Need I tell the story again? Everybody knows it. The greatest ship ever built hits an iceberg and sinks, leaving thousands dead. Everyone has seen it. Leonardo dies after Rose is too greedy to share her raft. Everyone agrees there was more than enough room for him.
But what about the backstory, the exposition? Who built the Titanic? What non-fictional characters were on board when it sunk? Who was to blame? What was the last message the ship sent before slipping into the icy, screaming waters of the Atlantic? Was it really the Titanic that sunk? What happened to its sister, the RMS Olympic?
These are some of the rhetorical questions answered at the Titanic Belfast, an award winning exhibition inside a wonderful piece of architecture. By no means an architecture nerd, I would argue that this building, standing next to where the Titanic was built, is one of the best parts of the experience. Just check it out:
Yes, it did rain that day. Yes, it was cold.
As cool as the building is, the action happens inside so, via a green-screen photoshoot, we worked our way through the floors of the exhibition. It took us roughly four hours to finish the self-guided tour, partially due to Dad lagging behind and reading everything.
It wasn't just reading you could do. Like many modern museums (e.g. ANZAC Albany back in Western Australia) there was a range of interactive exhibits. One was where you could stand on sections of the floor to complete puzzles about the Titanic. There was also a cable-car ride describing the labour done each day by Belfast's shipbuilders.
It wasn't just reading you could do - there was a range of interactive exhibits.
The cable-car ride progressed us from a history of Belfast and the company that built the Titanic - Harland and Wolff - to an overview of launch day. When I say overview, I mean it fairly literally. From the third floor we were able to see where the Titanic was sat when it was being built, its spot marked by silver lines on the ground.
The records tell us that, watched by thousands, the ship was launched on the 31st of May, 1911. It's keel had been laid just over two years before in March, 1909, a remarkably quick time to build such a titan of a ship (see what I tried to do there). After its launch, the ship was 'fitted out' before its first/final voyage in April, 1912.
The Titanic was on the left, while its sister, the Olympic, took up the space on the right. They were constructed at the same time with similar dimensions but different tonnage.
One of the documents scattered around the exhibition.
The Titanic as she launched before being "fitted out" both on the inside and out - note the lack of her famous funnels.
Learning about people who are probably going to die is a bit mean. Especially when they're photographers.
After a description of the successful launch, we moved to the next section to see the interior of the ship, and to be acquainted with those who would fill her rooms. This was quite a cruel thing to do since the next part of the museum was, of course, about her demise. It did, however, make it much more powerful.
Instead of the brightly lit rooms that make up much of the building, the part about the ship sinking is a walk through an array of morse code messages sent by the Titanic and nearby ships on the night of her sinking.
The most chilling message shown was the last one sent by the Titanic - "CQ...".
The dimly lit room with screens showing how the Titanic sunk is very chilling, and the narrative constructed by the morse code builds up a picture of how the night unfolded - from disbelief to frantic emergency. The most chilling message shown was the last one sent by the Titanic - "CQ...". Before being replaced by "SOS", "CQD" was the signal to be sent in dire emergencies. Like a drowned person gargling for help, it was gone.
My watermark kind of covers it up, but here are the last messages sent on that night.
The British and United States governments held separate inquests into the sinking while the public fed on the stories of those who survived the tragedy. It was a shock then, and arguably is still a shock now, that such a great ship could be sunk, and in those circumstances. The story of course has led to many fictional accounts including a movie made by the Nazis, and one of the highest grossing films of all time (not the same movie in case you were wondering).
The tale has achieved an aura of mystery with unanswered questions like, who was to blame? Perhaps unfairly, much of the blame was put on the captain who went down with the ship. Captain Edward John Smith, the man who sunk the Titanic. I think that's a bit unfair and many theories argue both for and against his innocence.
Speaking of theories, one is that the sinking was on purpose and that it wasn't the Titanic that sunk, but the RMS Olympic. Basically, the ships were swapped due to the Olympic's poor record (including crashing into another ship) and sunk to allow the owners to cash in on the Titanic's insurance. The more reliable Titanic continued to serve as the Olympic until she was scrapped in the 1930s. So crazy it could be true, right?
A famous conspiracy is that the ship was sunk on purpose, except it wasn't the Titanic, it was the Olympic.
The wreck of the Titanic (for that was the ship that sunk) was finally discovered in 1985, sitting as it was on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. This discovery, and other consequences of the ship's sinking, were the focus of the last part of the narrative presented at Titanic Belfast. It also allowed one of the best examples of modern technology in the museum, surpassing the interactive floors near the start.
This was another floor, this time a glass one, where the wreck of the Titanic moved beneath our feet. The large image had been stitched together by hundreds of photos taken by subs that had made their way down to the ocean floor. The green-blue light that covers the shipwreck added to the eeriness. It was creepy and fascinating at the same time.
On top of the world? How about on top of the Titanic?
We left the building on a positive note with information promoting the continual development of Belfast. Downstairs, I had some elderflower juice (no, I don't know what it is either) before we headed outside. We walked along where the Titanic and Olympic had been built and launched which was kind of exciting, just being there. A "where they stood" mentality.
Before I sign off, here's some photos of Titanic Belfast.
After reaching the end of the walk, out near where the ships would have entered the water, we turned around to walk back towards the fantastic building that is Titanic Belfast. Before I sign off, here's some photos of it.
It looks like the bow of a ship. A Titanic one.
That is a Harland and Wolff crane thing out the back, either Samson or Goliath. The builders of the Titanic are still crucial to the industries of Belfast.
The building is shaped to look like the points of a compass, like a drawing you'd see in the corner of an old map. Plus it looks great, especially in black and white.