"SOS, Titanic calling. We have struck ice and require immediate assistance." Famous last words.
Three hours after the telegram shot across the seas from the RMS Titanic in the wee hours of April 15, 1912, the ill-fated ocean liner went down, killing 2,200 passengers and crew. “Fine voyage, fine ship” was another message from an unidentified passenger on board. Giving visitors a deep dive into this tragedy is Titanic Belfast, the largest museum dedicated to the world’s most luxurious liner.
The gym on the ill-fortuned RMS Titanic was only open to first-class passengers; it had a physical educator, a Turkish sauna, electric camels, rowing machines and bicycles. As males and females, even children weren’t allowed to mix, the timings were strict. When the Titanic was sinking, passengers pedalled on stationary bikes and used other gym equipment to keep warm.
These are just some of the lesser-known nuggets of information available to visitors at the museum, fittingly erected on the refurbished site of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the ill-fated ship was built.
At 126 feet, the building stands tall—as high as the Titanic’s hull—against the Belfast skyline. Dressed in glass and aluminium plates, the metallic grey of the stunning star-shaped structure matches the grim and forbidding sky. At the entrance with her arms outstretched is Titanica, a female figure inspired
by mastheads of ships of yesteryears. And perhaps the movie too.
Across three floors of the building, which opened its doors to the public on April 12, 2012 —the centenary of the ship’s maiden voyage—are nine self-guided galleries that detail the Titanic’s creation, its journey and finally, the sinking, along with Belfast’s history as a shipbuilding powerhouse. The smells, sights and sounds are recreated through photographs, interactive screens, replicas of cabins, actual items donated by survivors and their families, and the voices of survivors.
Framed memorabilia details a lunch menu that mentions Soused Herring and Potted Shrimp.
It includes notes about the ship’s interiors: the third-class dining saloon had separate sections for single women, families and for single men. Since there were no laundry facilities on board, the ship took a long 18,000 bedsheets and 45,000 table napkins.
In the section detailing Belfast’s history, there’s a dollhouse-like flax mill, where cut-out windows open to show workers inside.
A ticket stub for the launch of the Titanic on May 31, 1911, indicates the fascination of people for the ship and the thousands that came to witness the event.
A short Disney World-like Shipyard Ride through a scale model of the Titanic’s rudder offers glimpses into the inner workings of the ship amid the displays.
Most arresting are life-size replicas of the cabins; peering through the glass fronts into the interiors you can see newspapers carelessly flung on beds as if the readers had just left for a shower or breakfast.
A video exhibit that details the interiors, floor by floor, shows that they were even more luxurious than James Cameron’s sets in the film. In the last leg of the tour, the atmosphere turns sombre as the voices of survivors, calls and notes of the ship’s last hours fill you with thoughts of lost history.
The museum ends with the discovery of the Titanic shipwreck at the preview theatre. An afternoon here is a reminder that what many know of the Titanic is just the tip of the iceberg.