On April 15, 1912, in the wee hours of the morning, the R.M.S. Titanic sank in the frigid North Atlantic waters off the coast of Newfoundland on its maiden voyage. There were 2,240 passengers and crew aboard on their way from England to New York. More than 1,500 didn’t survive.
One of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime accidents in modern history, the sinking of the Titanic has been written about multiple times over. Movies and documentaries have told the tale of the mighty ship and its early demise. Perhaps the most famous of these is James Cameron’s “Titanic” movie from 1997.
That was 20 years ago.
In honor of that epic movie, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge has assembled an exhibit of some of the memorable costumes worn by lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. They will be on display at the Pigeon Forge attraction through Labor Day.
Mary Kellogg-Joslyn is co-owner of the Titanic Museum here in East Tennessee as well as the location in Branson, Mo. The exhibit finished its run in Missouri and arrived in Pigeon Forge last week.
“We’ve been working with 20th Century Fox for the last two years,” Kellogg-Joslyn said as she directed a tour of the new exhibit at the Pigeon Forge location. “We have had a lot of interest. Where were you 20 years ago, because that’s when it was. Every woman can tell me where they saw it and who they were with.”
The scenes play out
The exhibit contains the most memorable clothing from the movie.
“The most iconic is the boarding dress and hat,” said Kellogg-Joslyn. “The first time we meet Rose, she is stepping out of the car and you see that hat. She looks up and sees this magnificent ship.”
Kellogg-Joslyn decided to use a different approach to this temporary exhibit. With each piece of clothing, she has re-created the dialogue from the 1997 movie. It helps jog people’s memories about the various scenes.
In addition to Rose’s boarding dress and hat, there is the corset she wore, as well as the red dress she was wearing in the scene where she meets Jack on the ship’s deck. Another dress and the coat Rose was wearing when the ship went down are also on display.
As for Jack’s attire, most will recognize the white shirt, trousers and suspenders DiCaprio wore for much of the movie. Those are on display, too.
It’s the museum’s intention to stay fresh and new each year. Kellogg-Joslyn said exhibits are changed out on a regular basis and new artifacts come in. The attraction opened in 2010.
The ship-shaped building is 30,000 square feet. Visitors enter through the grand staircase that was built to actual Titanic specifications. As each guest climbs aboard, they are given a boarding pass with the name of an actual Titanic passenger. At the end of the tour, guests learn if they were among the survivors or victims.
It takes a little over two hours to take it all in, Kellogg-Joslyn said. A lot of research went into this museum, including identifying all of the 133 children who were on board. She said this is the only place in the world where you can find this information.
There are also hundreds of artifacts recovered from the wreck. Kellogg-Joslyn’s husband, John Joslyn, was one of the first men to lead an expedition to the site of the Titanic on the ocean floor. It was discovered in 1985, and Joslyn led his expedition in 1987. He was a television producer and made a documentary about the discovery.
It was a logical progression from discovery of the Titanic’s final resting place to creating a museum to share its story. Kellogg-Joslyn said at first, John wanted to focus on the ship. She had other ideas.
The ship is secondary
“I said, ‘No, it’s really about the people who were aboard the ship,’” she said. “That’s the story we have to tell. All of the research went into these people. We have 85 percent of the birth certificates and death certificates of all the people on the ship thanks to the research team and families that have come forward.”
There are photos on the museum walls of the passengers and crew of the ill-fated luxury liner built by White Star Line. One area is staged to recreate the deck of the ship the night it went down. Visitors can dip their hands into icy salt water set at the same temperature as the icy North Atlantic. An iceberg is right there, waiting to be touched.
A model of the lifeboats used aboard the Titanic invites guests to take a seat and visualize what it must have been like to be lowered hundreds of feet into the dark waters. Most of the lifeboats were launched half full or less because of the chaos and refusal by some to leave family members behind.
Count the flags displayed in the lobby. There are 30, representing the 30 nations on board the Titanic. The passenger list was a mixture of upper-class and immigrants hoping for a better life.
The heart-rending story of this maritime tragedy has intrigued young and old for 105 years, Kellogg-Joslyn said. At the time it occurred, the world was in shock and disbelief.
“It took three years to build her and in five days she was gone,” Kellogg-Joslyn said. “The wealthiest people in the country were on that ship. Imagine it, the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of today. It was world news because it was some of the most famous people in the world.”
Those families included John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, the owners of Macy’s department stores. The Vanderbilts were set to sail but changed their minds at the last minute.
Respectful and reverent
Since the Titanic Museum opened seven years ago, there have been more than 300 Titanic descendants visit. Kellogg-Joslyn said each of them tells her the same thing: Thanks for telling our family’s story.
There is great attention to accuracy, and of being respectful and reverent, she said. Each time a new artifact is brought in, it is blessed. All Titanic Museum employees go through “Titanic College” so they will be able to accurately share the story.
The museum gets 400,000 visitors each year. Kellogg-Joslyn said the greatest percentage of these are ages 25 to 54 with children. The second highest percentage is women 55 and over.
One thing added in recent years was research on just what happened to the survivors. Kellogg-Joslyn said many visitors wanted to know the answers to that question after learning the person on their boarding pass was one of the lucky ones.
At the end of the tour, those questions are answered. The survivors’ photos are displayed on the wall along with their life journey post-Titanic. Death dates are also listed.
“This is the only place in the world where you will find out what happened to those who survived,” Kellogg-Joslyn said. “That was another two-year project.”
In the museum’s possession are over 2,000 artifacts from the sinking of the ship. At any one time, 400 are on display. As for the ship and its home on the ocean floor, it still contains many more. The debris field was multiple football fields in length, as the ship split in two as it crashed to the bottom.
The journey down there is no easy or fast task. It takes two hours to reach the bottom of the ocean 12,000 feet below. When Joslyn’s team made their dives, they would spend eight hours in the dark waters before making the 2-hour ascent. The capsule was tiny, requiring divers to lie on their stomachs.
They spent 44 days at sea at a cost of $6 million.
While adults will find this exhibit intriguing and interesting, there has also been an attempt to engage children in this historical event. There are exhibits just for them, including one where they get to steer the ship to see how difficult it is to escape an iceberg. Night at the Museum sleepovers are offered. All in attempts to not lose this piece of history for generations to come.
“The kids who come here are our future Titanic storytellers,” Kellogg-Joslyn said.