It was nearly a century ago now that the RMS Titanic, the world's largest and most luxurious vessel, sank during her maiden voyage after colliding with a North Atlantic iceberg.
Most of us are familiar, if not fascinated, with this historic tragedy and the real objects and real stories presented in the Milwaukee Public Museum's "Titanic -- The Artifact Exhibition," opening Friday, Oct. 10 and running through May 25, 2009, bring us even closer to the fateful events of April 14 and 15, 1912.
"Our most important mission is to use these artifacts to tell stories that help us understand ourselves -- and history -- better," says Milwaukee Public Museum President Dan Finley of the 270 authentic pieces on display. "There is no greater nautical story than Titanic."
The primary focus of "Titanic" are the personal stories of the real survivors and victims -- examples of human triumph as well as a critique for the unfortunate circumstances -- which illicit an emotional curiosity about the thousands of passengers, ranging from third-class European immigrants and first-class captains of industry.
"Each person touched by this exhibit comes away with a special connection to the ship," says Cheryl Mure, education director for the exhibit touring firm, Premier Exhibitions. "You become a passenger. Their story is your story."
The exhibit, which has been touring the globe for the last 14 years, is in fact designed to transport each visitor back to 1912 as a "passenger" boarding the mighty Titanic for the first time. Upon entering, each person receives a "boarding pass" with the name of an actual passenger. The "Memorial Gallery" at the end informs them if they survive or perish with the sinking ship.
The exhibition begins jovially, highlighting an exciting new era of technological advancement in the United States. The first few rooms resemble loading docks, decked out in cargo boxes, piles of rope, luggage and upbeat mariner music. Wall hangings explain the ship's innovative design and "unsinkable" construction.
The next gallery re-creates the first-class cabins, multi-room suites sold for $2,500 at the time ($43,860 today), and the more modest third-class rooms, which were about on par with most other ships' first-class lodging.
Period music guides guests to the stately grand staircase where the elite gathered to socialize -- and where, less than two days before reaching New York, they held a gala celebrating the Titanic's safe journey.
The exhibit turns a corner and, just like that, the ice sightings begin. The classical music that previously enchanted is quickly hushed and now the dim, dreamy lights casts an arctic blue hue onto the illuminated signs warming of the impending danger ahead.
A replica iceberg glows from the corner of the room and emits a 28-degree chill though the space. Guests are encouraged to touch it to get a feel for the bitter cold the ship's passengers endured until daybreak. Most of the 1,500 people who were lost died from hypothermia.
"Titanic" concludes with a tribute to the ship's Wisconsin passengers as well as homage to local shipwrecks, such as the 1975 loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest ship on the Great Lakes.
Tickets are $21 for adults on weekdays, $24 on weekends and $10 members. Tickets for kids (3-12) are $13 on weekdays, $15 on weekends and $5 members.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”