Although the ship may have gone down 100 years ago, almost 2,000 miles from where Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is displayed at Henry Ford Museum, its story hits closer to home than I had realized.
It turns out that 64 passengers aboard the luxurious liner were Michigan-bound. Close to half were headed to Detroit, Dearborn and Pontiac, with the majority of the rest heading to the Upper Peninsula’s mining region. Furthermore, the very first person to board one of the lifeboats was a young newlywed – Helen Bishop – from Sturgis, Mich. That fateful night in 1912, she and her husband were heading home after a three-month honeymoon abroad.
When it was my time to enter the exhibit, I was given a boarding pass that identified a real passenger who traveled on the ship, along with the class in which she traveled (although some other guests’ boarding passes listed crew members), where she was coming from, where she was going and if she were traveling alone or with others. That alone gave me a personal investment in the fate of that individual. I knew I was hooked.
The exhibit is very engaging, taking you on a journey beginning with the ship’s conception and construction to its tragic conclusion. I couldn’t help but feel the excitement at the very beginning: The innovative plans, the luxurious accommodations of the first- and second-class cabins, the dreams of those planning to make a new life in the United States, and the pre-voyage hype – even while knowing the sad irony of the ship being touted as “unsinkable.”
As I traveled through the exhibit, the stories of the passengers’ lives aboard it started to take shape. There I was, viewing actual artifacts carefully recovered from the ship’s wreckage almost two-and-a-half miles deep on the ocean floor. That, coupled with the recreated settings from the grand first-class to the simple, yet efficient, spaces of third-class and crew – I couldn’t help but enter right into the story. I think it was seeing the encased chandelier that had once hung in the ship’s first-class accommodations when the experience changed for me and became very real.
I followed the timeline of events with the other visitors in the exhibit, and when the ship’s unhappy fate became clear through a series of events and tragedy imminent – the mood for everyone present became much more somber.
The stories of some of the passengers traveling to Michigan that are highlighted in the exhibit really struck me because of their close connections to my own home state. Honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought. The ship was traveling to New York; I hadn’t contemplated the passengers’ final destinations.
But there were Michigan connections throughout the ship’s history, from passengers young and old (or newly married) to the Michigan senator who chaired the U.S. Senate hearings that began just one day after surviving passengers of the wreck arrived in New York, with the results of the investigations leading to significant maritime reform, much of which is still in place today.
At the conclusion of the exhibit, I stood with others as we quietly compared the names on our boarding passes with those on the Memorial Wall. Each of us wondered if our passenger was one of the 700 to survive…or one of the more than 1,500 to go down with the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.
I think the Titanic continues to fascinate because it had an impact on so many people – not just those aboard the ship, but their loved ones on the departing and waiting shores.
And I admit: I was relieved to learn that the third-class passenger on my boarding pass, who was traveling from Lebanon with her small children, had survived.
You can learn more about the Titanic exhibition on The Henry Ford’s blog.
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is at Henry Ford Museum through Sept. 30, 2012. It is a ticketed exhibit with timed entries. It is recommended that visitors purchase tickets in advance. The Henry Ford is offering and opportunity to win four tickets the exhibit and museum in its weekly Titanic Ticket Tuesday giveaway via Facebook. Also, on the second Tuesday of each month through Sept., the museum and exhibit are open late and there is a 7 p.m. featured Titanic-related presentation. Playing at The Henry Ford IMAX Theatre are James Cameron’s Titanic: An IMAX 3-D Experience and the documentary that takes film-goers to the underwater site of the ship – Titanica.
Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about coming events and visits to America’s Greatest History Attraction. All photos courtesy of Kristine.