by Linda Burlingame
Titanic. The Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic. The British luxury liner that sank overnight April 14-15, 1912, during its maiden voyage. Investigations, inquiries, movies romanticizing it — the gripping story never loses its appeal. Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson, Missouri, has created an extraordinary experience for visitors. There are more than 20 exceptional galleries displaying more than 400 artifacts; special exhibitions; recreations of cabins and lifeboats. These galleries tell the poignant stories of Titanic. Here it’s possible to step back in time. And that begins with the Titanic crew, uniformed like the ship’s 1912 crew. Knowledgeable, friendly and outgoing, they can share fascinating and thought-provoking information about the ship, its crew and passengers, its voyage. And you are a passenger for this journey. Your Boarding Pass has the name and information about a passenger who was onboard for the voyage. That fateful voyage.
This year, March — June 15, 2019, at Titanic Branson there will be an exclusive exhibition of seven of the twelve Titanic lifejackets known to exist in the world. Titanic co-owner Mary Kellogg-Joslyn says, “These jackets gave hope to the helpless, and what stories they could tell. During this rare event, our Titanic crew will speak for them.” (There were enough lifejackets for all 2208 people onboard, and most were wearing one.)
Each Titanic Branson gallery is unique, with different floorings, different configurations, different sounds. The cabin recreations are fascinating. The tiny Third-class Cabin has four sleeping berths and a small sink. And even though the First-class cabin (occupied by John Jacob Astor IV and his young wife Mary) is luxurious, with its elegant carpeting, chaise, and writing desk, it too is quite small. Down the hall and around the corner from the Third-class Cabin is the Grand Staircase. It is a full-sized replica of the ship’s staircase. Grand indeed!
Titanic is owned by Mary Kellogg-Joslyn and her husband John Joslyn. When you talk with him, the sparkle in his eyes reveals what he calls his “magnificent obsession” with Titanic. In 1987, two years after the discovery of the Titanic wreckage, Joslyn co-led a $6m expedition to Titanic, about 2-1/2 miles below the surface. They were 44 days at sea. John made 32 dives in “an amazing $20m submersible.” Their purpose was to explore, retrieve, and film. Later, he co-produced a two-hour television documentary, “Return to Titanic … Live!” It became the second highest rated live television documentary ever. The Museum here certainly makes the Titanic experience come alive!
The keel was laid for Titanic March 31, 1909, at Harland and Wolff’s Queen’s Island North Shipyard in Belfast Ireland. One of the first galleries at Titanic Museum Attraction here in Branson is a recreation of that scene. Room-sized photographs show men at work on drawings, and you hear the clanking noises of construction. There’s an original sign from a pub where workers could gather at day’s end. The construction photos give you an idea of what an enormous project it was.
One of the newer galleries is the Musicians Gallery, a tribute to the eight musicians aboard. The band was actually two groups, a trio and a quintet. The eight musicians had never played together on Titanic until the night the ship was sinking. Another exhibit I especially like is of Father Browne’s exceptional photographs. They are the only photos of passengers taken on board. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Browne just sailed with the ship on the first leg of its journey, from Southampton, England, to Queenstown, Ireland. (His photos are just past the Boiler Room, where you can shovel coal!)
Every gallery is outstanding, and each time I visit I see something new and experience something different. There’s an Interactive Gallery with full-sized lifeboats. In that same gallery, try to climb the steep inclines, set up to demonstrate how Titanic listed as she sank. Titanic collided with the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. At 1:50 a.m. she was sloping 12°. At 2:05 a.m. it was 30° and her bow was sinking, the deck under water. By 2:18 a.m. the angle was 45°. The “lights blinked once and went out.”