The tragic 1912 sinking of the luxury ocean liner RMS Titanic with the loss of some 2,200 passengers is a story that still captivates modern-day imaginations.
Within that story are countless stories, inspired by the passengers on board and the items recovered from the ship’s ruins, as visitors to the Mayborn Museum will discover beginning Saturday as the nationally touring “Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibition” opens a seven-month run.
“Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibition” features more than 150 objects found during deep-sea expeditions to the wreck site in the north Atlantic Ocean, supplemented by replica items, rooms, a frozen iceberg wall, videos and displays.
Visitors will start with the construction of the ship, one of three luxury liners owned by the English White Star Lines. They will relive the short few days on the inaugural voyage from Southhampton, England, to New York, then witness its fatal collision with an iceberg, followed by the sinking in which only a third of the passengers survived.
Seen as a tale of human hubris in light of nature’s or God’s power, or as the drama of a comfortable voyage turning into deadly disaster, or the human heartbreak of families touched by death, the liner’s final moments continue to draw attention.
“It’s a Greek tragedy . . . a timeless story,” said Alexandra Klingelhofer, vice president of collections for Atlanta-based Premiere Exhibitions, Inc. “It affects people in different ways.”
The exhibit, one of several Titanic-related shows mounted and operated by Premiere Exhibitions, Inc., may set the Mayborn Museum on a voyage of its own. Mayborn officials consider it their first blockbuster exhibit — a subject of national interest, whose anticipated audiences are requiring new procedures of timed tickets, advance purchases, entry line management, overflow parking and the like.
Tickets for “Titanic” will feature timed entry at 15-minute intervals. Tickets for specific dates and times can be purchased online, but tickets also can be purchased on site for the next available time, with a waiting area for those needing to wait until entry.
Many of the Mayborn’s past touring exhibitions were set up within a week of their opening, but installing “Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibition” took its crew 17 days, four of which spent on installing trusses and lighting.
The artifacts in the show were chosen to show passengers’ experience on the White Star Lines’ luxury liner as well as individual stories connected with specific items. To make that connection to individual stories, exhibit tickets resembling boarding passes will have a passenger’s name. A wall of survivors’ names at exhibit’s end will allow visitors to see if their passenger was one of the 705 who survived. “It just brings all that home,” said Klingelhofer, overseeing the Mayborn installation.
White Star Lines, its emblem a red-and-white starred swallow-tailed, or twin-tailed pennant, intended comfortable passage for its three classes of passengers, Klingelhofer explained.
A reconstructed First Class cabin features a standard sized bed, desk and chair, sofa, wooden table and chairs with electric lights in wall sconces, all done in Dutch Modern interior with dark red walls. Toiletry items—a cold cream container, shaving brushes and a pre-tube container holding cherry toothpaste —suggest their First Class owners, some of whom enjoyed adjoining bathrooms while others had shared baths down the hallway.
Faucets recovered in the expeditions show hot and cold water available for baths, but not that those baths were salt water, with a pitcher of fresh water nearby to wash off the salt water, said Klingelhofer.
Bath tiles of different patterns and color distinguished the classes’ bathrooms as did china patterns and colors for liner’s dining service: basic red-and-white for Second and Third Class, more varied service, including cups of cobalt blue with gold trim, for First Class.
Missing from all is the name Titanic — rather than brand items for each of its three luxury liners, the Olympic, the Titanic and the Britannic, the steamship company put its name and logo on everything. “Nothing says Titanic. They were ordering for three huge ships,” Klingelhofer noted.
A smaller Third Class cabin with two bunk beds with White Star blankets and a table in between show even Third Class wasn’t ignored. “(White Star) was aiming to provide a better class of service, even to the third class,” she said. “The food was of high quality as well.”
High-quality and plenty of it: The Titanic sailed with provisions to provide some 30,000 meals during its five-day voyage, including 1,500 bottles of wine and 20,000 bottles of beer.
Interrupting thoughts of pleasant accommodations is a short blue, frost-covered wall that’s cold to the touch — a reminder that exposure in the cold Atlantic killed passengers after the ship’s sinking as much as drowning did.
Artifacts recovered in expeditions to the sea floor, the first in 1987, tell other stories. A solid brass chandelier from a smoking room, torn from the ceiling and twisted either in the ship’s breaking up or the water pressure deep under the surface. Metal cookware corroded by decades of salt water. A gong that signaled the ship’s firemen and trimmers which of the Titanic’s six boilers needed coal.
As the ship was sinking, the firemen stayed on duty to keep the boilers fired and the electricity going in the Titanic’s final hours. “”They were the true heroes. Without them, there would have been no electricity (in the ship’s final hours),” she said. “Their commitment allowed everyone who could, to escape.”
The exhibit’s memorial section has items with specific passenger stories. Vials of floral oils collected by a chemist for perfumes. A suitcase carried by one passenger for his brother, who had left earlier for America on another ship. Dance shoes from a young English expatriate in Argentina, traveling from his English boarding school to attend a brother’s wedding in America.
The exhibit opens at noon Saturday for the general public with Mayborn Museum members with tickets allowed to enter between 9 a.m. and noon. Anyone who buys tickets in person once the exhibit opens will have to wait for the next available time slot.
The Mayborn foyer is being rearranged to accommodate waiting lines for the show, with the first-floor cafe moved upstairs to free up space, Nall said. The museum also will work with McLane Stadium for spillover parking, when space at the stadium is available.
A sold-out Titanic soiree, replete with attendees in period costume, will be held Friday night with exhibit admission preceding a dinner at the Baylor Club with Titanic-related music, including the 1997 film’s “My Heart Will Go On,” from Baylor performers Julia Powers and Jonathan Pinto.