Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Indiana State Museum

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Indiana State MuseumThe boat simply could not sink. That is what people believed as they boarded the Titanic. The ship was to take passengers from Southampton to New York City. She left port on her maiden voyage with 3,547 passengers and 860 crewmembers aboard. The boat set sail on April 10th, 1912. The ship never made it to New York City. The boat would strike an iceberg and sink to the bottom of the ocean on April 15th, 1912.

When the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic set sail back in 1912, everyone on board was excited for the journey ahead. The ship was in pristine shape, and was led by Captain Edward J. Smith. Captain Smith was actually set to retire, but was convinced to take the Titanic on her maiden voyage.

Rather than sit here and tell you about the ship, her voyage, and the historic fate of the boat, I wanted to talk to you about the artifact exhibition that was on display at the Indiana State Museum. It was the official artifact exhibition and was on display at the state museum from September 25th through January 16th, 2011.

I had the chance to go see the exhibition first hand, and was blown away with the number of artifacts on display and the story that was told as I made my way through the exhibition. I have always been impressed with the way the Indiana State Museum is able to tell a story by the way they display their exhibitions. This was no exception, and it was quite possibly the best exhibit I have seen to date.

The exhibition had over 240 artifacts on display and literally told a story as you traveled from one room to the next. This is the largest collection of Titanic artifacts on display anywhere in the world.

The first room had a few artifacts in it, including some thermometers. This might not seem like a cool artifact at first, but these thermometers still had the mercury intact. Each artifact that has been removed from the debris field is collected and restored separately. These delicate thermometers are over 100 years old, and are sitting here as if they had never been touched.

The Titanic sits over two and half miles below the surface of the ocean. For a recovery mission to take place, it takes nearly two hours to get to the wreck site. Being that far under water, the water pressure is 6,000 pounds per square inch. Because of that, artifacts are literally suffering constant deterioration. It is said that the entire ship itself will disappear due to corrosion within the next fifty years.

Larger Than Life Images on Display

One thing that interested me about the exhibition was the collection of photographs. There were tons of photos on display, some showing the ship being built, others showing passengers just having a good time on board. The images are creepy, to say the least, and the folks at Premier Exhibitions have done a great job preserving these memories to showcase to the world.

The ship was built at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. She weighed in at 46,328 tons and had a top speed of about 23 knots. To walk through the exhibition and see photos of this ship being built was a great way to appreciate the sheer size of this thing. One of the images on display showed a few of the workers hammering away on the outside of the ship. The hull was built from thousands of one-inch thick steel plates that were secured to the frame of the boat with steel rivets. A few of these rivets were even on display. It is estimated that over three million rivets were used to hold this ship together.

First & Third Class Accommodations

Some of the coolest parts of this exhibition were the room re-creations they had on display. While walking through the exhibit, the first room you come to is a complete re-creation of first class accommodations. Not only did they have the room setup with tables, chairs, beds, and even wallpaper from the time period, they had actors on hand to explain the rooms. There was an older lady and her daughter, and she explained how the first class passengers were treated.

At the time, it would cost you roughly $2,500 to set sail on the Titanic as a first class passenger. To give you an idea of just how expensive that was, it would cost you around $40,000 today. It wasn’t cheap. But with those accommodations you not only had the best possible service imaginable, you got your very own bathroom. That was a big deal back then as second and third class passengers had to share bathrooms with more than one family.

When we got to the room that showcased the third class accommodations, I was shocked at the size of the room. From what the guide said, second class was not much different than first, but third class was all down below the deck. When I saw the room, the first thing that came to mind was a college dorm room. There were four beds to a room, and could hold families of six if need be. There were families that sucked it up and dealt with the small quarters to make it to the USA.

Put a Cork in It

Back then, when the Titanic set sail, beer and wine bottles were not capped as they are today. Corks were used for all bottles. On display they had a handful of wine and beer bottles, some with the corks still intact. As a matter of fact, some of them not only had the corks intact, they still had the liquid inside. Imagine being able to go over two miles to the bottom of the ocean, nearly one hundred years since the ship sank, and recover unopened bottles of wine and beer. They are just cool to look at if nothing else!

Freezing Cold in Here

After seeing all of the accommodations and checking out some more artifacts, you enter a room a little colder than the last. This room was to showcase the actual sinking of the ship. In one corner there was an actual iceberg. The Titanic hit an iceberg, which tore a huge hole in the side of the ship, and you could actually touch an iceberg to see what one feels like.

Another cool thing on display in this room was a tub of water. The water was set to the same temperature it was the night the ship sank. It was cold! I did my open water certification dives in cold water, but this was insane! Seeing as how the ship hit an iceberg, you can imagine how chilly this water was. It was so cold that if you jumped in, you would die within minutes without protection. (Check out an episode of Whale Wars on the Animal Planet. The water they are in is just as cold! Thanks to the Atlantic Ocean I suppose.)

The Before & After Photos

In the same room as the iceberg, there were three large photos on the wall taken at the actual wreck site. One of these images was of a bench. The photo was taken at the wreck site, where there is no light what so ever. The room we were in was dark too, so the creepy feeling I had before was back. But the cool thing about the photos (three in total) was that the actual artifacts were also there. So the bench that you are staring at on the bottom of the ocean was sitting there in the museum for all of us to see.

There was also a stack of dishes that were literally buried in the sand on the bottom of the ocean floor. They were recovered and on display just as they were found.

Did you know that Premier Exhibition, in conjunction with RMS Titanic, Inc. is the only company in the world allowed to visit and to recover artifacts from the debris field? They have been to the wreck eight times, with plans for more dives soon. Also note that no one, not even the RMS Titanic, Inc. is allowed to go onto the ship itself. This is considered an underwater grave and also serves as a sign of respect for the lives lost on that chilly morning.

Did You Make It?

When you first enter the exhibition, you are handed a boarding pass. On the back of the boarding pass is some detailed information about an actual passenger on the RMS Titanic. As you go through, you can’t help but think about that passenger. You learn your name, your class, and who you were with on the boat. This really comes into play in the last room of the exhibition.

When you enter the last room, on one wall is a huge dossier of the entire list of passengers on the ship. It breaks it down by class and those who survived versus those who perished. You can literally walk over and see if you survived or died the night the ship sank. It’s a creepy, yet heartwarming touch to the exhibition. It makes you feel for those lives lost, and the closest thing I could compare it to would be those affected by the attack on the twin towers on 9/11.

The exhibition is making its way around from city to city, state to state, and country to country. The exhibition strives to tell a new story each time it goes on display, and the artifacts literally change with each and every stop along the way. This exhibition at the Indiana State Museum was the largest collection of artifacts every brought together at once, and was the first time the Titanic ever stopped by the Hoosier state.

I am sure you have seen the blockbuster film featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, but nothing comes close to seeing these artifacts up close and personal. Until you have seen this exhibition you have not experienced the Titanic. The last survivor of the shipwreck passed away in 2009 and while there might not be anyone left on earth that remembers that dreadful night, the artifacts continue to live on. I am honored that I was able to take part in this exhibit, and I look forward to learning more about the ship as time goes by.

Please take a moment of silence for all of the men, women, and children that lost their lives that night.