Ship of Dreams
you ready to go back to Titanic?" --
From the blockbuster movie
I admit it... I saw Titanic
twice on the silver screen and have watched the video at home
numerous times. My end-of-the-20th-century New Year's Eve party
theme was "Last Dinner on the Titanic." Guess you could
say I've had a fascination for the great ship since reading A
Night to Remember over forty years ago. Forty! Yes, it's been
that long since Walter Lord hooked me with his vivid story of the
vessel, the passengers, and the tragedy.
My curiosity whetted
by a dear friend's description of an exhibition then in Orlando, and
with a bit of time to spare while driving across Florida, it was
only natural that I would stop to see Titanic,
The Experience. It was well worth the time for maritime history or movie buffs.*
Right away I knew this
would be no ordinary theme park-style event. My ticket of passage
identified me as Miss Mildred Brown and I was solemnly instructed by the
"purser" at the ticket booth to check the passenger list
at the end of the voyage to determine if I was a survivor.
My fellow "passengers"
and I watched an informative video about Titanic playing on a
bank of television screens until a young woman in period dress
announced it was time to "board." As we stepped forward
she announced our "names" and turned us over to our
hostess—a "film star" of the day, hired by the White Star
Line to promote their newest and grandest ship. Before entering the
ship, we proceeded to the White Star Line offices to be greeted by
Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director. On his office walls are
rare blueprints of White Star vessels.
Anticipation built as
we were then led to the graving yard. There we got our first glimpse
of Titanic—through a window she awaited fitting out and the
installation of her stacks. Of course, it's just a huge photograph,
but the young man who took over our tour at this point made a
genuine attempt to make us believe it was the real thing. His Irish
brogue was thick and nearly incomprehensible as he enthusiastically
described the ship's huge propeller, or screw, which takes up an
entire wall—and it's not even the BIG one!
Picking our way over
ropes and rivets, it was time to begin exploring on our own...
her to sea, Mr. Murdoch. Let's stretch her legs." --
From the blockbuster movie
At last we found
ourselves pier side, surrounded by antique steamer trunks and
preparing to board. But first, we looked overhead and waved at the
"passengers" already at the rail attired in costumes from
the Broadway musical Titanic.
At this point we began
speaking in whispers as the enormity of what we were about to view
washed over us. Even boisterous children became subdued. Historic
treasures unfolded, not the least of which is a table crafted from
debris from the luxurious liner and actual Titanic floor
tile, left over after the completion of the ship. While some of the
artifacts are from Titanic, most were salvaged from her
sister ship Olympic and other White Star vessels of the
Before moving on, a
steward beckoned us to peek at the sumptuous sitting room of a
first-class "millionaire's" suite and to step on the
thickly padded carpeting. Recreated to scale, it was larger than I
imagined, and only one of the several rooms comprising the suite. A
far cry from modern cruise ship staterooms!
Next I entered the
Palm Court with settings of china, silver, and crystal bearing the
White Star logo. I could help but wonder, who used that tiny silver mustard jar and sipped
from that delicate goblet? To the accompaniment of familiar music
from the blockbuster movie, I made my way to the full-scale replica
of the Grand Staircase. Here's where a sense of unreality began to
set in... it appeared so, well, small compared to what I
expected. Eerily, the taped voice of a survivor described her
experience on that night to remember.
Vaguely unsettled, I
passed stateroom corridors and watertight doors, stopping at the
automobile in the ship's hold. Familiar movie sights and sounds
prevailed. In a darkened room under glass are letters and other
memorabilia taken by the survivors into their lifeboats... water
stained. And on the far wall—an "iceberg." Touching it, I
quickly pulled my hand away. It was colder than I could stand.
in the crow's-nest of the New White Star Liner Titanic, Lookout
Frederick Fleet peered into a dazzling night. It was calm,
clear and bitterly cold. There was no moon, but the cloudless
sky blazed with stars" -- From A Night to
Remember, by Walter Lord
Outside on deck, it was
freezing... it was, as my friend described it,
"breathtaking." I moved to the railing, mesmerized by the
stars overhead. Then I noticed it—a deck chair
encased in glass. An actual deck chair from Titanic. Preserved all
these years. I shuddered to think of it in the icy water under the
starry sky. Tears filled my eyes as I imagined a passenger,
desperate for survival, clinging to it until the end. I began losing
my composure as I noticed another small bit of history—a pill box
crafted from a bit of wood taken from the ship's floating debris.
I really lost it in
the next room as I stood before a life vest worn by a survivor. No
longer were these elegant and intriguing artifacts, but terrible
evidence of human tragedy.
I wasn't the only person wiping
back tears while passing through the gallery of motion picture
memorabilia. I glanced briefly at the costume worn by Leonardo
DeCaprio in Titanic, and items from A Night to Remember starring
Kenneth More and The Search for Titanic, hosted by Orson
Welles. Compared to the deck chair and life vest, they seemed
Clearing my eyes, I searched for
"my" name... Miss Mildred Brown.
I discovered I was a second class
passenger. I survived.
Star Line Logo & RMS Titanic
* While the
experiential exhibit I visited is no longer available, you may find
another one as the fascinating artifacts
are often on display.