On a recent business trip (honestly!) to Las Vegas, I stumbled across this exhibition in the Luxor Hotel. It showcases over 350 artefacts brought up from the wreck site of the Titanic between 2000 and 2010.
The exhibit is a mixture of actual artefacts from the seabed, some models of the ship itself and reconstructions of the deck, grand staircase, and cabins.
As I entered the exhibit I was given a boarding card with the name of an actual passenger and a bit of back-story to who they were are why they were travelling to New York; the twist was that at the end of the exhibition was able to scan my boarding card to reveal the full story of ‘my’ passenger, and crucially whether they survived or not…
The boarding card I was given was that of Mr Edward Ryan, aged 24, from Ballinareen in County Tipperary, Ireland. Travelling in Third Class 😔, Edward was on his way to visit his sister in New York looking for work.
As I made my way through the exhibition I was struck by how much detail and personal information about people’s lives and their links to the artefacts is known. For example, my boarding card told me that whilst on board, Edward had befriended an engineer who gave him a tour of the engine room.
More importantly, I wanted to know if Edward survived? Travelling Third Class (we’ve all seen the movie) and knowing that over two thirds of those on board perished, I was not hopeful. You will have to wait and see!
Life on board Titanic
The artefacts are brought to life with reconstructions of a cabin, corridors, deck and the famous Grand Staircase. In each of these ‘rooms’ there was a video playing of a fictitious passenger from Titanic, reliving what life would have been like, giving a feeling of how passengers felt, and how excited they were to be on board the biggest and most famous of the great ocean liners.
First Class, we all know, was super-luxury, however I hadn’t appreciated how much. These cabins were designed to be better than any other contemporary ship, so much so that even Titanic’s Second Class cabins were designed to be of a similar quality to First Class cabins on other liners of the day.
There were various designs of cabin to choose from for First Class passengers, such as Jacobean, Louis XV, Georgian and Regency. Exclusively, it was only these passengers who could enjoy hot and cold running water!
A First Class ticket would have set you back $2,500, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you convert into today’s money, that’s $57,000… and there was room for 750 First Class passengers (you can do the maths!).
And there was even more luxury than that – two suites costing a cool $100,000 a ticket in today’s money!
If that was over budget, passengers could have settled for Second Class (the pre-runner of Club Class I guess). Tickets were only $1,776. In today’s money that’s still a hefty $10,500, and without hot & cold running water! Long distance travel was clearly not cheap at the beginning of the last century.
So, for the rest of us mere-mortals it would have to have been Third Class at only $40 a ticket – that’s $900 to you and me – not bad for an Atlantic cruise?!
As for poor Edward Ryan, in 3rd class, he would have got the bottom bunk in a cabin with three strangers. Still, being the Titanic, he did get the luxury of a proper mattress, which wouldn’t have been the case on other ships.
Many items can be seen in the exhibition ranging from bottles, cups, and plates from Titanic’s restaurants, to personal belongings of the passengers. As well as the Perrier bottle shown below I could see a bottle of champagne, still with its cork and contents intact. Some suitcases survived, preserving clothes and more personal items inside. Even playing cards and banknotes somehow managed to survive a century at the bottom of the Atlantic.
I don’t know if it was only the air-conditioning, but when I walked out onto the replica section of the Promenade Deck there was an extra chill in the air. And here’s another fact that has stuck in my mind: a moonless night, and a very calm sea were the worst possible conditions that night for Titanic. Why? Because in 1912, icebergs at night were only detected by moonlight reflecting off their surface or the sound of waves crashing against them…
The second half of the exhibition focuses on the wrecksite. I was first presented with a very large model of how Titanic now looks at the bottom of the Atlantic. To give you a bit of size perspective, this model must be about 8 ft tall.
There was lots to see and learn here about how items are brought to the surface, and more importantly, preserved to prevent them deteriorating after so long under water.
For me the two most memorable items of the exhibiton were here. The biggest, and the strangest.
First, the strangest. Take a look at these two photos below. The first image shows how hundreds of au gratin dishes were found embedded in the sand, lined up in perfect formations. These are the actual dishes, and, being made to withstand extreme cooking conditions, have survived remarkably intact. The second photo is of a video showing them on the seabed, all lined up in formation. How, I wondered, among the surrounding catastrophe did they end up like this?
The answer is quite remarkable. These dishes, and many others like them, were all securely stowed on shelves in wooden cupboards that protected them in their stacks, from the top all the way down to the bottom. Then over the next century the wooden cupboards simply rotted away leaving the dishes lodged in the sand!
The next artefact is simply amazing. It is called ‘The Big Piece” and is in fact an actual piece of Titanic’s hull that has been brought up from 2.5 miles below the surface. This weighs an astonishing 15 tons, and yes, it is actually a real piece of Titanic’s hull, complete with porthole windows. Could Mr Edward Ryan have once looked through one of these portholes? I wondered.
So, if you’re in Las Vegas with a couple of hours to spare, go and see the exhibition. It’s definitely worth it, here’s the link:
Oh, I nearly forgot, did my boarding card owner, Edward Ryan survive? Read for yourself:
Fascinatingly, Mr Ryan was also the last man to jump into the last boat, as documented in more of his, and other passenger stories here: https://www.hiddentipperary.com/tipperary-the-titanic-connection/
As this original newspaper from April 16, 1912 reporting of two special missing passengers shows, this was and continues to be, one of the most enduring stories of all time….