For more than 70 years, a bar of soap sat unharmed inside a copper container some 12,000 feet below the ocean surface.
It was recovered from the wreckage of a ship thought to be “unsinkable” and became part of an archive of items that offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of more than 1,500 people who met an icy death aboard the Titanic.
And starting March 23, New Mexicans will, for the first time, be able to see that bar of soap and more than 120 other artifacts recovered from the vessel that still sits, broken in two, about 375 miles south of Newfoundland on a seabed miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
|If you go
What: “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”
Where: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
When: March 23 through Oct. 27, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week
Admission: Tickets: adults $18; children $11; seniors $15; members $6. To buy tickets, visit www.NMNaturalHistory.org starting March 15.
“I think just how hard it is for a bar of soap to stay together for more than 70 years,” said Alexandra Klingelhofer, vice president of collections for Premier Exhibitions, the company that owns the archive. “That’s the story of Titanic. It’s that kind of connection that brings it home.”
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science staff is “all hands on deck” for the upcoming exhibit, called “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” which will showcase the rise and fall of the British passenger liner that was on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City when it struck an iceberg and sank.
The exhibit, which runs through October, is being hailed by museum staff as the biggest temporary exhibit to ever grace the Old Town-area museum. It will feature a chunk of ice made to resemble an iceberg, artifacts scooped off the ocean floor, and an interactive memorial that honors the victims whose icy demise continues to captivate public interest a century later.
Charles Walter, executive director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, said the exhibit aims at immersing visitors in the history of the vessel in a way that affects even the most landlocked.
“It’s just the most human of stories,” Walter said Friday. “Nature humbled us and created this huge tragedy. It resonates hugely with people.”
Visitors will receive boarding pass replicas from the ill-fated voyage that give the biographies of individual passengers.
They will then enter the exhibit and view replicas of first-class and third-class cabins where passengers stayed during the voyage.
They’ll also see well-preserved artifacts that range from a chef’s hat to delicate china to a gold-plated chandelier that once hung above the ship’s smoking room.
When visitors make it through the exhibit, they’ll finally arrive at the “Memorial Wall,” which lists the names of those who perished in the freezing, iceberg-riddled waters in April 1912. There, visitors will find out whether their passenger was one of the more than 700 who survived.
“It puts the whole story in perspective when you’re one of the passengers, literally,” said Alicia Borrego Pierce, the museum’s deputy director. “You become part of the characters. You become real people.”
Premier Exhibitions owns the Titanic exhibit as well as “Bodies: The Exhibition,” which recently came through the Albuquerque Convention Center.
The company operates two other similar exhibitions throughout the country and swaps out artifacts between them, Borrego Pierce said. More than 5,500 artifacts comprise the collection, though many are too fragile to travel, Klingelhofer said.
The exhibit is the definitive traveling exhibition that examines the Titanic’s history, and it’s the largest exhibition of its kind to ever come to the New Mexico museum.
“We have never had one of this caliber,” Borrego Pierce said. “It really doesn’t get better than the exhibits these guys do.”
The exhibition will also include:
♦ A detailed examination of the “unsinkable” ship’s flawed engineering that prevented it from arriving safely at its destination;
♦ The science behind icebergs and the hazards they posed to the Titanic and other ships;
♦ A description of the painstaking excavation efforts that recovered items thought to be lost forever; and
♦ A detailed model of the Titanic.
“The science and engineering is just woven through it,” Walter said, which he added makes the exhibit a good fit for the science and natural history museum.
The state Department of Cultural Affairs and the museum’s foundation negotiated the contract and worked to keep the prices lower than normal, Walter said.
When the exhibit arrived in Denver, New York City, Las Vegas and other cities, adult admission regularly exceeded $30. Here, an adult visitor can see the exhibit and the rest of the museum for $18.
The exhibit carries a $200,000 licensing fee in addition to other associated costs, Walter said. Museum visitors, through a survey last year, expressed strong interest in seeing the exhibit, and Klingelhofer said visitors will be surprised and enlightened through the interactive experience.
“The collection does speak to the activities of people and the lives of people on the ship,” she said. “I think the exhibit is a wonderful way to experience the Titanic as it was and as it is.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal