an amazing array of artifacts, most restored to spectacularly pristine condition, considering their exposure to salt water at pressures of up to 6,000 pounds per square inch. Some of the visitors (to whom certain passenger identities were assigned) may have encountered these persons' artifacts, or they may have seen their verbal descriptions or photographs. Near the exhibit's end there was a discussion of how the artifacts were recovered, and a looping video showed images of items in the debris field, many of which were on display.
Upon exiting, visitors found passenger and crew lists indicating survivors and those who perished. Everyone searched for the name of his/her passenger that had been assigned. Mine was Arthur H. Gee, of Lancashire, England, who, at age 47, was traveling alone to New York bound for Mexico City to manage a British factory. He planned to retire upon his return home. I discovered if he survived the Titanic's sinking. After experiencing the relics from the sunken ship and the vivid details of its first and final voyage, I felt a powerful personal impact in learning "my" passenger's fate.
If you, too, wish to know what happened to Mr. Gee, click here.
I first became facinated with the Titanic at age 10 after seeing the first episode of an Irwin Allen sci-fi television program, The Time Tunnel, in which the two main characters, scientists played by James Darren and Robert Colbert, travel back and forth through time (sort of an Americanized Doctor Who without the story line sophistication), beginning with the Titanic. Although I found reading difficult, I attempted and completed Walter Lord's classic book, A Night to Remember (first published in 1955 and adapted as a motion picture in 1958). I subsequently saw the film on television a year or two after reading the book. What made the Titanic story personally significant was the coincidence of its sinking on my birthday, and the survival of Daniel Buckley, an Irish third-class passenger, born in 1890, who was an accomplished song writer (click here to watch and listen to a rendition of his most famous song). My surname ancestors were poor, London East Enders who had emigrated to America in the late 19th century, but seeing my surname in the passenger and crew manifests (at the back of Lord's book) gave me pause, although there is no family relationship of which I am aware. (Daniel Buckley served in the U.S. Army in World War I and was killed in combat trying to save the lives of his wounded comrades. He was one of the last (possibly the last) American soldier killed in the war.
Coincidentally, my son's name is Daniel, although it had nothing to do with the Titanic passenger. He, too, is a composer, as you may know by watching our library's YouTube videos. These coincidental details bring home the human tragedy of the Titanic's sinking. There needn't have been so great a loss of lives, if the White Star Line had cared more about providing ample lifeboats instead of unimportant aesthetic or space-use considerations.
If you are able to attend the exhibition in the future at its various touring destinations, please make every effort to go. It is an emotional and thought-provoking, human experience.