On Sunday I went to the Titanic quarter of Belfast to see the Titanic Exhibit. It is located right alongside the River Lagan and there is a lot of industry in that part of Belfast. “The Docks” as it is known to locals, is where a lot of small businesses are located, as well as industries involved with Harland and Wolf Shipyards. My friend and I took a taxi and received a student discount when we showed our Queen’s ID’s at the ticket counter in the exhibit.
On the ground floor there was a gift shop, a small coffee shop called “The Galley” and a fancy restaurant that had “White Star Line” themed plates and cups. We took the escalator up to the first floor and immediately could hear Celine Dion’s powerful voice singing the iconic theme song, “My Heart Will Go On” for James Cameron’s movie “Titanic”. The costumes of the main characters Jack and Rose worn by actors Leonardo De Caprio and Kate Winslet in the film were on display on a pair of mannequins. We entered the exhibit after the attendant scanned our tickets and began the quiet journey through the exhibit, reading the information on the walls and looking at all of the pictures. The exhibit started off giving a background history of the time period of the building of the ship in Belfast and why Belfast was chosen as the city for building the big cruise liner. The reason was because Belfast was booming! The linen industry was providing lots of jobs and although working conditions and wages were poor, the people were happy to have jobs. By 1900, Belfast was exporting more linen than anywhere else in the world.
Reading the individual stories of men and women who had a last minute opportunity to go aboard the Titanic for a chance at a new life in America or just purely for work on the ship broke my heart. One man was a fireman for another ship (meaning that he shoveled coal into the boilers below the decks) and was not supposed to be on the Titanic, but a friend’s wife had just given birth to their baby so he took his friend’s place working on the Titanic so his friend could enjoy looking after his wife and newborn baby.
There was a six minute long ride which took us through the process of building the ship, experiencing the sights and sounds of the shipyard. It was pretty noisy as the ride replicated teams of men hammering the rivets into the metal.
The actual video footage from 1911 of the launch of the ship shows the Titanic using the slipways to hit the water for the first time. It was amazing to watch!
There was as series of screens that showed myths of the Titanic and it had a quiz to see if you knew the correct facts… or if you believed the myth. I did pretty well, only getting a few questions wrong about intricacies of the ship’s design.
I enjoyed seeing the replicas of the first class and third class bedrooms that passengers would have stayed in. The luxurious carpets, bedding and ornamental mirrors, paintings and table settings in the first class dining hall were fabulous. I would have loved to have seen the Titanic in all its grandeur, but I suppose I’ll have to settle for the movie.
The coolest part of the exhibit was near the end where the man who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic beneath the ocean, Professor Robert Ballard was interviewed and the actual site of the wreckage underwater was shown on a full theatre screen. As the ship sunk, it broke into two halves which rest half a mile apart on the ocean floor. There was a comparison of how deep the water is and it is deeper than if the Empire State Building in NYC were underwater!
Anytime I think about the tragic events on the 14th of April 1912, I feel so sad. I know that throughout history there have been many ships that have sunk and lives were lost, but this tragedy did not even have to occur. The over-excited captain was urging the ship to travel at too fast a pace in order to beat a record, despite warnings from other ships about heavy ice and icebergs in the area to watch out for. The lack of preparation, coordination and of course, life boats to save all the passengers on board the Titanic made clear the necessity of stricter safety regulations and have forced all ships after the Titanic to be prepared to better handle an emergency. The most recent story that reminds me of the Titanic’s sinking, is the cruise ship the Costa Concordia that crashed off the coast of Italy last year. Similarly, the cause of that shipwreck was the ship’s captain wanting to get closer to land to show off and running into rocks in the shallow water.
Despite the tragedy that occurred, I am still fascinated by the Titanic and the era. People on board the ship lived in such contrasting lifestyles. The first class passengers lived in total luxury, while the third class passengers stayed in small, cramped quarters with minimalistic and simplistic designs. I really enjoyed the Titanic Exhibit in Belfast and thought it was really informative and interesting.