Friday, October 12, 2012
Immerse yourself in Titanic exhibition in Fort Worth
The exhibit runs October 13 through March 24 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
FORT WORTH One century after the loss of the most notorious ship to never reach New York, the RMS Titanic, Inc. is resurrecting the memories in North Texas. The new Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is a unique lesson in history taught through the stories of those passengers who lost their lives and the more than 250 possessions that succeeded them.
“These artifacts are pieces of the ship, but also pieces of people’s lives,” said Mark Lach, creative director and designer of the exhibit, to a group of press representatives Thursday. “For me, that’s what I’m really able to connect to.”
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is a gallery of relics as well as an interactive space. The exhibition, opening Saturday, October 13 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, is one of several collections on tour in the United States and the first of its kind in Dallas-Forth Worth. Titanic is the only show in the museum’s three years of existence to encompass the entire 14,000 square feet of display space on the second floor. And for good reason.
The tour du Titanic begins with a boarding pass, each with a distinguished identity of an actual passenger from 1912. Participants then pass through a series of halls recreating the phases of the Titanic, from its inception and construction to its ultimate demise. The exhibit’s ability to immerse the viewer in the story of Titanic is impeccable, driven by sensory additives. The first hall introduces a number of influential players including Thomas Andrews, who designed the ship, and Edward Harland, whose firm built the revolutionary machine.
A ramp from the first hall, decorated like a dock with bright lights and loud music, leads into a recreation of the first-class passageways, complete with elegant chandeliers, oriental rugs, and door numbers. Classical music flints in the background as wonderment teases the imagination to picture what lies behind the doors. The answer, sure enough, is around the next corner in a hall decorated like a ship cabin bedroom. Clothing, cufflinks, fur, jewelry, floor tiles, even paper money are on display unscathed from decades at the bottom of the ocean.
“Many of these items were found in leather cases or trunks,” explained Lach in a private conversation. “The way the leather was tanned back in those days actually repelled the microorganisms [under water] and kept many things preserved.”
Life in the lap of luxury quickly fades moving forward in the exhibit hall. Viewers are taken next into a third class passageway where the bedroom is much more modest and the burly engine roars. One level lower into the ship is the boiler room full of tools representative of the time period. The exit of this room is through a mock “watertight door” into an ominous black hallway.
Iceberg Warning, reads the wall. A tiny chill grabs hold of the room and an eerie silence looms for the next several minutes. There is no surprise ending to this story.
Exclusive to the Fort Worth exhibit is a research and development room that reveals the excavation and documentation practices on the Titanic site, which is located 963 miles northeast of New York. Lach has been down to the Titanic twice in the last decade and describes it as overwhelming. The journey down is about two and a half hours in pitch black, he said, followed by a 10-hour exploration where submarines use sonar waves to detect the contour of items and digitally map out the site.
“We felt a soft pat landing on the bottom of the ocean,” Lach said. “Up came the lights and we were at the base of bow.”
The nature of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is awe-inspiring, but two aspects make it unlike any other experience. First, the condition of materials recovered from the sunken ship is baffling. Porcelain dishes and figurines came up without a chip and have been restored to look brand new. One top hat on display is perfect in shape and color, while a pair of white arm gloves look freshly dry-cleaned. A tiara contained just a few jewels missing -- a curious observation given the dramatic plunge of the ship.
Second, the artifacts on display, accompanied by personal descriptions and voices in the exhibit, culminate in an astonishingly human experience. We wanted to exclaim at the foreboding irony and gape at the truth behind the glass. Some areas allowed us to touch pieces on display, contributing to its realness.
At the end of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is a memorial wall with the names of the estimated 2,200 passengers on the maiden voyage. There are two categories — Lived and Lost. Every unique name on a boarding pass distributed at the beginning of the trip is somewhere up on that wall. Thanks to the relics of remembrance, the spirit of that fatal journey lives on 100 years later.
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