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Dramatic 'Titanic' exhibit on view at Science Center, Palm Beach thru April 20

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A dramatic exhibit about the sinking of the Titanic is now on view at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, West Palm Beach, Florida through April 20.

On April 15, 1912, the world’s largest Ship, Titanic, sank after colliding with an iceberg, claiming more than 1,500 lives and subsequently altering the world’s confidence in modern technology. A little over a century later, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium pays tribute to the tragedy, in "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," a blockbuster showcase of nearly 100 legendary and priceless artifacts conserved from the Ship’s debris field providing a poignant portrait of this iconic Ship and its passengers.

The exhibit at the South Florida venue at 4801 Dreher Trail in West Palm Beach runs through Titanic’s fateful 102nd anniversary with the exhibit closing on April 20, 2014.

The exhibition has been designed with a focus on the legendary RMS Titanic’s compelling human stories as best told through authentic artifacts and extensive room re-creations, period music, life-sized photos and portraits. There is also a 3-D video of the Titanic's underwater grave, historic film footage of the ship's construction in Belfast, an actual "iceberg" that sends chills through the Florida room.

How astonishingly personal, mundane, fragile some of the items are: there is a delicate China tea cup that miraculously survived intact; a soap box with a bar soap, now brown with age, that was recovered from third class, in 1987; a figurine of a Dutch Boy, possibly a souvenir; perfume created by a man traveling to New York to sell his samples, china etched with the logo of the elite White Star Line, even personal effects like a cigar holder, toothpaste jar and a calling card, some US Silver Certificates which managed to survive – these and many other authentic objects offer haunting, emotional connections to lives abruptly ended or forever altered.

There is also a 3-D video of the Titanic's underwater grave, historic film footage of the ship's construction in Belfast, an actual "iceberg" that sends chills through the Florida room

The exhibit is designed as a chronological journey through the life of Titanic, moving through the Ship’s construction, to life on board, to the ill-fated sinking and amazing artifact rescue efforts. There are re-creations of first and third-class cabins, and we can press palms against an "iceberg" and see a 3-D video of Titanic's watery grave.

My ticket is a replica boarding pass that would have been an actual passenger's that I can match up at the end of your voyage at a Memorial Wall.

We are also handed a paper with Morse code that we can have deciphered.

Our journey starts where the Titanic's began - in the offices of naval architect Thomas Andrews (who perishes on the voyage), and in the Harland & Wolff shipyard at Belfast (where today there is a permanent Titanic museum). Here you see black-and-white murals of the architect's office, and the shipyard, and amazing film clip showing the thousands of workers leaving the shipyard for the day (3,000 workers built Titanic), as period music plays in the background.

You appreciate Titanic in context with the times: this overriding, absolute blind faith in progress - how thoroughly modern it was, a marvel of state-of-the-art engineering.

That was the essence of "the unsinkable Titanic" - and all the human errors that flowed that resulted in the horrific tragedy.

Titanic was designed as an exquisite balance between strength and beauty.

Jeff Ursillo, the museum volunteer who has been fascinated by Titanic since his boyhood - shares some of his vast knowledge with us as we go through the exhibit (there is also an excellent audio tour you can take).

There was a rush to finish construction - 3,000 workers took three years to build (they earned an average of 2 pounds a week). They used state-of-the-art processes, for example, using hydraulics to rivet, where they could. The Titanic had 3.5 million rivets - a four-man crew (including a small boy who could fit on the inner side) could complete 200 rivets a day.

Ursillo tells me that only in recent years has the real culprit of Titanic's doom been revealed: it was the rivets that failed. "They were not aware at the time of microchemistry – there was too much oxygen in the forges. Oxygen formed a sulfite compound in the steel – at the microcrystal level – making it brittle."

At the same time that Titanic was built, they also built the Olympic, which sailed from 1911 until 1935; a third Olympic-class ship, the Britannic, was also built, which was commandeered for service in World War I.

Most interestingly, Ursillo tells us of Violet Jessup who survived the sinking of the Titanic (where she worked as a stewardess), She also survived the sinking of the Britannic, after it struck a mine in 1916, where she was serving as a nurse (only 30 out of more than 1,000 died). In addition, she had been on board the RMS Olympic, when it collided with the cruiser HMS Hawke in 1911. (Jessup lived until 1971).

Ultra-modern and fully electric, Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable - it used a novel design that involved a double hull on the bottom - which proved its Achilles Heel (The design for Britannic was modified to make a double hull up to the water level because of Titanic.)

Titanic was the largest ship, the largest anything afloat, and the most expensive; costing $7.5 million in 1912 (equivalent to $400 million today).

The goal was the surpass the wealthy passengers' expectations. At the same time, they actually saw their future economic sustainability in generating third-class traffic. Titanic actually offered a higher level of service for third class passengers than other ships.

The fateful voyage was captained by Edward Smith, a flamboyant man. Smith was the "go-to" captain to command White Star Line's newest ships; there were passengers who only wanted to sail with him.

Capt. Smith was due to retire in 1911 but was convinced to stay on for Titanic.

"I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel," he is quoted as saying. "Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

This was the fatal flaw that weaves throughout the epic tragedy because it becomes the mindset that results in a cascade of fatal decisions.

The Human Side of Titanic

Through room recreations, photos, and artifacts, this part of the exhibit gives you an idea of what Titanic was like onboard for the first-class passengers, second and third class, and conveys the human drama of Titanic in terms even the movie versions cannot match (and makes you as angry in reliving the outcome as seeing the inevitable conclusion to "Romeo & Juliet").

"They set sail in a spirit of progress, with blind faith in technology."

The vast majority of passengers onboard were not first-class, but rather people migrating to America because of opportunity to advance, "but the Titanic still manifest the social class structure of the Edwardian era."

The average cost for first-class was $2500 (the equivalent of $57,200 today’s dollars); a suite cost $4500 (that would be $103,000, today).

Ursillo shows us how to decipher the catalog number which shows when the item was recovered), some from 2000 and some even more recently.

We see a mural of the "promenade" on the top deck, where first class passengers would stroll, and where the lifeboats were kept. The architect, Andrews, wanted another row of life boats but that would have cut into the promenade. Though Titanic only carried enough lifeboats for half the passengers, still, it carried the required number of lifeboats for the time.

The first class passengers could dine in splendor at the a la carte restaurant, Café Parisien, prompting a passenger to remark. “Why you would think you were at the Ritz".

Still, 2nd class on the Titanic was comparable to few ships.

And the ship company actually catered to third class, recognizing that they were the key to long-term profitability, so the line provided maximum comfort compared to other ships (I was surprised to learn).

Fatal Flaw

In the bowels of Titanic, the ship was powered by 29 boilers, each 15 feet in diameter, and 159 coal fired furnaces. Workers shoveled thousands of tons of coal each day - the ship carried 6000 tons of coal.

I was shocked to learned that there had been a fire in one of the coal storage areas and it was smoldering between bulkhead 6 and 5, and that Capt. Smith's biggest worry wasn't about the icebergs, but that they would run short of coal (which makes the high speed Titanic was traveling at all the more perplexing and sad).

On April 14, Titanic had several ice warnings.

Despite the warnings, Titanic steamed ahead at 21 knots, close to its top speed, pushed by J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line.

At 7:10 pm, the Titanic received a message about ice. Another message came at 9:40 pm of pack ice and large iceberg, but the message was not delivered to bridge.

The Californian stopped in an ice field because they couldn’t see well enough to navigate.

At 11 pm, the Californian sent a message to Titanic. The Titanic operator sent a message back, "Shut up, shut up, I’m busy." A fatal mistake.

After the rebuke, the radio operator on Californian turned off the radio.

Titanic's two watchmen were up in the crow's nest in the cold without binoculars which would have shielded their eyes from the cold wind.

It was a moonless night, and an unusually calm ocean, with no waves that would have given them a sign of icebergs ahead.

At 11:40 pm, the night watch, Frederick Fleet shouted, “Iceberg right ahead.”

"On the helm, the First Officer William Murdoch pushed the ship’s wheel hard over and reversed engines, but Titanic was slow to turn. After many lost seconds, the bow starts to swing, missing the main body, but the iceberg opens six small slits over a 300 foot span, opening five watertight compartments.

Andrews realized immediately that the ship's fate was sealed. He knew that Titanic could float with 2 flooded compartments, could survive the loss of first 4, but damage to five "makes sinking a mathematical certainty. Titanic is doomed."

The Californian saw Titanic's rockets but believed them to be celebratory fireworks - after all, Titanic was unsinkable - and they had turned off the radio (Why didn’t they turn it back on or have their watch ask if they had received a distress call?)

Captain Smith did not give the order to abandon ship in a timely way; the crew did not have a protocol for evacuation. They had had no lifeboat drills and apparently, the crew was disorganized.

The first lifeboat left half full despite the fact there were only enough lifeboats for half the passengers.

By 2:20 AM, Titanic sank. It was two more hours before the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia arrived to rescue the 705 survivors.

1500 were left behind and perished, most of hypothermia in the frigid 28-degree water.

Here, the exhibit offers an actual iceberg to feel, and a 3-D video of the Titanic under water, as the marine explorer, Robert Ballard, would have found it in 1985.

Now artifacts are still being recovered from Titanic's debris field – spanning a half mile between where the bow landed and the stern, and ¼ miles wide.

When Titanic sank, a 2-mile column of water came after it and pulverized the stern, but the bow was pristine because it was aerodynamic, which is how so many artifacts have survived.

At the end of the exhibit is the Memorial Wall, which graphically shows the number of dead versus how many survived, based on their different classes.

There are mural-sized portraits of some of the famous people who were aboard, with their biographies:

John Jacob Astor IV, the industrialist and banker, who helped develop turbine engine, and one of the wealthiest people in America, perished on the Titanic.

Margaret (Molly) Brown, the "unsinkable Molly Brown," survived and went on to become a Women’s suffragist and human rights organizer.

Benjamin Guggenheim, son of Meyer Guggenheim (a Jewish immigrant who initially was an importer but made a fortune in mining), who was accompanied on the Titanic by his mistress, a French singer named Leontine Aubart, along with his valet, Victor Giglio, his chauffeur, René Pernot and Madame Aubert's maid, Emma Sägesse (the men all perished; the women survived).

George Rosenshine of New York City, who worked for his family's import business, Rosenshine Bros., traveled under the assumed name of George Thorne because his travelling companion was his mistress Maybelle Thorne (she survived).

Isidor Straus, the millionaire founder of the Macy’s department store chain, and his wife Ida, died aboard the ship (Ida refused to go into the lifeboat).

Of the first class passengers, 199 survived and 125 died (only about 25% of the men survived because of the "women and children first" protocol); of the second class, 168 survived and 116 died; of the third class, only 181 survived and 519 died; of the crew, 209 survived and 701 died. In all, more than 1500 people died, and about 700 people survived; of the 1316 passengers, 498 survived.

Planetarium Show: 'Night of the Titanic'

A specially created "Night of the Titanic," show in the Planetarium is a must-see, so time your visit accordingly (there was only one showing during our visit).

Here we see that blind faith in progress and technology was only one side of the tragedy - the other side was disrespect for nature.

The show puts you on the Titanic on the last full day and into that fateful night so you see how the condition of the nearly moonless night sky, the ocean, the climate, all contributed to the disaster (though the tragedy was the accumulation of human error, hubris, bad judgment in failing to respect those factors).

The film begins on April 12, 1912, the last sunrise the Titanic would see. It is three days into the voyage, just two days from New York City, the ship's destination.

A century ago, the Gulf Stream current played role in sinking of Titanic, the greatest ocean tragedy of 20th century, the narrator says.

The current played a role because it brought icebergs further south than is typical. In April 1912, there was more sea ice than any April in the century.

Titanic entered an ice field the equivalent of three football fields long.

20 ships reported seeing ice that day.

Captain Smith delayed giving the call to evacuate (perhaps still believing the ship was unsinkable? perhaps realizing there were too few boats? perhaps because there wasn't a clear protocol for the crew?).

As a result of Titanic tragedy, we are reminded, there are a score of ship safety protocols: an international ice patrol, sonar and radar; ships must always be in radio contact; they have to have enough lifeboats, there are mandatory lifeboat drills.

Today, ships can use satellite data shows ice, current, monitor temp, have ice monitors. The

International Ice Patrol monitors calving activity of the icebergs.

All of these things are appreciated that much more because of being reminded of the Titanic tragedy.

A Blockbuster Exhibit

RMS Titanic, Inc. is the only company permitted by law to recover objects from the wreck site of Titanic. The company was granted Salvor-in-Possession rights to the wreck site of Titanic by a United States federal court in 1994 and has conducted eight research and recovery expeditions to the sunken ship, rescuing more than 5,500 artifacts.

“While important scientific discoveries are made every day,” said SFSCA CEO Lew Crampton, “there are few as stirring and dramatic as those researched and recovered from Titanic. This blockbuster exhibit depicts an inspiring and dramatic time in our history and its discovery would not have been possible without the presence of modern day technology. We want visitors of all ages to be exposed to the notion that science is all around us, and we know this epic exhibit will accomplish that goal in a unique and highly educational way. We are grateful to the Quantum Foundation for their sponsorship in assisting us to underwrite this important exhibit. We’re convinced that from young to old, visitors of all ages will enjoy Titanic!”

Over the past 15 years, more than 25 million people have seen this powerful exhibition in major museums worldwide, from Chicago to Los Angeles and Paris to London. Which is why being at the South Florida Science Center is such a coup.

“We know that a passion for science is at the heart of any health care career so, as a health care foundation, we’re excited that the South Florida Science Center is growing and developing as a center for science education in the region,” said Quantum Foundation President Eric Kelly. “Big exhibits like this help draw new people in to explore the world of science and this exhibit will encourage those who haven’t experienced the newly-renovated Science Center to come and see how just how exciting it is.”

The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, formerly known as the South Florida Science Museum, recently completed a $5 million expansion and renovation and is hosting "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" in its newly expanded exhibit hall. With a new mission to “open every mind to science,” the Science Center features more than 50 hands-on educational exhibits, an 8,000 gallon fresh and salt water aquarium- featuring both local and exotic marine life, a digital planetarium, conservation research station, Florida exhibit hall and an interactive Everglades exhibit. All exhibits will be open during the Titanic’s special showing.

Admission to the Science Center during Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition will be $15 for adults, $11.50 for children aged 3 to 12, and $13.50 for seniors aged 62 and older. Science Center members and children under 3 are free; and school group pricing will not be affected. Planetarium shows and miniature golf are not included in general admission pricing.

It is worth noting that SFSCA is next door to the Palm Beach Zoo, which is a stellar attraaction.

The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is located at 4801 Dreher Trail North, West Palm Beach and is open Monday – Friday from 9am-5pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-6pm. For more information, call 561-832-1988 or visit www.sfsciencecenter.org. Like the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium on Facebook and follow on Twitter @SFScienceCenter.

Karen Rubin, National Eclectic Travel Examiner

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