Seize the moment. Remember all those women
on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
– Erma Bombeck
Google “Titanic Museum” and you will be surprised by how many sites are revealed. Las Vegas, Branson, Pigeon Forge, and Halifax all advertise amazing exhibits. Add to that the short term traveling exhibits at museums with greater callings (such as the Portland Science Center in ME) and it is easy to see that, more than 100 years after its sinking, the Titanic still fascinates us. The Titanic Experience in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a very good museum and I recommend it if you are curious about this blockbuster event from the early 20th century.
Belfast is where the Titanic was built. (They love to add “It was just fine when it left here.”) The two year old museum is located in the Harland and Wolff dockyards where the hull was created (easily visible from our cruise pier but a cab ride away by land). The museum incorporates excellent multisensory presentations and displays to engage visitors about much more than just the sinking of the behemoth. Beginning with the setting in Belfast, visitors learn about the city’s two main industries at the turn of the century – linen mills and ship building. Other sections of the museum depict the construction methods, the furnishings, the sailing and the sinking.
The construction work was physically demanding and dangerous. (OSHA would not know where to begin.) For example, the rivets used to connect the steel plates were heated white-hot on the ground. Young boys would pick up a rivet with tongs and toss it up to the riveting site many feet above. There another youngster would catch the rivet in a bucket (or maybe not). He would transfer it to the men applying the rivets. One man would put the rivet in place through two aligned holes (with tongs? hot pads?) and hold it in place with a small sledge hammer. Two men on the other side of the plates would immediately pound the exposed end of the rivet with alternating blows while it was still very hot and malleable to flatten and secure it. Hearing loss was a frequent health hazard for riveters.
One other interesting tidbit I remember is this: since there were no laundry facilities on board the ship sailed with 45,000 clean, pressed napkins!
The first class cabins are what usually feature in film treatments of the ship’s story, but bits of the second and third class accommodations appear in the 1997 James Cameron film. The intent of the décor for first and second class space was to look like a classy hotel rather than a ship. But the lowest category cabins, emigrant class, were not posh at all. Four single men would share one bunk room. Single women traveling could share a twin bunk room. The single women would share dining and lounge space with emigrant families, only slightly segregated from the single men.
Comparing this largest ship of its time against current ships, the Titanic had dimensions close to our mid-size ships (such as Celebrity’s Infinity). The space-to-passenger ratio by tonnage looks much larger than current ships but that is misleading. Modernization has freed up a great deal of space usable for passengers (space no longer required for furnaces and boilers) to make a voyage more comfortable for everyone. She had a capacity for 2453 passengers but was only about half full on the maiden voyage. Even with that there were not enough lifeboats for the people on board. The assumption in those days was that lifeboats would be used to transfer people to an assisting ship in multiple trips rather than evacuate the entire population at once.
The iceberg collision and sinking are truly tragic. In the final section of the museum visitors hear the actual voices of survivors describing their experience.
Why are we so fascinated with this ship? Is it the pride (the Unsinkable Ship) that went before the fall (nature’s iceberg beats human steel) that draws us? Is it the loss of life which could have been avoided? (Lifeboat requirements were changed after this incident.) What draws you back to the Titanic?
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
28 July 2016