By DIANE V. PARHAM
A new exhibit at the S.C. State Museum marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous maritime disaster.
Each visitor receives a boarding pass with the identity of a real Titanic passenger, providing a perspective from which to experience the exhibit.
Titanic artifacts slideshow RMS Titanic, Inc., the company behind Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, holds the exclusive salvage rights to the wreck site of the famous passenger liner. Since 1987 the company has recovered and restored numerous objects, from china plates and dishes to jewelry, clothing and pieces of the ship itself.
Luxury was not part of Margaret Ford’s everyday life. But, in April 1912, something special awaited her—the chance to sail on the maiden voyage of the magnificent RMS Titanic.
At 48, abandoned by her husband, Margaret was struggling to feed her family with the meager earnings from her small poultry farm in Sussex, England.
Encouraged by her eldest daughter’s prosperous new life in the United States, Margaret scraped together $175 for third-class tickets for herself and her four younger children aboard the grand ocean liner. Traveling with her friend, Alice Harknett, Margaret looked forward to this once-in-a-lifetime journey and a fresh start in America.
The epic tale of the Titanic disaster, and all the personal stories of the people who sailed aboard the ill-fated ship, remain as riveting today as they were 100 years ago. Countless books and movies—including the newly released 3-D version of the 1997 blockbuster film—have invited us to relive the night when the “practically unsinkable” ship was ripped open by an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic, ending 1,523 lives.
Starting with the visitor's entry to the exhibit, every effort is made to convey the personal stories of the passengers and crew of the Titanic.
Personalizing that story is a key feature of Titanic
: The Artifact Exhibition, now on display at the South Carolina State Museum through Sept. 3.
Every visitor to the exhibit—man, woman and child—is issued an individual boarding pass with the identity of a real Titanic passenger and a few details about that person’s life—his or her hometown, for example, as well as the passenger’s level of accommodations on the ship. From that moment on, you experience everything you see in the exhibit from the intimate perspective of “your” passenger.
More than 125 artifacts recovered from the wreck are on display as guests move through recreated rooms and observe life-size photos of the ship’s interior. For the first half of the exhibit, jaunty period music plays in the background as you stroll and take in the grandeur of the ship. Is this where I might have slept? Are these the china plates on which I dined? Was that my hairbrush? My cufflinks? My spectacles? You are immersed in the story.
In 1912, a $35 ticket would reserve one of 10 bunk bed spaces in a third-class cabin (above), whereas an opulent first-class stateroom (below) went for $4,500.
has mystery, it has elegance, and there are a lot of human stories,” says Tut Underwood, the museum’s director of public information. “Older people grew up with it. Younger people have seen the movies. It’s a cultural touchstone that fascinates people and has for 100 years.”
Early on the morning of April 10, 1912, Margaret, her children and friend Alice boarded Titanic and found their way down to their third-class berths, known as steerage. Nothing like the opulence of the first- and second-class accommodations, to be sure, but far nicer than anything a third-class passenger would expect in that era. A $35 ticket—equal to $620 in today’s money—reserved bunk bed space in a cabin shared with nine other people. Separated by gender, Margaret and her two daughters bunked apart from her teenaged boys.
At the more lavish end of the spectrum, first-class passengers paid $4,500 ($79,000 today) for spacious suites with private promenades and elegant furnishings. No matter the accommodations, the same tragedy awaited all passengers. The ship set sail just before noon from Southampton, England, bound for New York.
Suddenly, the mood of the exhibit shifts. The setting grows darker; the air feels colder. The music is gone, replaced by groaning winds and metallic creaking. Stark black-and-white signs issue the actual ice warnings from the night of the accident. Titanic’s end is near.
This is one of the most compelling areas of the exhibit— where you see and feel what the passengers experienced on April 15, the cold, dark night of the ship’s sinking. Quotes from survivors describe exactly what they heard and felt, as well as the moment they knew something was terribly wrong. Most dramatically, a manmade iceberg is included in a hands-on exhibit, so you can feel the deathly cold that took the lives of most passengers.
“I liked the iceberg, because you could feel how cold it would have been, and look up at the stars, and imagine what it would have been like in that water,” says Allison Martin of Lexington, who visited the exhibit opening weekend with her husband, Stephen, and their sons, Stephen Jr., 20, and Benjamin, 11.
Margaret and her children were among hundreds of panicked third-class passengers who waited for their chance to escape the sinking ship. Stories persist from descendants of survivors about how the steerage passengers were kept below deck while the first- and second-class passengers boarded the few available lifeboats, women and children first. No evidence reveals a deliberate attempt to prevent their escape. It is possible, however, that ship stewards hoping to manage the chaos kept steerage passengers below while they waited for orders to admit them to the upper deck. That order never came.
The South Carolina State Museum is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia. Titanic: The Artifact
Exhibition runs through Sept. 3. Exhibit Hours: Monday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Last entry into the exhibit is 45 minutes prior to the museum’s closing.
Admission: Advance ticket purchase recommended. Ticket prices, including general museum admission, are $18 for adults (ages 13–61), $15 for seniors and $12 for children (ages 3–12). Discounts are available on the first Sunday of the month and for groups.
Details: (803) 898-4921; scmuseum.org
By the time you near the exhibit’s Memorial Gallery, you are anxious to learn the fate of your Titanic
persona—did you survive? A wall with the name and fate of each of the 2,228 passengers demonstrates that the odds are not in favor of third-class passengers and crew members—only about 25 percent of them survived the disaster, compared to 61 and 41 percent, respectively, for first and second class. Also featured here are heart-wrenching stories of individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice and last-minute reunions of family and friends.
“People really want to know if they survived,” says Selena Brown, museum public program assistant and a member of Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative. “There are a lot of different emotions—some children get really upset, and people want to know what happened to others in their party. They are fascinated by what happened.”
Margaret Ann Watson Ford, her four children—Dollina, 21, Edward, 18, William, 16, and Robina, 7—and family friend Alice Harknett are listed on the wall with every other passenger on the ship. You can discover their fate for yourself at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.