They begin lining up at dawn to see items salvaged from a shipwreck that still haunts and intrigues even the most stoic of ocean liner antiquity experts.
Doug Simon of Syracuse, N.Y., drove 12 hours non-stop to see the newly opened Titanic exhibit in Pittsburgh, Pa.
“I have been fascinated all my life with that fateful night of 1912,’’ said Simon, who collects ocean liner life jackets and other deep sea fishing memorabilia.
Bridget O’Day, a retired history teacher from Ireland, said she used to play near the old shipyards where the Titanic was built.
“I am bringing my grandchildren to see this exhibit which is really a testament to human courage and sacrifice,’’ said O’Day, who now lives near Newark, N.J. O’Day wants to visit Millvina Dean, the only living Titanic survivor. At two-months of age, Dean was the youngest Titanic passenger.
Mike Marcus, marketing director at the Carnegie Science Center, said the exhibit makes visitors feel as though they were there on that frigid tragic night in the North Atlantic 96 years ago.
“Titanic: The Artifact,’’ which opened May 24 for a three-month run at the Carnegie Science Center takes visitors through a chronological journey through the voyage of the Titanic. It tells the story of ship, the passengers and crew through more than 260 objects salvaged from the wreck, which lies on the ocean floor 2 1/2 miles beneath the surface.
“As you move from space to space, you feel like you are on the ship,’’ Marcus said. “You think. This is what it would feel like and this is what it would have looked like.’’
Marcus said the entire exhibit is about 1912. It is about the people and what they were like and where they were from.
Since 1987, explorers and researchers from RMS Titanic Inc. have salvaged more than 5,500 pieces from the wreck, including those in the exhibit.
Premier Exhibitions – the Atlanta-based company that owns RMS Titanic – created the Titanic exhibit.
Objects in the exhibit include a 3,500-pound piece of the $7.5 million ship’s starboard hull. The piece, which came from the ship’s china storage section, is 96-feet long. 55 feet wide and 22 feet high.
Other objects – many of which are in remarkable condition – include cherubs from the grand staircase, chandeliers, pieces of silverware and china eyeglasses, perfume vials that still have an aroma, and even a trilby-style hat in excellent condition.
Because of an inscription, RMS Titanic officials even know who wore the hat: a 17-year-old named Edgar Andrew, who had a ticket to ride another ship, but was bumped to Titanic because of a coal strike.
Did Andrew survive the sinking? You will find out when you visit the exhibit.
All visitors when entering receive a boarding pass that are replicas of the actual Titanic tickets. On the back of each ticket is the name and description of a passenger whose identity the visitor adopts during the tour. Visitors who take self-guided tours, don’t know their fate on the night of the sinking until the end of the tour.
The exhibit also includes some full-size replicas of Titanic rooms that visitors can walk through, including the model of a first class stateroom, complete with furniture.
Josh Reed, an antique furniture collector from Lexington, Ky., said he came to the exhibit strictly to see the historical room set ups. “I’m going to open a shop and I want to snare some ideas from the exhibit.’’
Most Pittsburgh natives spend hours in the exhibit stateroom because the room is modeled after the one that was supposed to be occupied that fateful trip by Henry Clay Frick, the coke and steel baron. But in a lucky stroke of fate for the wealthy Pittsburgh industrialist, he canceled his trip aboard the Titanic after his wife, Adelaide, sprained her ankle in France.
In an exhibit area about icebergs, visitors can touch a slab of ice, to get a feel for how cold the water was the night of the shipwreck.
“There’s just so much to see, “ said Brent Scoft of Pittsburgh, Pa. “I’m a collector of old books and I would have loved to have seen some of the rare books in the ship’s cargo. One of the most exotic objects in the Titantic’s cargo was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam, a book of ancient sayings adorned with 1,050 gold-set precious stones.
Other visitors marvel at the courage of passengers and crew. One such story unveiled at the exhibit involves journalist William T. Stead who had written many articles predicting a great maritime disaster if ships went to sea without enough lifeboats. When Stead realized he would not make it into one of the few Titanic lifeboats, he sat down in a leather chair in the great ship’s smoking room and read a book as the Titanic slid into the icy waters.
Tickets range from $15 to $20 and the exhibit runs Thursday to Sunday. Additional information may be obtained by calling 412-237-3400.