Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review of the Titanic Exhibit

Yesterday my 11-year-old son and I went to see the Titanic exhibit at the Hartford Civic Center. I couldn't find much online about the exhibit. The page on the Civic Center website is pretty "unappetizing" and I was concerned that it'd be a rip-off. But once we went, we found it was well worth it.

When we got there, we were handed two "boarding passes" and were told that we should look at the wall at the end of the exhibit to see whether we survive or not. We went ahead and purchased two audio tours and headed in. (The audio tours were of the wand-type, and could easily be shared between two or three people. They were $7 each.)

The first "room" was set up to suggest the docking area. Here we saw artifacts having to do with the outside of the boat, including the only piece of rope they have been able to retrieve. They also had big murals depicting people planning and building it.

So we stepped up on board and entered a hall which was set up like the hall would have been in first class, with doors and beautiful carpeting leading the way down to the next area. They had great sound effects too, with what sounded like a crowd cheering the ship off. The hall led to an open area with dozens of artifacts depicting what traveling in first class would've been like. It was fun to read about Margaret Brown who we knew about from the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown. And as students of "Titanicology", we really, really loved seeing all the genuine artifacts that they pulled out of the water.

Next was another hall which depicted third class. We saw a tiny room with two bunk beds in it, and got to hear what it would've sounded like down in the bowels of the ship, so near the motor. After that was one of the boiler rooms. They had a huge chunk of coal which they had retrieved from the site, and rows of furnaces where the coal was inserted (this was actually ingeniously presented with a short row elongated with mirrors). This is the room where the exhibit began to present information about the crash. On the end of it was a "wall of ice" which people were invited to touch, and thereby understand that most people died from hypothermia rather than drowning. (I had to swipe this photo off Google Images, since I actually adhered to the no picture-taking rule.)

The room we arrived in next started the focus on the retrieval efforts; a bunch of items in cases were in the middle of the room, and along the walls were those same items in photographs as they were found at the site of the wreckage. Finally we learned about the people on the ship. Along the walls were written the stories of various passengers, and below each story were artifacts connected to that person. It was really fascinating. They actually had vials of perfume from someone going to the U.S. to sell them, and holes in the exhibit so we could smell them!

Also in the last room were a couple of large panels telling stories of people specifically connected to Connecticut, and of course, the large wall where we could take out our "boarding passes" to find out if we survived.

It took us about two and a half hours to walk through, and we were really sad when it was over. Since they did not allow photographs, I was really disappointed not to find postcards in the gift shop. (Why doesn't anyone sell postcards anymore?) All they had was a book about the exhibit for 15 bucks. I just wanted a few photos so I passed and bought myself a pencil. My son was thrilled when I treated him to a piece of coal from the ship, which even comes with a certificate of authenticity. It was 20 dollars for a piece the size of a marble, but totally worth my boy's excitement at owning something which was actually on the Titanic.

I have to say that this exhibit was phenomenal. It was so well conceived and executed, and truly involved all the senses, which helped make it so memorable. It brought the story alive in a way that all the DVD's and books have only done in a way that we now realize was superficial.

If you are fans of the Titanic, I'd highly recommend it.