We had the amazing opportunity to absorb the haunting beauty of the Titanic Artifact Exhibit at the Portland Science Center in Portland Maine. The exhibition not only features precious artifacts from the sunken ship, it also hosts a replica of a third class passenger bedroom, a first class passenger bedroom, a to-scale model of the sunken ship at the bottom of the sea, and several informative posters. These poster held exquisite writings describing the individuals on board, the social structure of the society and era, the hopeful era of booming technology, how the “unsinkable” ship defeated the man-made cutting edge technology and expectations of the era. The admission price is $19.95 per adult. I wouldn’t recommend bringing small children, much of the exhibit involves reading, and there isn’t anything to touch as would be appropriate for young children.
How to get there
The Portland Science Center is on Commercial Street in Portland. It is directly off I-295. Take Franklin Street until it reaches commercial Street. Turn right onto Commercial street and you’ll see it immediate to your left. Finding the building is not the challenge, finding PARKING is the challenge. Metered street parking will be the cheapest possibility, with a 2-hour limit. Two hours should be sufficient time to explore the exhibition. If you can not find close street parking the best parking lot price we found was on a Fore Street (the parallel street) charging $5 per hour.
Entering – Receiving your boarding pass, what shall your fate be?
Upon buying your ticket you will receive a replica of a Titanic Boarding Pass with the name of a passenger on the ticket. The final stage of the exhibits lists the names of the passengers who survived and who died on board. Our fate was out of our hands. I went with my mom and my sister and my mom and I were first class passengers, but my sister turned out to be a third class passenger. We made sure to limit our interactions with her as we were onboard the Titanic exhibition. Nobody wants to be seen loitering with a third class passenger after all. Ahem.
The artifacts on board this exhibition were a far cry from our modern day era of plastic crap. This artifact exhibition hosts a whole assortment of items found at the bottom of the sea, from old US cash to a crystal flower vase, to first class staircase garland.
While observing the various artifacts, you really get the sense that it was a different era of value and care for material objects. When observing miniature porcelain teacups and pots, my mom said, “That may have been a toy for a first class child.” My response was, “A porcelain toy just so they can break it.” And my mother replied, “No, they wouldn’t break it because they had value for their possessions back then.”
The highlight of this Exhibition were the replicas of the first class and third class bedrooms. When you looked into the third class bedroom, you see the tight quarters of bunk beds. The description said that males and females were always separated in these rooms, which meant that families were separated. And, like in the movie, the four people from one room could be from four different countries, speaking four different languages. To the contrary, the first class bedrooms were very exquisite. As you looked in you notice some personal effects such as shoes and a hat and a flute. These personal effects created a much more eery, haunting feel to the room, thinking of the people they should belong to and wondering their fates. Is that a room now at the bottom of the sea that is haunted by its former inhabitants?
To the contrary, the first class bedroom was an utmost exquisite site. It was with a large bed and chair on the other side. Again, there were personal effects laid out, exquisite clothing belonging to first class passengers. Again, these personal effects made you wonder the fate of these passengers. Did their money buy their life as it did Cal in the Hollywood movie? It makes you wonder.
Among the posters of writing, there were stories after stories of passengers on board. And every one of these posters had amazing stories to tell. I found there were a lot of stories from the movie that rang true.
Captain Smith had been planning on retiring in 1911 but was convinced by White Star Line to remain for the Titanic. He perished on board.
John Jacob Astor IV
Do you remember that middle-aged man Rose was gossiping to Jack about with his 18-year-old wife who was trying to hide her pregnancy? Well, that was no fictional story. Astor and his family were a wealthy American family known as “The Landlords of New York” (imagine how much that family’s worth these days.) Their neighborhood, Astoria, holds their namesake. Apparently, Astor and his young wife were escaping the gossip of their relationship, skipping off to Europe. They were on their way back (bringing even more pregnancy gossip with them) when they were on board the titanic. Astor died on board, Madeleine survived.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
This chick was no fictional character! Margaret Brown was a strong women’s suffragist and human rights organizer. She was born of poor Irish immigrants. She was traveling Europe when she had heard that her first grandchild had taken ill and made the hasty choice to get the first ticket home, which was on board the Titanic. Her family had not even been aware that she was on board. Can you imagine the tale The Unsinkable Molly Brown had to tell once she arrived at home?
How did the Unsinkable Ship Sink?
The movie Titanic gives a rather historically inaccurate made-for-Hollywood reason for how the ship managed to hit the iceberg. If you can recall from the movie, the men on lookout got distracted by watching Rose and Jack kissing down below, then looked up and saw the iceberg very close. Well, I hate to break it to you, but Jack and Rose are fictional characters. What happened was, iceberg warnings had been issued all day but were virtually ignored as there were no visible icebergs ahead. This was all happening on a moonless night. Also, in the haste to get Titanic ready for service, binoculars that were intended for use by the men on lookout were misplaced, and apparently Titanic set sail without her binoculars on board. So some man made the decision to continue on at nearly full speed on a moonless night, without binoculars, and that was the end of hundreds of human lives. The era of hope and trust in technology came to a traumatizing end for hundreds of human beings on board the Titanic.
Did you survive?
As we approached the end we saw the lists of passengers who lived and those who died. I was passenger Mrs. Henry William Frauenthal (Clara Heinsheimer) from New York City, riding first class. Though I was 42, I was a newlywed and had gotten married to my new husband in England. We were returning home after our marriage. My new Brother in Law who was a successful New York Lawyer as also on board with us. Somehow, the three of us all managed to survive. I suspect the wealth of my new husband and in-law had something to do with their luck (women and children first, right?) As my real mother and sister who had gone to the exhibit with me, well the three of us all managed to survive, even my poor, third-class sister. We beat the odds!