Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Titanic Revisited

We wrote a blog this summer about the exhibit of Titanic artifacts currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We had the chance to go back again this week with the great folks from the Foundation Fighting Blindness. As always, I am so grateful for the many affiliations Pam and I have through our business. I noticed how dimly lit most of the exhibit is, much of it on purpose, as the curator tries to recreate the experience of being on the ship in 1912. All senses are heightened, I believe, when one of them is challenged. I noticed during this visit how much I heard the sounds of the exhibit, the auditory clues that add to the experience – the Ragtime piano, the clanking of dishes, the roar of the coal-fired engines as we make our way to the boiler room. I had completely missed these sounds on my first visit.

This time, too, I paid more attention to the stories of so many of the 2,200 people who were on the Titanic for its maiden voyage. Each visitor gets a boarding pass with information about an actual passenger. I held the boarding pass for a young Finnish woman. She and her husband booked passage in third class, the only way they could afford the journey away from Finland which at the time was part of the Russian empire. Her husband was to have been drafted into the Russian army and sent to war. They escaped for the American Dream. She survived. He did not.

And so it was for everyone on that boat. Only 707 survived. The last of the survivors, Elisabeth Dean, just died a week or so ago. She had been only two months old when the ship went down. One fellow was so unhappy that he had to leave on the Titanic when he had thought he had booked a later trip that he wrote a friend that he would rather see this ship sink to the bottom of the ocean! Imagining these people in their everyday lives has caused me since to spend a bit more time thinking about the idea of “fate” or “destiny,” as some might call it. Are we inevitably always where we are supposed to be? And is it in that place that we exercise our will and create meaning? The line seems so fine between belief in our ability to make our own destiny and the mystery of being in the right (or wrong) place at the exact time history is made. Did the ones who chose to stay on board the Titanic have more of a say in making their own fate? Did the survivors escape a destiny meant for them, too? Or were they meant to survive all along?

We don’t ever know. It’s all about belief in the end, I guess. And so, as I scoured the huge wall of names at the end of the exhibit, looking for Elin’s name, my name while I walked through the Titanic, I felt a shudder of relief when I saw “myself” listed under “Third Class Survivors.” And, a quiet moment as I noted “my” husband’s name under “Third Class Lost.” I wonder what Elin believed as she floated away from the final “great silence” that was left when the Titanic slipped below the waves. And, later, when it was time to keep on living.

If you are in the Denver Metro area and have not yet taken a moment to visit the exhibit, we think it’s worth the couple of hours’ investment. And, if it comes on tour to your city, don’t miss the chance to be touched in a very personal way by this amazing part of American history. If you have visited the exhibit and have your own reflections, please share them with us and our readers.

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