Titanic exhibit finds new emotion in 100-year-old artifacts

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard the story about the Titanic orchestra continuing to play as the ocean liner slowly descended into the North Atlantic Ocean.

Or read the accounts of Macy’s co-owner Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, who refused to leap into a lifeboat without him and chose to perish alongside her husband, the pair holding hands while seated in deck chairs.

The rich, haunting details of the doomed voyage to New York remain riveting -- and a historical tour of “Titanic” is back in Atlanta to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

Newly opened in the Premier Exhibition Center at Atlantic Station is “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” an 8,000-square-foot gallery filled with more than 200 artifacts, half of them making their world debut in Atlanta.

Though the city hosted a slightly larger “Titanic” exhibit at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center in 2006 and a slightly smaller one at Georgia Aquarium in 2008, the artifacts in this version are different than previous incarnations. In fact, since all of the relics are genuine, a visit to any of the eight exhibits nationwide will yield a unique experience.

For this 100th anniversary edition display in Atlanta, several rare items are included, such as the massive steel door of the D-Deck of the ship -- the only one in existence -- new 3-D video taken from a 2010 expedition to the wreckage site and a smattering of stories of passengers with local connections.

“The fascination with Titanic endures because of the story,” said Theresa Nelson, spokeswoman for RMS Titanic Inc. “You couldn’t have written it if you tried, that the richest and poorest people would be together and all meet with tragedy. It didn’t matter who you were or what your place was in society. Everyone met the same fate.”

The backgrounds of some of those people compose the most satisfying part of the exhibit, which takes about an hour to tour depending upon your dedication to reading story boards and examining glass-cased items such as a rusted porthole and compass, woolen socks and vests, water-stained money and a re-creation of a first-class cabin with ornate wooden furniture. (Price tag for a first-class ticket? About $57,200 today.)

A hallmark of the “Titanic” visit is the “boarding pass” you receive when entering, which includes a passenger’s name, steerage class, reason for traveling and random fact. In one of the final rooms of the exhibit, a list of passenger names is posted, and visitors can cross-check their boarding pass to see whether they survived the voyage.

This reporter's visitor -- aka Miss Bertha A. Mayne, aka Mrs. de Villiers -- was traveling to Montreal with a new suitor, Mr. Quigg Baxter, in first class. Miss Mayne was a singer in nightclubs in Paris and Brussels who changed her name to gain access to the elite Paris social circle. She survived.

Though the intent of the boarding passes is lighthearted, there is much about the “Titanic” exhibit that will inspire pensiveness, including:

  • A glance at the disparity in menus between second- and third-class passengers (pureed turnips for one, cabin biscuits for the other).
  • Quotes stenciled on the walls of the exhibit, such as this one from passenger Edith Russell: "My feeling was so strong that I would never reach America in that ship."
  • The replicated boiler room with its burnt orange hue and back stories of the firemen who died shoveling coal to keep the electricity from sputtering out.
  • The "iceberg gallery," which details events from when lookout Fred Fleet declared "iceberg right ahead" to the quick determination that "the Titanic was doomed."
  • The iceberg wall, which visitors are encouraged to touch to comprehend the jolting freeze of the water that enveloped hopeful survivors.
  • Stories about passengers with Atlanta connections, such as military hero and journalist Archibald Butt and Jacques Futrelle, who started the sports section at the Atlanta Journal and married wife Lily May in Atlanta in 1895.

Exhibit review

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays (last ticket sold at 5 p.m.) and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Fridays-Sundays (last ticket sold at 6 p.m.). $24 (adults), $16 (children 4-12), $22 (seniors) and $30 (combo ticket with “Bodies ... The Exhibition”). Premier Exhibition Center, Atlantic Station, 265 18th St., Atlanta (second floor, escalator 5). 1-866-866-8265, www.titanicatlanta.com.

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