Althea Preston

Titanic Day

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I have been MIA from the blogging world for a long time. Part of that has to do with a few things I took on for my online RWA chapter, part has to do with the fact that I went back to work and though I’m part time, I have been working way too many hours a week and my brain is mush at the end of the day. Anyone who works with the public will understand. Part because my site has been broken for a long time and I didn’t have the wherewithal to fix it. And part of it has to do with my constant, underlying depression which I can overcome some days and others…well, it is what it is and that’s a post for another day.

Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to The Henry Ford which is an amazing place, to see the Titanic Exhibit. *As a side note, if you live in or ever visit the Detroit area, make a point to go.

I dragged my husband with me, he-who-doesn’t-like-anything-non-car-related, and we dutifully waited in line with 200 or so others going through at our 3pm time slot. Mind you, they have 300 or so tickets per time and the entry times are every fifteen minutes.

Which brings me to my one disappointment about the whole experience. There were many people there with small children and also several with babies in strollers. Babies and small children are wonderful things, but in this instance, they should have been left at home. The exhibit was crowded, the displays were set in such a way that you could only read the information plaque from one side and between the strollers and small children hanging on the displays, it was difficult to read much about the items in the cases. And some, I never did get close enough to, to see anything at all.

So many of the items I did see were haunting in their own way. Pieces of the ship, some almost gone from corrosion, others almost pristine still. A bit of elbow grease and they would be good as new. The bronze and brass usually hold up the best, but there was a wrought iron frame from a deck chair that looks exactly like one would expect their own to look after sitting in the weather for a year or two. Intact dishes and serving pieces were displayed along with glass items and other things used daily on the ship.

The haunting part comes with the personal items displayed. Those bits of flotsam one uses and never thinks about in any detail. Many personal papers were shown, saved from disintegration thanks to the leather tanning process used at the time. They were recovered in briefcases and portfolios that withstood the salt water and though they were brown from the tanning oils, they were still readable. There were sales receipts, typed, for merchant items someone was bringing back to America. Post cards and handwritten notes. Calling cards which really showed the class distinction at the time.

There was a set of perfume bottles recovered. Samples from a chemist’s bag, a brilliant perfumer who survived the disaster but lost his bag when it was left in his room. If any of you had the opportunity to watch Titanic, The Final Word by James Cameron which showed (and may still be) on the National Geographic channel, Bill Sauder, historian and director of research for RMS Titanic, Inc., speaks of these bottles in the video. He talks about the smell of rot and death that seems to permeate the restoration room. Everything is wet of course, and I can imagine the smell of leather that’s been underwater for 90 years. But then he mentions that someone took a small leather case and opened it and the smell it emitted was like a breath of heaven in that room. It was the sample case with the perfume bottles and after all those years, they still retained their delicate fragrance. He grows very emotional as he talks about it. If you’ve ever worked with death, you might understand why. I’ve transported bodies to the morgue in the middle of the night. Alone. But I digress…

The items that made the biggest impression on me though were the very personal pieces. Jewelry, eyeglasses, buttons, a linen worker’s apron and canvas tool belt that survived, again, in a leather satchel. It had been folded and the buttons on the left of the tool belt had leached and made a mirror image on the right. A beautiful necklace that had adorned a first class passenger’s neck lay now under a small, dim light in a hermetically sealed case. Did that person survive? Did she die with the ship? And the eyeglasses in a similar case. Was the owner wearing them when they froze to death in the frigid water? Or were they on a nightstand and just happened to float away as the ship sank?

I would have enjoyed my time more had it been less crowded. I could have pondered, inspected, read more, taken more time with things. I think I’ll go back during the week. Maybe I can find a day when a school is not there to take a bit more time with things.

Afterward, we saw Cameron’s movie, Titanic, on the biggest IMAX screen in the state, in 3D! One of only five screens in the world showing it in 3D, it was an amazing experience. I’ve never seen the movie in the theater. Only on TV, so this was a grand opportunity.

I’ll post about that later this week though.

One Response to “Titanic Day”

  1. Jeannine says:

    Wonderful post! You left me wishing I’d been there with you to view all of these extraordinary things and I want to hear more! It’s a shame that it was so crowded, but I don’t imagine it could have been avoided, other than (as you mentioned) trying to go on a weekday.

    Your site looks great, by the way! I love the soft template and design. :)

    Sorry for all of the issues that have kept you away. You’ve been missed and I, for one, will be expecting many more posts to come from you soon! (hint hint)