sail on TITANIC

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It’s been 100 years since the ship of dreams met its demise in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. And we’re still mesmerized.

Bounties of articles and books, several movies including an Academy Award-winning smash and we still can’t get enough of Titanic. Why? What is it about Titanic’s story that still captivates, and, after all this time, is there possibly anything new we can learn about it?

The answer is a resounding yes. We’re still captivated by Titanic’s story because it holds fascinating truths about our humanness that are difficult to wrestle with: Truths like, rich or poor, in the end, all the money in the world cannot save us. And, magnificent achievements are a marvel, yes, but ambitions to achieve at all costs can lead to disaster. So when Titanic went down on April 15, 1912 after striking an iceberg, a momentous memory was created to last a lifetime with newspapers around the world exclaiming the disaster, among them the New York Times with, “Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg; 866 Rescued By Carpathia, Probably 1250 Perish; Ismay Safe, Mrs. Astor Maybe, Noted Names Missing …” (you can see all these various front page newspapers in the exhibit).

titanicstairsEnter The Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge — a celebration, if you will, of the historic ship, passengers and crew. Founded by John Joslyn and his wife, Mary Kellogg-Joslyn, John led the first expedition to recover and restore artifacts from the ocean floor in 1987 and has been deeply passionate about Titanic for years. Titanic Pigeon Forge is the Joslyn’s second Titanic museum (the first was built in Branson, Mo., in 2006), and Pigeon Forge’s was built for $25 million, boasting a massive 30,000-square-foot ship replica visitors can see upon approach on the Pigeon Forge Parkway. There’s good reason why the Joslyns built a second Titanic: the museum is fantastic.

     Aiming to make the museum personal for visitors, once you make your way to the front of the line, each “passenger” is given a Boarding Pass with the name of a character written on the back. I was Nellie Bessette, a 39-year-old first class passenger from Briarcliff, N.Y. You can read about yourself in a terrific profile on the back of the Boarding Pass, and you find out at the end if you survived or not. I did.

Once inside the exhibit, one of the first things you’ll see is a dollhouse-size replica of the ship so you can look into every nook and cranny to your heart’s content. There’s also a large, interactive light up wall where you’ll learn lots of interesting things about the ship, for instance, did you know that there was a Turkish bath on board and a swimming pool?

Winding through a room of artifacts, you’ll be surprised by the bed warmer and other assorted items of interest before moving on to the second room dedicated to the ship’s design. Discover the enormity of the task by studying a large black and white photograph of the massive drafting room alone, and numerous floor to ceiling photographs as you wind your way into the Shipyard area. Elements that are fun and repeated throughout the museum are “Test Your Knowledge” spinners where you guess the answer to a trivia question about Titanic then spin the canister for your answer.

TitanicDECKAh, Titanic.  In 1911, Shipbuilder Magazine declared it “practically unsinkable,” while other magazines declared it “the wonder ship” and “the last word on luxury;” The Wall Street Journal named it “The millionaire’s special.”

That “millionaire’s special” took 325 men working in a boliler room in shifts to run. They’d take turns shoveling the coal into gigantic furnaces (5,892 tons of coal was on board) and kids can try their hands at shoveling a load and watching the fire roar in the furnace — that coal was heavy!

Walk on … each room that you move through changes in design and presentation so your interest is always piqued. The third class gallery holds a true-to-life hallway filled with shadowboxes of artifacts and even a stairwell where rushing water comes at you, allowing you to imagine — just for a moment — how horrendous indeed that night must have been for so many. You will be shocked at how small a third-class cabin was, yet in 1912, it was considered a new standard of comfort even for third class.

Move on to the grand staircase and a fact- informed costumed re-enactor will tell you every detail here you might want to know (there are numerous re-enactors all throughout Titanic who can answer anything and everything you want to know about the ship).

The crown jewel of Titanic is the grand staircase. Look up to see that it’s crowned by a gorgeous milk-white skylight dome, backlit at night. Walk the beautiful staircase — it was reserved only for first class back then and boasted 24-carat gold leafing on the balustrades and Austrian crystal chandeliers. The big upgrade of the century here? The floors — made of linoleum! It was a brand new invention, and anyone who was anyone had to have it!

TitanicCABINContinue through the luxury of the Stateroom with its fireplace and divans, then take time to enter the first class hallway. Double mirrors give the illusion that this is a long hallway indeed, and it plays with your imagination. The sound in here replicates the soft roaring of the engine.

The tour pauses next in an interior room paying tribute to Titanic, the movie (Titanic 3D opens nationwide this month) — and you can see several of the props, gorgeous hats and costumes actress Kate Winslet wore in the film in addition to outfits worn by Leonardo DeCaprio.

The Bridge was my daughter’s favorite part of the tour and it came next. Looking just as it did in real life, you look out past the steering wheel into the star-lit night beyond. A costumed officer can tell you in keen and exciting detail exactly what happened in the minutes following the iceberg strike. Those of us in the bridge at the moment were absolutely captivated by him.  Now walk outside and touch the side of the iceberg. From sighting it to the actual impact, there was a mere 37 seconds. Put your hand in the 28-degree water and see how long you can stand it … you will learn … that in five minutes, an average person would be shivering uncontrollably and running on pure instinct, unable to speak or think. It took only 30 minutes for passengers in the water to succumb.

Other interesting aspects to the museum is the lost film, Titanic, which you can sit and watch boasting actual footage of Titanic in its slip before departing for Southampton for boarding.

The final room allows you to experience the sloping of the ship that passengers had to deal with: try standing on it at 12-degrees, 30 and then 45.

You can also sit in a life-sized lifeboat next to a giant wall-sized image of the ship going down, listening to anecdotes on a headset from survivors. And there’s more. In the Discovery Room, you’ll be ablet o see a dramatic recreation of Titanic’s debris field including lights and sounds from when it was first discovered in 1985.

Last but not least is the gift shop, filled with all kinds of momentos and gifts including a $189 “Heart of the Ocean” necklace, books, pictures, dishes, toys, purses, posters, clothes and more.

     Take time some weekend soon to visit the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, maybe even this month. Special events are planned for April 14 and 15. Also be sure to visit the website so you can learn about all of the other events and specials the museum offers throughout the year. The museum is open all year long.

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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