Sophia, Karina and I went to the Aquarium of the Pacific today. Regretfully I hadn’t considered Spring Break. By the time we struggled with older children and their oblivious parents pushing and jostling younger children—like my granddaughters—we gave in and went outside for sunshine and a view of Long Beach Marina and Bay. We also enjoyed a perfect view of the Queen Mary.
After retirement in 1967, she permanently moored here as a hotel and event facility. In this photo pay attention to a large white dome behind the ship. The dome is now part of the boarding facility for Carnival Cruise lines, but it previously housed Howard Hughes’ famous Spruce Goose.
With so much attention this month on the centennial anniversary of the Titanic’s ill-fated end, I’ve had great luxury ocean liners on my mind. From this month’s National Geographic and Smithsonian to today’s local newspaper, there is plenty of Titanic-talk. Commemorative materials and books have rolled out this year rich in background stories of both the lost and survivors, with more emphasis than ever before on the circumstances surrounding second and third class passengers. We already knew quite a bit about the names Astor, Strauss, and Guggenheim.
I’ve read many interesting anecdotes. One article quoted David Savage, a behavioral economist at the Queensland University of Technology as believing that British passengers on the Titanic died in disproportionate numbers because they queued up politely for lifeboats while Americans “elbowed their way on.” After what I experienced today at the aquarium I don’t have any trouble believing this account!
When visiting Las Vegas last month we eagerly purchased tickets for “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” on display at the Luxor Hotel. As we arrived at the door of the exhibit a “purser” handed us a White Star Line boarding pass as a passenger ticket from one of the people who sailed on Titanic in April, 1912. The ticket included name, age, cabin number, place of origin and accompanying passengers, as well as where they were traveling to, the reason for the trip and a passenger fact. We were told we’d know “our” fate at the end of the experience. My pass was for a welder by trade, traveling second-class to begin a new job in the United States…it turned out I was correct in feeling uneasy about his outcome.
Over the years I’ve been to many smaller Titanic exhibits, but this one displayed hundreds of items from dishware to large diamond rings and other exquisite pieces of jewelry. Perfume bottles by perfume maker Adolphe Saalfeld were recovered and the fragrance can still be detected emanating from the vials. One cavernous room contained a very large piece of the ship’s side. It was discovered in 1994, and raised on its second attempt in 1998. After undergoing an extensive conservation effort it, and the rest of this really informative exhibit will remain at the Luxor for seven additional years—the remaining portion of a ten-year contract.
The memorabilia on display at the Luxor represents fascinating history, but I’m sure I was most interested in the exhibits outfitted with precise replicas of how the rooms on the Titanic were furnished and how the different classes of passengers experienced travel.
I’ve had friends tell me that they’re really not that interested in seeing “more artifacts” or reading about the ship’s history—“we know what happens,” but I’m very interested in this entire period of history. The Titanic, as an event, figures prominently at the end of the Edwardian Era (In America we call it the Gilded Age). Strictly speaking the Edwardian era was 1901 to 1910, but a broader interpretation stretched from 1880 to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. By the end of this historical period, class structures began to shift and change.
The Titanic had extravagant amenities for that time. Elevators, private libraries, a swimming pool, squash court, and first-class suites with their own bathrooms. A first-class ticket then was $2,500—closer to $57,000 in today’s currency. In third class a $40 ticket bought you a room shared with nine other passengers. The 700 passengers in that category shared just two bathtubs.
The Titanic exhibits and artifacts provide a very strong emotional snapshot of the end of an age.
I do have a little touch of Titanic fever. Somewhere in the mid-1960s I got hooked watching the 1959 Golden Globe winning “A Night to Remember.” Do you happen to remember television’s “Million Dollar Movie?” It broadcast the same movie five evenings in a row and multiple times on weekends. I don’t know how many times I cried through the final scenes as the doomed band played Nearer My God to Thee as the ship went down.
The clip may be a little longer than you have interest in watching, but it’s a great piece of movie history. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts, too. 100 years later people are still talking…and hopefully reading and piecing together some interesting historical context.
If you made it to the end of this post, I hope you found it interesting and not entirely too long! How do you shorten a story about the Titanic?
- Cruise ship to retrace voyage of Titanic (newsday.com)