Saturday, June 25, 2016

Titanic: The Exhibition

 A couple of weeks ago, I heard that the Portland Science Center would be exhibiting artifacts from the Titanic. I knew right away I had to go because I've always been interested in this story from history. Even before the 1997 film came out, I would read about it in my history books and try to absorb the immense impact this tragedy must have had on the world back then, and how its story has since been told.

First, I must address the radio commercial I heard advertising the exhibit. It wasnn't from the museum itself, it was from a company called Seacoast Deals, which works with local businesses to provide discounts for shows, attractions and products. It was a typical radio ad, with a booming, excited voice urging us to "Come see the Titanic exhibit!" and I just don't equate a cheesy, hyper voice with artificial excitement with a human tragedy. It was the same kind of voice that someone would use to advertise a new 3D movie or a water park, not a museum exhibit.

It was amazing to view the artifacts knowing that they'd been 
unseen, over two miles beneath the ocean's surface for 90 years.

I was also a little appalled at the way museum visitors are posed in front of a green screen upon entering the exhibit. When we visited the National Football Museum in Cleveland in November, we used a couple props and posed in front of a green screen to create a souvenir photo. Doing the same thing for a museum exhibit showcasing the possessions of people who perished in one of the worst accidents in history felt really strange. We didn't want to cause a scene to the guy taking the photos, after all he's just doing his job, but we didn't even bother looking at the photos. We didn't come to the exhibit to make our own memories, we came so that we could learn more about the memories of the people on board.

I have to admit that the mechanical artifacts didn't really interest me as much; lumps of coal, gears and other various machinery bits only emphasize the core of the conflict: our blind faith in technology/engineering. As humans we are incredibly self-centered and we think that if we work hard enough or design something complex enough that nothing could possibly triumph over it. We often forget how powerful nature can be.

The artifacts that I think most people were interested in were the ones that had a human aspect to them because they seem to have a voice, seem to tell the story not of the ship but of the passengers.

 These artifacts were toiletries, including a brush, comb, toothpaste jar cover and even a soap container that had soap in it.

These artifacts were personal belongings, either brought from home or purchased on a shopping excursion. The figurine up front is thought to be a souvinier  from Holland.

This case contained some remnants of a little girl's tea set. A reminder of all the children who were on board, and a sorrowful metaphor representing the loss they suffered: either their lives or their innocence. I wonder how the ones who survived must have coped with the horrible scenes they witnessed that night.

I was taken with this story, about the the perfume maker Adolphe Saalfeld, who was traveling from his home in Manchester, England to New York in order to try selling his products there. I first read about this particular story in the book The Hollow, a paranormal romance story by Jessica Verday.

And being the classic film amateur that I am, I was already aware of the significance of the passenger named Dorothy Gibson. Gibson was a film actress, and following the sinking, she starred in a film called Saved From the Titanic, in which she wore the stained evening gown she had actually worn the night of the sinking. The film was released only a month after the tragedy, which just proves that profiting from the  tragedy has history as long and sordid as the ship itself.

You can find stills of the film, however the film was lost in a fire.

I took this photo of a gentleman's calling card because not only was he from Buffalo, NY, but the city's name is misspelled on the card.

Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibit. There was some background music playing in the building but I didn't mind it because it helped to cover up some of the murmured conversations people were having. 

The exhibit ends and leads you straight into the gift shop. I'm not really sure who feels the need for a piggy bank shaped like an iceberg or a t-shirt that says "Iceberg right ahead!", or why anyone would actually spend money on the 'souvinier' photo, but the people ahead of us were looking at the different backgrounds available for their smiling faces to be superimposed on.

I purchased one postcard, which I sent to someone.

I don't know if I'd go to another Titanic exhibit, but it did rekindle my desire for knowledge about it.

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