Henry Ford exhibit brings Titanic experience to lifeWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Titanic buffs, history buffs and movie buffs alike may want to make time for a trip across the state line to visit the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” on display through Sept. 30, features more than 300 Titanic artifacts, 250 of which have never been displayed in Michigan. There are also several re-creations, including a first-class stateroom, first-class hallway, third-class cabin, an iceberg and the grand staircase, said Tom Varitek, senior manager of program operations.
The exhibit takes visitors chronologically through the history of Titanic, from its construction to its ill-fated voyage to the discovery of its wreck and artifact recovery efforts.
All the artifacts on display were collected from the debris field at the wreck site; none were taken from the ship itself, which is treated as a memorial, Varitek said.
Display items include a lump of coal, a collection of men’s travel items and a suitcase full of preserved papers.
“The exhibit uses everyday artifacts to create context of extraordinary historic events. The lump of coal is a touchstone to the boiler operators who, even though they knew the ship was going down, stayed at their stations and kept shoveling coal, which kept the lights on,” Varitek said. “You can imagine the terror if the lights would have gone off on top of everything else. Who can say how many lives they saved with people still able to see exits and stairs.”
The travel items include a shaving kit and instructions on how to work a new camera.
“That really brings the story home to me because those are things I would bring on a trip,” Varitek said.
The papers in the suitcase were preserved because the tanning oil in the leather kept out microorganisms, Varitek said.
“It’s amazing that after seven, eight, nine decades that paper didn’t disintegrate,” he said. “You can still read the writing on letters and postcards even though it’s been on the ocean floor.”
At the start of the exhibit, each guest is handed a boarding pass with the name of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member. At the end of the exhibit, visitors learn the fate of their person.
“If people can associate themselves with a historic event, it becomes a little more real,” Varitek said. “What the museum tries to do is create a touchstone for a historic event, so hopefully at the end it will become a little more real as a tribute to the people and the lives lost and history in general.”
The re-created portions of the ship and iceberg also help bring the story to life, Varitek said.
“We’re really happy to have the staircase. It’s the only traveling grand staircase that’s out there,” he said. “If you’ve seen the movie, it’s the famous ‘Meet me at the clock’ moment for Jack and Rose.”
Visitors can relive that famous on-screen moment in 3-D on the museum’s IMAX movie screen as James Cameron’s “Titanic: 3-D” will be showing through July 19 and again from Sept. 4-30 on the 62-foot-by-85-foot wide screen, the largest movie screen in Michigan. The IMAX theater will also screen filmmaker Stephen Low’s “Titanica,” featuring archival photos of the ship’s construction and footage of its wreckage on the ocean floor combined with recollections of Titanic survivor Eva Hart.
Even 100 years after it sank, people are still fascinated by Titanic, Varitek said.
“Part of it, I think, comes from the rumor that Titanic was unsinkable; at a time when the world was really changing, with the automobile and the airplane, it seemed like nothing could stop new technology, so a tremendous failure of technology really caught people’s attention at the time,” Varitek said.
“People are intrigued by moments where they can say, ‘If only we could have done this or that differently,’ and the fact this was the maiden voyage with some
celebrities on board doesn’t hurt. Plus the movies — Hollywood
has done such a good job of
telling the story, it’s kept it fresh in everyone’s minds.”
Nonmember exhibit ticket prices include admission to the museum and are $27 for adults (13-61), $22.50 for youth (5-12) and $25 for seniors (62 and older). Children 4 and younger are free. Admission for members is $10. The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and for the IMAX theater.
Because the Titanic exhibit is timed, visitors are encouraged to make reservations to ensure a time slot is available when they plan to visit, Varitek said.
Other Titanic-related programming planned at the museum includes:
O “Titanic Remembered: 100th Anniversary Event,” a sold-out commemorative event set for 7 p.m. April 14, featuring hors d’oeuvres, a champagne welcome, dinner, dessert and exclusive access to the exhibit.
O Titanic Tuesdays, a speaker and author series set for the second Tuesday of each month. The lectures are free with admission to the
museum. The series kicked off April 10 with author and historian Edward Tenner presenting “Thinking about the Unsinkable” about the unintended consequences of innovation. The series will continue May 8 with Low discussing his
For a full listing of events, visit the website www.hfmgv.org/events/titanicTuesdays.aspx.
For more information or to reserve tickets, call (313) 982-6001 or visit www.thehenryford.org/titanic.