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The Cruise Ship in Perpetuity


On Saturday in Las Vegas, we visited one of the seven Titanic exhibitions in the U.S. and, in case you think the public's appetite for the most star-crossed cruise ship in history has been lost, No. 8 opens in two weeks in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was our first "Titanic museum" experience, and we entered it with assumed names, Thomas Andrews Jr. and Dagmar Jenny Ingeborg Bryhl. Since Dagmar was a "Miss" it was clear they were not (like us) husband and wife.

This is the novel way the curators of The Artifact Exhibition start to take you back in time, by issuing Titanic tickets in the names of two passengers. They also point out you can check the list of passengers at the exit to see if you survived, or perished in the disaster.

An eerie stroll through this time capsule, a fixture at the Luxor in Vegas, takes about an hour. It is, as you might expect, full of artifacts from the sunken luxury liner, many of them "never before seen" and for people like us who'd never been to an exhibition, that sell line was a certainty. Yet we found it was the people — survivors and victims — whose stories were more compelling, many of which were "never before heard" (at least by us).

Like the French salesman who packed 65 vials of perfume in his luggage, 62 of which were recovered 90 years later, and you can still get a whiff of the fragrance among the artifacts.

Like a famous fashion designer named Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, who wrote in her diary: "Fancy strawberries in April and in the middle of the ocean…why, you would think you were at The Ritz!"

Like the Larouche family of six heading for Argentina because the husband/father had a better chance of employment in his native country.

Like Thomas Andrews (right), the White Star Line's chief designer, who was on the ship only because his uncle (one of the company's owners) was ill and couldn't go.

Like the British passenger angrily leaving his fiancee behind because he had to attend his brother's wedding in Chicago, writing: "Right now I wish the Titanic were lying at the bottom of the ocean."

There are more than 2,200 such stories from the Titanic, and more than 1,500  of them are at the bottom of the ocean. For us, they're more interesting than looking at broken tea cups and dirty socks and bedposts from the grand old ship, although we did find "The Big Piece" fascinating. It's a chunk of the starboard side of the ship, 26 feet long, and it will have a 10-year stay at the Luxor, five of which remain. But imagine that from a ship 823 feet long, the biggest piece recovered is just 26 feet, and that it took two years just to remove enough salt to slow its deterioration.

It was Thomas Andrews who delivered the death knell to the Titanic's captain, on that April night almost 101 years ago. After the designer assessed the damage he reported that sinking was a "mathematical certainty." He never made it into a lifeboat.

Dagmar Bryhl did.

Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas
4 nights
April 4, 2013
Tampa (return): Cozumel
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $102

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