Monday, June 17, 2013

White Star Line meets Blue Berg

Entry into the Titanic Experience

On 11 April 1912 two passenger tenders slipped from the wooden docks in Cobh (pronounced Cove), County Cork, Ireland.  Since this was an era before Irish independence, the purser announced their departure from Queensland (the British name for Cobh).  The two tenders carried 123 people around Spike Island and out to the ship waiting to take them to America.

Embarkation point from the bay...

The tenders brought back, one Irish priest who had boarded the Titanic in England, but whose Bishop, inexplicably ordered him to stay in Ireland and not proceed to New York.  The priest's photographs of the ship and people on board were discovered some years later at the back of a closet and provide some of the best recorded images of the doomed ship.

The city of Cobh is about twenty minutes from where I am living in Ballycotton, just east of the harbor entrance.  The Ballycotton lighthouse protects the eastern approach to Cobh harbor.  Once a bustling seaport town, indeed a major port for centuries, Cobh is now a quaint, slightly rundown, but proud tourist town whose main attraction is the 'Titanic Experience'.

A small interactive museum, gift shop, information center, the 'Experience' begins by inviting you up the steps of an obviously old, yet well preserved ivory stucco covered building right on the waterfront.  Golden lions of unknown provenance protect the stairway leading into a small entryway.  On the right is a small gift shop full of Titanic momentos.  Straight ahead is a wood enclosed ticket booth where for a modest sum, the visitor is given a photographic replica of the original boarding ticket of one of the 123 passengers who sailed from Cobh that day.  Only 79 of them made it to New York.

My name was John Linnane. I was 61 years old, traveling alone, on a second class ticket.   I was told to hold on to the ticket until the end of the tour where I could check the manifest to find out my family background and most importantly, whether or not I was one of the survivors.

The veranda where First and Second Class passengers gathered to await passage to the Titanic

Up a rather cheesy indoor ramp we were met by a video purser who welcomed us and asked us to proceed through the door at the top of the ramp and out on the veranda overlooking the bay.  We were guided out on this wrought iron enclosed porch of sorts one story above the ground and asked to stand next to a video display.

At this point it begins to sink in that I am not just in a not-so-well endowed museum.  I am actually in the building and on the veranda where the real Titanic passengers stood and waited to board the passenger tenders.  One hundred and one years ago those 123 people stood exactly where I was standing.   The pier, now rotted and weathered, down below us is the actual pier people walked out on.  In fact beside us is a picture of the crowd that day and we are told we are standing in the exact place where a tall man in a bowler hat is standing in the picture.

Remains of the actual pier where passenger tenders moored before going out to the Titanic

I'm not particularly into eerie and spooky... but this was impressive.  We are led into a dark room, obviously intended to be on the ship and informed that we have just struck an ice berg.  For you who have been on cruises, the similarity of tone and language was impressive as our small group was told to assemble at our lifeboat station, number 7, purely as a precaution.  We file through a narrow opening into a lifeboat replica and are confronted by a large screen on the other side of the life boat.

In reality, lifeboat 7 was the first lifeboat to be lowered from the sinking Titanic.  For the next 10 to 15 minutes we have a front row seat as other lifeboats are lowered and we watch the Titanic go lower in the water.  In the end, the ship goes bow down vertical in the water, breaks in half from the stress with the stern crashing down on the sea, only to be dragged by the now submerged bow into the cold dark water.  Until the end, you could here the orchestra playing Nearer My God to Thee.

We are then invited to go into the rest of the exhibit, which has no Titanic artifacts but does have mixed media displays of different aspects of the ship, it's crew, best and worst theories as to what happened, including why rescue ships were too late to the scene to save anyone not in lifeboats.  A replica of the Titanic sits in the middle of the room.  In an alcove, a video is playing a narration by the Irish master of divers from the expedition that finally discovered the Titanic on the ocean floor.

While many artifacts have been recovered, nothing was taken from the Titanic itself, either from
the much damaged stern section or the relatively intact bow section some 700 feet away on the ocean floor.  The recovered artifacts are from the extensive debris field between the two sections of the ship.

John Linnane was in Ireland to visit family after the death of his wife the year before.  He was returning to New York to live with his children there.  He did not survive.

I remain, OMOTIC.

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