As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I’d been excited hearing about this exhibit from Singapore Actually and Expat Adventures in Singapore, and of all the things I’m excited to do now that I’m no longer on bed rest, it was probably at the top of my list. My bachelor’s degree is actually in history, and the Titanic has long been a story I’m fascinated by, so I could guess that this exhibit would hit a lot of my sweet spots
The exhibit is $21, and there is a documentary called “Ghosts of the Deep” you can add on for another $5. As usual, if you have a specific bank’s card (OCBC, in this case), you get a discount.
When you enter the exhibit, you get a boarding pass, listing the name and some facts about an actual passenger of the Titanic. Rhiannon and I both received the boarding passes of young girls (6 and 7 years old respectively) who were traveling in the 2nd class. This is the first of many touches that make this exhibit not just a heartless collection of artifacts, but a living breathing experience that it is easy to become emotionally involved in.
However, they do get off on the wrong foot…after receiving your boarding passes, you’re asked pose on a reconstruction of the tip of the bow a la Kate and Leo (“I’m flying!”) from the movie in front of an image of the stern (?) of the boat. Your picture is available for purchase in the gift shop, of course. It’s cheesy, and sure we posed, but upon reflection it cheapens the opening moment of the exhibit.
From there you enter a room that talks about the conception and the construction of the ship in Ireland. Informational posters allow you gain knowledge, video plays on a screen on one wall, and cabinets with artifacts are scattered throughout the room. Irish music fills the air, played in counterpoint to dock noises.
Then you enter the ship through a first class hallway
It’s one thing to read about how opulent the first class on Titanic was…it’s entirely another to experience it reconstructed. You see a typical first class bedroom and learn that there was also a bathroom and a sitting room (with personal artifacts like brushes, and mirrors). You see a first class restaurant (along with china served to the various classes and the crew).
Then you walk into a room filled with the famous “grand staircase.” Where there’s a chance to stand on the staircase and get your picture taken (which you can purchase in the gift shop). I bought this photo because Rhiannon is yawning, and I think it’s funny (plus as the resident family photographer, I’m not often the one in the photo).
Throughout these first class experiences, classical music plays, and the temperature of the rooms is comfortable. If you’re like me, you might take a moment and play pretend, closing your eyes and picturing yourself on the doomed ship…wearing one of those gorgeous pieces of jewelry from the artifacts, some gorgeous dress, and never knowing what awaited you.
However, life on Titanic wasn’t just the first class opulence. You also read about the second class experience, and the third.
You see a typical third class room, which had no bathroom (there were only 2 for all 700 3rd class passengers, something that only worked-so notes the exhibit-because bathing was a weekly, not daily, experience for these passengers). Unlike the classical music that plays in the background in the first class cabins, you hear the constant thrum of the engines, just as the second and third class passengers did.
While we are more familiar with the stories of the first class–John Jacob Astor and his scandously young (and pregnant) wife, the “unsinkable” Molly Brown, etc…for me reading about third class passenger’s lives and why they were on the ship was much more powerful. Families looking for a better life, passengers who’d been rerouted to Titanic because their ships hadn’t left port due to a coal shortage, and people looking to just save a little money by booking third instead of second class accomodations–choices that would kill many of them, once the iron gates were locked, trapping them below decks and denying them a chance at survival.
You walk through the boiler room, lit red, as the boiler room must have been. They spare you the excruciating heat that the men who worked there felt. You learn about the men who worked in that room, and their fates. You also see artifacts such as wrenches and pieces of the engine.
Then you walk out onto a promenade on the side of the ship. A cool wind blows in your face as the temperature cools. Stars twinkle in the distance, and if you peer down, you see light dancing on the floor to recreate what light reflecting off the water might have looked like.
From there, there’s no escaping the events of the night of the sinking. You enter a room complete with faux iceberg (that you can touch). The temperature drops further. You learn about the sinking (via footage from a Discovery channel documentary), the lifeboats, and how most people did not die from drowning, but hypothermia.
The next room is sobering…one wall is dominated by lists. Divided into each class and the crew, you see by name who survived and who died. (Rhiannon’s and my passengers both survived, thankfully). The room is dominated by personal items like socks, and bags and wallets.
Then you are guided through a room that discusses the finding of the Titanic wreck, artifact collection, and learn about the microorganisms that are eating the iron of the Titanic. In 50-90 years, there will be no wreck left–it will collapse in on itself and it will be gone. This room is low-lit, and the floor is done such that you are walking over artifacts in the sand, much as they looked when found on the bottom of the ocean (with several cases showing a photo of how they were found with the actual artifacts then displayed identically).
You exit in to a room about Singapore in 1912–it’s a weak and uncecessary addition to an overwhelming and incredible exhibit. I wish they hadn’t bothered. Of course from there you leave via the gift shop.
Overall, I thought that the display managed to mix the reality of history (I was particularly blown away by post cards and stamps rescued from the wreck, perfectly preserved) with the entertainment aspect of the recreated rooms. The use of sound, light and even temperature added to the experience.
My one complaint was the choice of music in the very first room. The selection of music was “The Countess Cathleen” which was written by Bill Whelan for Riverdance. Surely they could’ve found something authentic to the period?
I did go and see the documentary, “Ghosts of the Deep” which chronicles James Cameron’s dives to the wreck for the film. Overall, it was interesting to me, but I didn’t think it added much to the experience, although there were some interesting moments–I didn’t know that some of the “cast” in the modern part of the movie were the actual scientists, microbiologist and historians that Cameron had employed for the dives. I also found some of the dives very interesting. But unless you’re a real history/Titanic geek, it’s probably worth a pass.
I can’t stress strongly enough how much I think you should go and see the exhibit. It’s in town through the end of April 2012, including the 100th anniversary of the sinking itself. Do NOT miss this exhibit.