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Titanic exhibit full of history, artifacts

When many people first hear the name Titanic, they immediately think of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster romance flick that they saw 14 times in the theater. However, the Carnegie Science Center’s Titanic exhibit is a fantastic display of over 275 different original artifacts retrieved from the actual Titanic, 2.5 miles underneath the surface of the north Atlantic.

On the night of April 14, 1912, ocean temperatures in the Atlantic dropped below freezing. The Titanic had already received several iceberg warnings, but the ship continued on. According to the exhibit, the two lookouts were only a few minutes away from the end of their shift when they saw the iceberg looming ahead. Neither one of them had binoculars, so it was too late by the time they gave the warning. The iceberg ripped open five consecutive watertight chambers in the bottom of the ship, and in the wee hours of the morning of April 15, the ship sunk, claiming over 1500 lives.

In 1985, the first successful expedition to find the remains of the Titanic took place. Scientists uncovered hundreds of artifacts, using sonar to find the sunken ship. Of course this fascinating discovery and information eventually spawned one of the biggest movies of all time, Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Aside from the love story between Jack and Rose, many of the scenarios that happen in the movie are based on accounts from survivors of the disaster. This includes the loading of women and children first into the lifeboats, the band playing on the deck as the ship sank, and the under-filled lifeboats. All of these facts are displayed throughout the exhibit.

When visitors first enter the Science Center’s exhibit, they are given a card with their ticket. The card has the name of an actual passenger from the Titanic, and a little information about him or her, including what class he or she was, his or her occupation, and a few other interesting details.

The exhibit itself is a completely self-guided walk-through that has fantastic facts, quotes, and artifacts. The beginning of the tour features mock-ups of what some of the cabins looked like, creating a stark contrast between the third class, called “steerage,” and the first-class cabins. For a voyage on the Titanic, first class passengers paid as much as $4000, which is equivalent now to about $78,000. The many artifacts on display include china from the first-class dining hall and restaurant, a steward’s jacket and trousers, jewelry, combs and brushes, tools, and much more. There are also several drawings and plans of the Titanic’s layout, and a lot of background information on how the ship was built.

The middle of the exhibit has stories of some of the more famous passengers aboard the Titanic that fateful night. There is also an actual piece of the hull that was ripped through by the iceberg. One room features a giant slab of ice that visitors are free to touch, representing the iceberg that sunk this massive ship. A video loop shows a computerized simulation of how the ship actually sank.

At the very end of the exhibit, three boards (one for each class) display the names of the survivors and the lost souls of the sinking of the Titanic. Each visitor can then check the boards for the name on the card given to them with their ticket to find out whether or not his or her passenger survived.

After the tour, there is, of course, a fantastic gift shop that features all sorts of souvenirs and replica artifacts. Visitors can purchase a piece of coal that was used in the boiler rooms of the ship, miniature ships, books, and even the famed 13 karat, blue diamond “Heart of the Ocean” that Rose wears in the movie.

Usually, the Carnegie Science Center is free with a Carnegie Mellon student ID. However, since the display is a traveling exhibit on temporary loan to the Science Center, all visitors must pay a whopping $20 to view the exhibit. Is it worth it? Possibly. While it was a great exhibit, $20 is pretty steep for the average college student. It is an interesting exhibit to see, but if artifacts are not your thing, just stick to watching the movie.