Expo Review: Titanic Artifact Exhibition, Cape Town – Part 2

When you step into the upstairs level of the Watershed, where the second part of the Titanic Artifact Exhibition (running till March 13th) is housed, you instantly feel the change as the temperature drops, the spotlights seem to alter and even the music soundtrack makes a more dramatic shift as you are warned of an iceberg ahead.

There you will learn about the brave and hard-working men, who worked in the bowels of the Titanic’s Boiler rooms, where 159 coal-fired furnaces and 29 boilers would consume 825 tons of coal per day, as engineers – known as the ‘Black Gang’ – continued the constant cycle of shovelling and carting thousands of tons of coal every day to provide the steam necessary to power and turn the propellers.

These men were the true engines of the Titanic and even after she struck the iceberg, they remained at their posts in order to keep the lights on for as long as possible and more importantly, to keep the electric winches, which were used to lower the lifeboats, going. They would all die because of this but I feel their bravery and selfless acts should never be forgotten.

Titanic Light
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Nearby, some ceramics are displayed, including a marmalade and ceramic jug, as the information provided quickly begins to build up to the fateful collision and the loss of human life that would follow.

The coldness of the room adds to the feeling of suspense and foreboding and, as I read about the watertight compartments, which were found on the lowest six decks of the ship and were designed to close at the flip of a switch, I knew that here again, something else must have gone terribly wrong that night. Sure enough, you learn further on that the Titanic could stay afloat if only four of these compartments flooded – in the end, six flooded and there was no way for the ship to stay afloat. From that moment on, she was well and truly doomed.

Sinking Titanic
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Could her crash course have been avoided? The answer, many believe, is a firm yes. However, due to the speed she was travelling at (21 knots, this was almost full speed, as she could reach a maximum of 23 knots) she would have needed half a mile’s worth of distance to stop at this speed. Additionally, had she heeded several ice warnings from other ships (among them: The Caronia, The Baltic, The Amerika (though indirectly), S.S. Mesaba and finally, The Californian), she might never have struck the iceberg at all.

At 1:45 p.m., The Amerika sent out an ice warning and reported seeing two large icebergs. At 9:30 p.m., little under two hours before the Titanic would strike the iceberg, S.S. Mesaba reported passing “a great number of icebergs”, and finally, sometime later, the most frightening report of all, which staggered me, came from the Californian, who said, “We are stopped and surrounded by ice.”

On that icy cold, moonless night of April 14th, 1912, four days into her journey, as stars burn brightly against the dark North Atlantic sky, we discover the first of several grave errors: binoculars are missing from the Titanic’s crow nest. This meant that Reginald Lee and Frederick Fleet, the watchmen of the night, would have to rely only on human vision, which would surely have been impeded by the darkness.

At first, they saw nothing and then, suddenly, at 11:39 p.m., Frederick Fleet saw a mass of ice and sounded the warning, “Iceberg right ahead!” as he thrice rang the bell and even telephoned through to the Bridge. The length of time between his sighting and the ship’s impact was little over thirty seconds.

Here again, many believed the Titanic could have avoided collision had the Bridge not requested that engines be reversed “Full astern”, prior to steering the ship left (“Hard-a-starboard!”). Had merely the starboard (right side) of the bow been hit, the damage might have been minor and worse still, had she hit full-on, the loss of life might have been minimal.

Now, the witness and survivor accounts and heartbreaking quotes start. I was particularly moved by first-class passenger, Jack Thayer’s poetic-sounding one: “There was no moon, and I have never seen the stars shine brighter; they appeared to stand out of the sky, sparkling like diamonds. It was the kind of night that made one feel glad to be alive.” The tragic irony of this quote really breaks my heart, for that night, 1,500 people would die beneath that star-strewn sky in waters, which were 28 degrees Fahrenheit (apparently 4 degrees below freezing). Most died from hypothermia, not from drowning.

Though they turned the wheel hard over to avoid the iceberg, the Titanic struck a rock-hard, underwater spur, which punctured six of her watertight compartments, as reported to Captain Smith by Thomas Andrews. From that moment onwards, there was no escaping the inevitable: the Titanic was going to sink and Thomas Andrews predicted that the ship could not stay afloat for more than two hours.

It is at this point that you can actually touch a mini iceberg, which has been set up inside the Expo and which is maintained by the cooling system that keeps the room nice and chilly and further adds to the atmosphere, especially as the room is rather dark. See how long you can keep your hand pressed against the freezing cold ice and as you do so, imagine yourself lying in water at that temperature, surrounded by all that ice. It literally chilled me to the core, physically and emotionally, when I realised I couldn’t bear to have even the palm of my hand pressed against that icy surface for more than a few seconds at a time before I lost feeling and swiftly pulled my icy hand away.

In the display cabinets, you can see the warning gong, an engine thermometer, as well as some enamel cooking pots, as you read how some of the passengers never even felt or noticed the impact, though one reported how the “engines gently ceased.” Also, Elizabeth Shutes (40), governess of Margaret Graham in First-Class, said she felt the ship shudder and later someone told her, “Come quickly to my cabin; an iceberg just passed our window; I know we have just struck one.”

I did not take down many of the survivor’s quotes, which we read in the Expo at that point, but one lady’s quote particularly saddened us. She retold how “Women and children first!” was famously shouted over and over again and how, when she heard that, she realised that it would mean almost certain death for her husband and so many other men on-board. Another gentleman’s quote hit me hard when I read how he said the men were dressed and ready to “go down like gentlemen.” If, at this point, you still require something to make the tragedy of that night real to you, then these quotes will surely do just that.

As lifeboats and collapsibles began to be filled with women and children and sent down below, you know for a certainty most of those on-board don’t stand a chance: not only did the ship only have 20 of the 64 lifeboats necessary for her passengers (meaning she could only hope to accommodate half her passengers and crew), these boats were not even filled to capacity and some were sent down onto the water half-empty, for fear that they would sink. The crew had never been told that they could be lowered perfectly safely when full. The first lifeboat (No.7) – released into the water, as the red distress rocket was fired off at 12:45 a.m. – contained only 28 people – it was built to hold 65. 53.4% of her passengers could have survived with these 20 lifeboats but in the end, it would be 31.6% instead.

Why did she not have the necessary lifeboats on-board? Because they took up less deck space that way… Furthermore, of her four funnels (the first of which really did fall forward into the water, thereby crushing swimmers. One of whom was positively identified as millionaire John Jacob Astor by the initials ‘J.J.A.’ on his soot-covered collar), the fourth was added for its aesthetic beauty and served only as an air vent. Again, we are made to see how this global tragedy was really a story of: “…Edwardian society, of the inequality between classes, the extent and limits of technology, of hubris, greed, corruption and sacrifice.”

As the lifeboats were lowered off the ship, eight distress rockets would be fired off. Nearby, a mini replica of the sinking ship lies surrounded by a scattering of survivor accounts, which retell the last two hours and forty minutes of the ship’s final moments above water. Elizabeth Shutes told how, “The first wish on the part of all was to stay near the Titanic. We all felt so much safer near the ship.” No doubt, nearer their loved ones and fellows too…

The ship really did split in two (at 2:19 a.m.) and as she went down on April 15th, 1912, apparently almost two-thirds of her passengers and crew were still on-board – among them Captain Edward Smith, whose body was never recovered. This time, the captain really did go down with his ship – and although a White Star Line employee once boldly declared, “Not even God himself could sink this ship,” in the end, she did indeed sink and remains to this day the only ocean liner to have ever hit an iceberg.

What happened to the Titanic iceberg, believed to have come from Greenland? Some say it reached warmer waters south and later melted. The peril of the iceberg, as is so often the case in life, was not about what was visible on the surface but rather, what was hidden beneath. It rose 100 feet above water, but it was the 500 ft of it below the surface that struck the telling blow and sank the so-called ‘unsinkable’ ship.

Survivor recollections would play an important role in discovering what really happened and have allowed investigators to piece together, as accurately as possible, the events of that night. The ship’s stern was believed to have risen right out of the water, up to 70 feet before she made her final plunge at a seventy-five degree angle and then “slowly sank beneath the water’s depths.” It is estimated that once underwater, she sank in about 15 minutes at a speed of 16 km per hour and thus, came to settle 12,600 feet (3,810 m depth) below the ocean’s surface in an undersea canyon 400 nautical miles south-east of Newfoundland.

Titanic Bow
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

I read how one survivor, Lawrence Beesley, a Second-Class passenger, said that there was …“no indication… that the waves had just closed over the most wonderful vessel ever built by man’s hand.”

After that, you can see the actual wreck footage played on a small screen, photos of submerged divers and other wreck images and can read about the successful joint American-French expedition, headed by leading oceanographer (and “dynamo” according to Canadian film director, James Cameron), Robert Ballard and Jean Louis Michel on September 1st, 1985 when, seventy-three years later, the Titanic wreck was discovered. Then, on August 10th, 1998, the RMS Titanic, Inc. (founded in 1987) finally managed to raise the ship’s hull, known as the ‘Big Piece’, weighing in at 15 tons and 23 ft by 14 ft, which contained First-Class starboard side C Deck Cabins (C-79 and C-81) inside it. The ‘Big Piece’ was recovered 16 km away from the main wreck site and the hull and stern were apparently found 549 m apart.

There have been several key expeditions (most notably between 1987-2000) since the wreck was first discovered and to date, roughly 5,500 artifacts have been recovered. Many of these aritifacts are held at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada. The goal of the RMS Titanic, Inc. is to “preserve and display” said artifacts in memoriam.

We were fascinated by the ornate bench armrest and sauce pans on display. These have been corroded and broken after lying for 88 years in acidic mud but they are still a marvel to behold, especially when you think of how they once helped prepare the 30,000 meals during the ship’s crossing.

Titanic Pot
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Perhaps one of the ship’s most miraculous artifact recoveries are the Au Gratin dishes, which are perfectly preserved. There is literally not a chip to be seen anywhere on their smooth white surface and apparently they were discovered on the ocean floor “lined up like dominoes.”

Titanic Dishes
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Sadly, nature is not entirely a friend to the Titanic these days as some type of bacteria are apparently eating the ship away. I also enjoyed looking at the images of the ship’s “rusticles”, which are literally icicles of rust that have formed on the wreckage.

Later, I was approached by a brother and sister, who call themselves ‘Titanic Fanatics’. Lehan Van Riel and his sister, Corona van Der Walt, have been following all things Titanic for many years now and have even been fortunate enough to attend the 100-year Commemoration of the Titanic’s Launch in Southampton and have also been to Belfast twice for the Key Laying Commemoration. We listened as they told us how they had stood on the actual slipway where the famous ocean liner was built.

When I asked them how they would describe the Titanic Expo, Lehan said it was “very accurate and informative”, whilst Corona agreed, saying it was “interesting, capturing, informative” and above all, “heartrending.” Thank you to them for allowing me to quote them in this post and for the wonderful, personal stories that they shared with us about their commemorative Titanic experiences.

Just past an actual restructured version of the ship’s wreck (which in real life, was estimated to take up 3 miles in width and 5 miles in length after the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution offered a complete picture in August and September of 2010), you read how J. Bruce Ismay, Director of the White Star Line, helped passengers into the last Collapsible C boat before getting in it himself. This was a decision he would later regret and though he was condemned for his so-called selfishness, I feel his assistance should still be recognised for what it was. Back home, his wife, Florence Ismay, would later say, when learning of her husband’s survival, “We have both been spared to each other, let us try to make our lives of use in this world.”

Titanic
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Survivors’ Recovery by the Carpathia: The first lifeboat was found at 4:10 a.m. and one survivor, Laura Mabel Francatelli (30), a secretary from London, told of her time in the lifeboat and how she passed “icebergs like mountains,” whereas Elizabeth Shutes, who reflected on the needless luxuries aboard the ship and the cries of the drowning people, said of that morning on April 15th, “…just before the dawn, the coldest, darkest hour of all, no help seemed possible.” Shortly thereafter, the Carpathia arrived to rescue the 700 survivors, who would later safely arrive in New York on April 18th. A day later, the American inquiry was begun by the U.S. Senate and on May 2nd, the British Board of Trade began their inquiry into what happened that night. Since the International Ice Patrol was formed in 1914, no lives have been lost due to collision with icebergs in areas under its surveillance.

The papers broke the story of the Titanic’s disaster at sea but many had the wrong end of the tale. Some claimed that the Virginian had reached the Titanic in time and had saved all souls on-board but, true to life, the New York Times initially broke the actual story and said that the ship had sunk and only some passengers and crew had survived. This would later help to cement them as one of the best global newspapers for years to come.

I was amazed to see a beautiful pocket watch owned by Cape Town hotelier, Thomas W. Solomon Brown, who, though his daughter and wife survived, was one of the many souls who sadly perished. Nearby, we also found more of Edgar Andew’s belongings, including a spelling book page and dress shoes that were found among his belongings; it was here that I learned of his death in the sinking, though I had hoped he had survived up until that point.

You can also see perfume bottles and stoppers (the oil name of which can still be made out on one), a photo of the Goodwin family (all eight members died on the Titanic), as well as socks, another postcard, a luggage identification tag that reads “Not Wanted”, as well as playing cards and leather cases.

Adolphe Saalfeld's Perfume
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

Eva Hart, who was seven at the time, later said how her mother, Esther Hart, had her first and only premonition before their journey and said, “to say a ship was unsinkable was flying in the face of God.” I can’t help but agree with her on that.

Additionally, we marvelled at the Titanic’s youngest survivor, Elizabeth Gladys, who was just nine weeks old when the Titanic sunk. Better known as Millivina Dean, she lead a quiet life until Dr. Rob Ballard discovered the ship’s wreck in 1985. She died on May 31st, 2009 at the age of ninety-seven.

Passenger & Crew Names
Photo Credit: Titanic Artifact Exhibition

It was here, where some benches and remote controls have been set up, that you see the lists of the saved… and the lost. We went closer and hunted for our names on the boards. I found mine… I had survived and I couldn’t help thinking that it was because of my first-class status. Aaqeelah, who was on second-class, had also survived. Respectfully, the total number of lives lost is listed first on these white boards.

The numbers for each class run as follows:

  • First-Class – Lost: 125, Saved: 199
  • Second-Class – Lost: 168, Saved: 116
  • Third-Class: Lost: 529, Saved 181
  • Crew: Lost: 701, Saved: 209

I didn’t want to dwell long near those lists… somehow looking at all those names and lives lost is terribly sad. At this point, you have essentially reached the end of the Expo, though you can see letters and documents from the Titanic Society of South Africa (1985-2008) and read more about the inquiries and hearings that followed the ship’s sinking.

Right at the end, in front of the door, there’s a quote by Irish philosopher, Jack Foster, which clearly reads: “We are all passengers on the Titanic.” I couldn’t agree more – and although I ‘survived’ the Titanic Expo in a sense, it is impossible to walk away from it unchanged.

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Outside the exit, you can write in the guest book and provide your thoughts or feedback. I wrote that the Titanic Expo was amazing and so interesting and informative because it really, really was. I have to say it was a very humbling and bittersweet experience, but I honestly had an absolutely amazing time and Aaqeelah and I both seriously enjoyed the two hours we spent inside the Expo.

It should not necessarily take you that long but I was religiously taking notes for this review so it delayed us somewhat. Happily, however, it gave us time to really absorb all the information and items on display, which are rich in history and gritty human character.

After that, we dithered over whether or not to take a ‘Jack and Rose’ pose but later decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity we had to seize. I feel Kate Winslet offered a much better version of Rose – for one thing, I am sure she never burst out laughing during that scene. This is a fun side thing for you to do but it is quite nice and amusing to strike a pose near the Expo entrance and replicate that famous Titanic scene. (Fun fact: Though the Titanic cost $7,500,000 to build, James Cameron’s 1997 movie cost more than that.)

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You will exit via the Titanic Gift Shop, where you can buy a range of R.M.S. Titanic keepsakes such as: towels, t-shirts, wine and champagne, caps, playing cards (with real photos from the Titanic) and other awesome goodies, with the cheapest starting at R20.

The lady mananging the shop informed us as we entered that, if we were survivors, we could get a 10% discount… I tried not to feel mildly and amusingly appalled by this as I thanked her for this information. 🙂 It’s beautifully laid-out and offers some great Titanic-inspired merchandise. (You also get to keep your personal Boarding Pass.)

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On a more serious note, the Titanic Expo is something I wish everyone could see and experience and I hope that you will try find the time and money to experience this wonderful, historical and somewhat life-changing Expo before it departs from S.A. shores next month. You certainly won’t regret it and even kids will be spellbound and absorbed by this Exhibition, as was certainly the case of the day of our visit.

For its tender respect, historical accuracy, thoughtful displays and backdrop features and above all, amazing retelling of the wonder and tragedy behind the Titanic, which has held people the world over in fascination ever since the early 1900s, the Titanic Expo SA gets a firm 10/10 rating from me and comes very highly recommended. 🙂

I would like to end with a quote by Eva Hart: “People I meet always seem surprised that I do not hesitate to travel by train, car, airplane or ship when necessary. It is almost as if they expect me to be permanently quivering in my shoes at the thought of a journey. If I acted like that I would have died of fright many years ago – life has to be lived irrespective of the possible dangers and tragedies lurking round the corner.”

For more information on the Titanic Expo (including the Titanic Kids packages or Corporate Event bookings), please contact either Freya Dreyer on +27 (082) 319 3420 or Jarrett Lang on +27 (078) 236 3780.

Additionally, you can email the Titanic Expo SA at info@exporsa.co.za, contact them on +27 (021) 418 0738, check out their excellent, highly informative and fun website: www.titanicexpo.co.za or find and follow them on Facebook (TitanicExpoSA), Twitter (@TitanicExpo) and Instagram (@titanicexpo). (Their Twitter feed is particularly great as it offers some fast facts and the Titanic in numbers!)

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I would like to personally thank everyone who made this review possible, especially the Titanic Expo organisers and staff, who were great, as well as the V&A Waterfront, which has housed this excellent Expo inside its Watershed venue, which was impressively done out from top to bottom.

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I would also personally like to say a very big thank you to Mr Marius Basson and Manic Global, who allowed me to do this review by adding me to the guest list. I am extremely grateful to them and to Lumico, who later sent me the official photographs used in this review.

Thank you also to all the local and international sponsors and management who have ensured that the Expo is well-promoted and easily accessible to anyone visiting Cape Town. I have encountered the greatest professionalism, attention to detail and speedy responses from all involved this month – and I really appreciate it.

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Thank you also to my dear friend, Aaqeelah Floris, for sharing in and adding to this great experience and for the additional photos and notes, as well as to the following sources for the info. cited in both Part 1 and Part 2 of this Expo Review: Titanic Expo SA, www.biography.com, www.history1900s.about.com, Popular Mechanics, RMS Titanic, Inc., Titanic Facts, www.titanicstory.com www.eyewitnesshistory.com, www.chasingthefrog.comhttp://www.history.com and www.canadianencyclopaedia.ca.

Please note: All views and opinions expressed herein are entirely my own and in no way reflect upon the views of any other person, company or institution. Furthermore, the opinions contained herein are as unbiased and honest as possible, and were in no way affected or influenced by the free entrance I received to this event. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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