This morning Melissa and I ventured downtown Kitchener to take in the Titanic exhibit at The Museum. Sherry had seen the permanent exhibit in Halifax, so it would have been hard to impress her. 🙂

I was told this local exhibit is a bit more extensive than the standard travelling version, but not as big as the permanent one (unsurprisingly). I’d heard good things from those who’ve been to see it already. Admission for us non-member adult types was $20.

Upon entering we received a “boarding pass”, with information about a particular passenger — name, class, travelling companions, reason for travelling, etc. Its main use wouldn’t become apparent until the end of the jaunt through the exhibit.

They did a good job of placing the Titanic within its time and culture, in terms of the technology, what was going on in the world, and even the social class stratifications it illustrated. There was a good mix of personal item artifacts and ship artifacts, though I admit those placed without context weren’t all that compelling. After all, it is the stories that draw us in. There’s even an iceberg, which was a big tactile hit with the kids present.

(Note: The display cases are outfitted with alarms, and any time they’re brushed or bumped the alarms buzz for about 20 seconds. This is not uncommon, but is somewhat annoying.)

In the earlier parts of the exhibit there were plaques about various passengers and families — who they were, what they did, where they were from and going to, what class they were in, etc. They would pop up here and there in the exhibit, giving a bit of a narrative as to the ship’s “population”, and it worked well at the end when you were informed of their fate. (Spoiler: almost none of them made it.)

Interestingly as well, many of the people noted weren’t supposed to be on the Titanic at all. They’d had passage booked on other ships, but were transferred or had to re-book due to a coal strike. And of course there were any number of people who were supposed to be on the ship but weren’t due to this or that circumstance — illness, change of plans, etc.

The most compelling artifacts were those either placed in a facsimile display of how they were found, or displayed simply, next to a large scale photo of them in situ at the wreck site. The wrought iron end piece of a bench, a stack of gratin dishes perfectly arranged in rows, a chandelier from the first class men’s smoking lounge… You could marvel over the fine condition of the piece, or the destruction caused by the wreck and decades underwater. I was somewhat amazed at the good condition of many paper items. But then, there’s not much light or oxygen 12,500 feet beneath the waves.

There have been a great many items recovered, apparently, from one gent (Henry or Howard something…?) They found his trunk full of belongings — only thing was, he wasn’t on the ship. He and a friend were supposed to sail, and his things were taken aboard, but he was apparently “shanghai’d” the previous night and taken aboard a ship headed for Asia as part of a press gang. He escaped in Egypt and eventually made it back to the US. Presumably he never got his things back. His travelling companion died.

There were also re-creations of a first class and third class cabin. Certainly there was a great difference between the two, though the third class bunks looked quite comfortable and surprisingly spacious. The beds were mahogany, and unlike most steerage of the day, had real mattresses. Third class only had two bathtubs for 710 passengers, however, as the exhibit noted, back then most folks bathed at most once a week, so it wasn’t quite the hygiene horror we’d consider it today.

At the end of the exhibit, there were four boards showing first, second and third class passengers, as well as crew. Also displayed were the numbers of people saved and lost in each group. Unsurprisingly, the percentages of survivors were far lower in third class (24.5%) and among the crew (23.8%) than among first class passengers (60.5%). My boarding pass passenger, Mrs. Baxter, survived, as did her daughter and son’s secret mistress. Her son, Quigg, did not.

Did you know that, of the infamous band that kept playing lively tunes to keep passengers calm, as contractors, none of them was required to remain on the ship and they could have attempted to escape in the lifeboats? Every one of them went down with the ship.

Total number of survivors: 706. Total number perished: 1517. As the North Atlantic water was below freezing that night (salt water freezes below the freezing point of fresh water), most people died of hypothermia, not drowning.

All in all, a fine way for a history buff to spend an hour or so. And even if you’re well familiar with the ship, the movie, the documentaries, and everything else, there’s always interesting things to learn, particularly the stories of the people. For more interesting tales and stats, of course, there’s always Wikipedia.

2 Comments on “Iceberg, Right Ahead!”

  1. Nice post. I'm confused about something, though:

    “Also displayed were the numbers of people saved and lost in each group. Unsurprisingly, the percentages of those who died were far higher in third class (24.5%) and among the crew (23.8%) than among first class passengers (60.5%)”

    Were those numbers supposed to be the percentage who died, or who were saved? I'd guess saved. Note -if you replace “died” with something like “who were saved”, you'll still have the problem of 60.5 being higher than 23.8 and 24.5.

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