March 10, 2006

Queen Mary keeps Titanic memories afloat

Queen Mary keeps Titanic memories afloat
270 recovered artifacts in dramatic exhibition
Lauren Nelson, Staff Writer


What: 270 artifacts from the RMS Titanic, stateroom replicas and a collection of personal stories and photos.
Where: Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; through Sept. 4
Tickets: $16.95 adults, $14.95 seniors and military, $12.95 children 5-11
Information: (562) 435-3511
THOUGH WE ALL know the story, and have perhaps seen the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio more times than we'd like to admit, "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" at the Queen Mary brings to life the people and stories of the April 15, 1912 disaster that killed 1,500 people on their way to America.
Created by Premier Exhibitions, "Titanic" includes 270 fragile and authentic artifacts that have been recovered from the underwater wreckage site. The artifacts, along with a collection of personal stories and photos, provide a glimpse into the lives of the diverse passengers. The exhibit also includes replicas of the first- and third-class sleeping quarters and a memorial wall with the names of those who survived and those who did not.
The exhibition's location on the Queen Mary draws the emotion and tension to a level that would be impossible to emulate in a museum. Low ceilings, nooks and crannies, pipes and metal walls work in unison with the personal aspect of "Titanic," leaving visitors wondering how much is the Queen Mary and what is part of the exhibit.
"Titanic" will travel to other cities after its time in Long Beach, but John Zaller, director of exhibitions design for Premier Exhibitions Inc., says no other location will be able to offer visitors the kind of experience the Queen Mary can.
"We've never had an opportunity like this to present the excitement and drama of the era in which the ship was built, and it's never been told on a great ocean liner before," Zaller said.
When you enter the exhibit, the pristine Queen Mary quickly becomes the R.M.S. Titanic. Visitors receive their White Star Line "boarding pass" carrying the information of actual Titanic passengers.
At the entrance to the exhibit, there is an immediate sense of loss. A photo of engineers and workers standing beside the massive propellers captures the immensity of the luxury liner and the strength it came to represent.
The exhibit's narrow hallways are dark, with passengers' quotes and illuminated storyboards often the only light. Their personal stories and tales of the night's events cover the walls and hang between display cases with such items as a toothbrush without its bristles, yellowed luggage labels, children's marbles, playing cards, boots, corroded currency, costume pearls and full bottles of champagne.
"I want to create the moods of the Titanic story and to tell that story in a way that dignifies the passengers," Zaller said.
Like the story of Titanic passengers Brigit Delia McDermott and R. Norris Williams. McDermott, the night before leaving Addergoole, Ireland, for England with Williams and their third-class passage aboard the Titanic, gave a "wanderer" a few coins. He then told her there would be a tragedy, but she would be saved — and she was.
Or the story of tennis player R. Norris and his father, Charles D., who felt it was too cold to remain on the deck as the ship sank, so they went into the gym to
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ride exercise bikes. They also survived.
One of the latest discoveries, a steward's jacket with the name "Broome" clearly marked, indicates that it belonged to first-class steward Atho Frederick Broome who died when the ship sank. The jacket, full of holes and quite fragile, projects a mystery, as little is known of the person who once wore it.
Perhaps the most recognizable object in the RMS Titanic Inc. collection is the cherub statue that was somehow ripped from the staircase post it adorned when the ship sank. This once-bronze statue is now black and, in the exhibit, is accompanied by a life-size rendering of the staircase that was a popular meeting place for first-class passengers.
The wood cabinet in which a set of au gratin dishes were stored rotted away on the ocean floor, leaving the dishes pristine and untouched, stacked like dominoes. These dishes, as well as images of their recovery, are showcased in the exhibition, lying the same way they were found.
Each item in the exhibition was obtained from the Titanic by the creators of the exhibit. According to Zaller, Premier Exhibitions Inc. owns R.M.S. Titanic Inc. — the only company that has been granted authorization under federal law to remove artifacts from the wreckage site.
Equipped with mechanical arms capable of scooping and grasping, a submersible takes a recovery team — pilot, co-pilot and observer — to the wreck site located 963 miles northeast of New York and 453 miles southeast of the Newfoundland coastline. As soon as the pieces are brought to the surface, a conservation process to remove rust and salt deposits begins, assuring the stories will continue for many years.
Some artifacts, like a woman's powder box with loose powder, letters and paper documents with ink barely smeared and a perfume vial that still has its scent, are found still intact because they were sealed or lodged between other objects, or encased in leather, which kept them protected.
At the end of the exhibition, when the dropping temperatures have added the final chill, a real, touchable iceberg is revealed, providing an idea of just how cold it was on the night of the sinking.
Just beyond, visitors search for the names on their boarding passes along the memorial wall, which is separated by classes and survivors. Anticipation rises as each visitor searches for the name on his or her boarding pass among a tight list of scripted names. Did they make it? Or did they perish?
Few people will have the opportunity to explore the final resting site of the Titanic, but "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" provides a look into what it was like aboard the ship, as well as what it is like today, as the ship lies deteriorating on the ocean floor.
"It's an amazing and poignant story," Zaller said. "There's a resonance that goes beyond the story itself."
Lauren Nelson can be reached at (562) 499-1254 or

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