Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Titanic--nearing a century later


The Science Museum of Minnesota has a temporary exhibit on the Titanic. My daughter--a little Titanic nut around here, has wanted to see this exhibit since she heard it was coming a year ago. We finally went to see it on Sunday with my mom and a friend of my daughter. We once saw a Titanic exhibit at the Hampton Roads Marine Science Museum in Newport News, Virginia. I anticipated the exhibit to have much of the same materials. It was missing a deck chair discovered in an attic and verified years ago and a lifeboat. In many ways it did mirror the other--especially the large model and the cards assigning each visitor a person on the ship that left you wondering if you survived til the end. However, there were additional items that I thought were very noteworthy.

As a former museum archivist, I understand the need to preserve artifacts. Light and camera flashes can be very damaging to materials. In this respect, the museum's policy on no cameras makes sense. However, as a visitor, reporter and blogger--it was killing me. I LOVE my camera and taking photos. There was an opportunity for people to stand in front of a green screen and have a photo taken. Of course, the picture was available for purchase at the end of the exhibit where a special gift shop had been set up. People could pay six bucks for a single photo or get four for twenty five. I purchased four pictures. Merchandising may be inevitable, the photos a tad cheesy, but to an avid scrapbooker, it seemed totally reasonable. There was no way I was walking out of there without something for the scrapbook.

The exhibit shows the lavishness of the ship with a reproduction first class cabin and a dining room nook. People walked through stands of artifacts that were recovered from the site. For me the best part was a darkened room that had a backdrop of lights set up to resemble the night Arctic sky. In front of the lit cloth set an enormous block of ice that people could place their hand on. It was cold. Everyone knows ice is cold. As Minnesotans, we grow up throwing snowballs if we have gloves on or not. But to hold your hand on this enormous block of ice was an intimidating experience. Even more so when the fact that salty sea water freezes at 28 degrees--lower than the 32 degree freezing point of fresh water. Most of the people who died in the catastrophe did not die from drowning. Hypothermia was the major killer.

The exhibit discusses the tragedy of the deaths and the futility of the half empty life rafts. It also explains the miracle of the Carpathia radio man getting the plea for help at all. It speaks of the tragedy of how so many died--how horrible it was for people to say goodbye and ripped from loved ones. It speakes of the testament of love when the founders of Macy's refused to part. Mrs. Strauss refused to leave--"so they lived, they would die: together." Nearly a century after the great tragedy, the event was still powerful and moving. A section of the exhibit explains the rescue role the Carpathia played and the devastating wail of widows. The Carpathia shared the fate of the Titanic, sinking a few short years later during the first world war. The science behind the recovery is remarkable. Many times, iron, protected and destroyed by the sea simultaneously, can explode if exposed directly to the air when retrieved.

We finished the visit with a viewing of the omni movie: Titanica. My daughter really would love to go to the Titanic museum in Branson, Missouri; the museum at Nova Scotia and of course, the those in Liverpool and the Southampton. There is an online museum, (a search will bring many good ones) that has some interesting photos in case St. Paul is too far from you. We look forward to the upcoming exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Science Museum's annual Omnifest where many films are played during a few weeks. This year's films include: Africa's Giant Elephant, Into the Deep, Van Gogh: Brush with Genius, Greatest Places and Ski to the Max.

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