After a month of centennial ceremonies, voyages, 3-D movie re-releases and think pieces, you might feel overwhelmed -- or immersed, if you will -- by the anniversary of the Titanic's ill-fated voyage. There's no question that the lure of the ill-fated ship, like its musical theme, is bound to go on and on. In the wake of the April 15th anniversary, tourists can still indulge their fascination by visiting cities that the ship passed through, many of which are focusing major tourist campaigns on "Titanic" attractions.
Belfast, a boomtown shipbuilder of the era, still boasts that her dockworkers built what was the largest man-made moving object on earth. In its reviving Titanic Quarter, walking tours and boat cruises pass the Harland & Wolff offices where the boat was designed, the docks where she was outfitted, shops where her engines were fabricated. On the very spot where the 880-meter hull was built, an interactive multi-media showhouse with exterior prows designed to duplicate the Titanic's size shows off three floors of exhibits.
After stops in Southampton and Cherbourg, the liner's final port of call was Queenstown, now renamed Cobh, the southern port city of Cork, Ireland, where she paused just long enough to pick up the mail and take on 123 more passengers. All but seven were traveling in Third Class and those steerage immigrants are the focus of Cobh's attractions.
On the city's waterfront, the actual White Start Line office where passengers bought tickets has been converted to the "Titanic Experience" museum, a virtual voyage where visitors are ticketed and greeted by actors playing the captain and crew. After walking through a recreated First Class Cabin, they end up bobbing in a lifeboat as a projection of the ship sinks into the sea. At the conclusion visitors learn the fate of the actual passenger whose name they were assigned such as Katherine Buckley, a 22 year old Irish lass, one of the 73 Cobh immigrants who didn't make it to America alive.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, only 300 miles from the wreck site, undertook the task of recovering victims. An exhibit in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic shows how cable-laying ships were stocked with canvas and embalming fluid, rigged to transport the young seafarers, undertakers, and chaplains who sailed out to pull cold wet bodies from the water and then identify and bury the remains. The funeral parlor where John Jacob's body rested has been converted to a the Five Fishermen seafood restaurant (these days serving a version of the First Class dining room's last meal), but tiny leather shoes and poignant diaries preserved displayed in the museum express the reverence Haligonians applied to the somber task. In the Fairview Lawn cemetery, granite markers loosely arranged in the configuration of a ship's prow mark victims whose journey ended at sea, stones of the unidentified merely reading: "Died April 15, 1912."
America offers "Titanic" devotees additional attractions. The Titanic Historical Society maintains a storefront museum near Springfield, Massachusetts and Las Vegas' Luxor hotel and casino features "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition." There's a permanent museum in Branson, Missouri and 100,000 people a month go through the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where the cork lifejacket that saved Mrs. John Jacob Astor is among the exhibits .
Why do we persist in dwelling on the story and its artifacts? What explains this liner's hold? The "Luisitania" and "Empress of Ireland" wrecked with far greater losses, but those ships lacked charisma and they went down in a matter of minutes. The unsinkable ship came so close to achieving superlatives.
"If she'd stayed a little longer here in Cobh," a child asked his tour guide, "couldn't she have missed the iceberg?"
The magnificent liner steamed across the North Atlantic then sank sedately into its waters. A microcosm -- 2200 individuals -- rich and poor, young and old, cowardly and heroic, were confronted with precious minutes to review their lives and make final choices. Reflecting on their stories poses questions of our own: How would we have acted if we'd been aboard? What decisions would we have made?
Raising issues of character and mortality, the immortal "Titanic" sails on.
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