In commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of Titanic sinking, the San Diego Natural History Museum at Balboa Park is currently hosting an exhibition called “Titanic: The Artifacts Exhibit.” For the first time in San Diego, visitors will have the chance to learn more about the “unsinkable” ship, from construction to demise.
“The exhibit has been touring for over 15 years. This is its first time being in San Diego,” RMS Titanic, Inc. spokesperson Theresa Nelson said.
RMS Titanic’s partnership with the NAT allowed San Diego the honor of the exhibit’s visit for its 100th anniversary, Nelson said.
As visitors enter the exhibit they are transported into the world of Titanic as it once was, with a strict social class system and opulent design. Visitors are given boarding passes with a real passenger’s name and information as they enter the exhibit, and at the end they find out if their passenger survived.
The goal of the exhibit is to “preserve and continue the legacy of not only the ship itself, but more importantly, the passengers and crew members,” Nelson said. “The best way to do that is through the authentic artifacts. If (the artifacts) were to be left down (on the ocean floor) it would be a matter of time until they disintegrate. Through conserving, displaying and telling the stories of the passengers and crew members, we are able to preserve that legacy.”
Every room of the exhibit takes visitors through the Titanic’s stages. The first room showcases the building phase with authentic machinery and engine pieces. As visitors walk through the following rooms, the strict social class system is highlighted.
The exhibit recreates a luxurious first-class stateroom juxtaposed with a third-class stateroom recreation where visitors can hear the broiler, see the distinct living conditions and read family stories on the walls.
Every room is a new experience, as each sense is heightened in the recreation of the Titanic. Other experiences include a boiler room, a first-class café and a picture of the grand staircase covering an entire wall.
There is even an iceberg visitors can touch, demonstrating how cold the water was the night the ship sank. The atmosphere in the room displaying the ship’s sinking is cold and dark, inducing a faint sensation of panic. Quotes from passengers are written on the walls. Last words of fellow crewmembers and the elite are painted next to artifacts they owned. Visitors may almost feel as though they are on the ship, preparing for something terrible to happen.
“You’ll learn about the choices that people make, about man’s technology and how it can fail,” curator Alexandra Klingelhofer said in an interview with San Diego 10News. “There are so many stories to tell.”
The exhibit’s features are authentic and tangible. From the jewelry, calling cards, luggage and dishes to actual pieces of the ship, it becomes real. All of the exhibit’s artifacts were removed from the debris around the ship.
Throughout the exhibit, visitors are immersed in the Titanic’s story, as well as quotes and pictures of how the artifacts were removed from the ocean floor and to whom they belonged.
“There are over 200 artifacts in the exhibit,” Nelson said. “One-hundred and seventy-five haven’t been seen on the West Coast.”
While the vessel’s construction, its maiden voyage, life on board and its sinking create an intriguing historical story, the Titanic’s true enchantment lies in the stories of its passengers and crewmembers.
At the end of the exhibit, a memorial honors and venerates those who lost their lives and those who survived the tragedy while showcasing passengers’ stories and their belongings. Many passengers were not even intended to board the Titanic, but because of uncontrollable circumstances, had to switch tickets.
“The most poignant moment of the exhibit is the final gallery, the memorial gallery,” Nelson said. “What most people remember is the haunting emotional connection to the lives lost on the Titanic.”
April 14 will mark the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking, but San Diegans will have plenty of time to commemorate as the exhibit runs through Sept. 9.