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Titanic 2.0


Friday, 17 February 2012


Opportunity knocks for six cities associated with the disaster, but have they gone overboard?

Titanic Experience COBH

I've had a newsletter from a company that does the PR for 'Atlantic Canada' among several other North American destinations. Detailing the region's forthcoming Titanic commemorations, 15 April 2012 being the centenary of the disaster, it reports that the province of Newfoundland & Labrador has reconstructed the original Marconi wireless station at Cape Race which received the ship's distress signals, while further south in Halifax, Nova Scotia - dubbed 'the Titanic's undertaker' because 121 victims were buried in its Fairview Lawn Cemetery - the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is displaying 'the world's finest collection of the liner's wooden artefacts from a near perfectly-preserved deckchair to a pair of child's shoes'.

I'm not a Titanic nut but I get why so many people are spellbound by the story and so many places are touting for business. It's too easy to be cynical. Deft and thought-provoking as this Guardian piece by Ian Jack is, I can't help but be provoked into thinking if there's one thing as predictable as Titanic commemorations it's a sniffy commentariat in tow.

Halifax is one of six so-called Titanic Cities 2012 with special programmes in place, the others being Cobh, Cherbourg, Liverpool, Belfast and Southampton. I can't imagine they're too fiercely in competition - the wooing of international visitors is well and good but local interest keeps the tills ringing - and maybe they could be more coordinated as a group. At any rate they've all got something to offer.

Titanic Cherbourg

New to Cobh in southern Ireland, where the last 123 passengers boarded, is the Titanic Experience featuring cinematic shows, scene sets and holographic imagery. Over at Cherbourg in Normandy, the vessel's first port of call, an exhibition entitled Titanic 2012 is running at the Cité de la Mer museum in the port's Art Deco transatlantic terminal.

Titanic Liverpool

End of March brings Titanic and Liverpool: the Untold Story at Merseyside Maritime Museum (where you can already view the original 20ft long builder's model of the ship) followed by the three-day Sea Odyssey spectacle in which a 'giant little girl' will tour the city's north end on a Titanic-themed 'journey of love, loss and reunion' (the vessel was registered here with White Star Lines, and many crew members came from the area).

Titanic Belfast

Belfast, where it was built, is the one with bells on. A two-month festival culminates in the opening of the £97 million, six-storey Titanic Belfast attraction in the heart of the city's old shipyard - currently Europe's largest urban regeneration project and tipped in some quarters to be a bigger draw for tourists than the London Olympics. In Southampton, from where Titanic sailed, Sea City is another shiny new venue, the centrepiece of a series of events including concerts, tours, commemorative services and conventions.

I feel sorry for Southampton notwithstanding the recent handbags with Liverpool over modern cruise facilities. Its Daily Echo reports that the city has 'lost out' to Belfast not only in the size and scale of its flagship attraction but also in securing 'unrivalled footage of Titanic's wreck to be incorporated into a hi-tech interactive floor' from Dr Robert Ballard, the American deep-sea explorer who found the ship in 1985. Sample comment posted by disgruntled of Southampton: 'Belfast's museum looks magnificent, ours is ghastly. What a complete and utter waste of money!' Still, worse things happen at sea.

All about opinions, isn't it? Take the infamous case of J Bruce Ismay, chairman of White Star and one of the survivors from the tragedy. Southampton City Council's website describes an impending theatre show about him thus: 'Ismay stepped into a lifeboat and sailed away from the stricken ship, sailed away from his passengers, sailed away from the cries and screams and tears. The Man Who Left The Titanic evokes that terrible voyage and asks whether Bruce Ismay only did what any of us might have done in the same circumstances, or should his actions that night consign his name to infamy? Was he a coward, or merely human?'

Titanic Cities Logo

Whereas Liverpool City Council contends: 'He escaped from Titanic by climbing into one of the last lifeboats to be lowered, but only after helping many other passengers into boats. Ismay's reputation was badly damaged by his survival of Titanic, especially following his very harsh treatment in the US press. This is unfortunate in view of his many achievements before and after the disaster'.

There's little doubt about Isidor Straus, the elderly owner of Macy's department store in New York and one of the world's richest men, who went down with the ship alongside his wife Ida who'd refused to leave his side. Decades earlier incidentally, as a 20-something businessman he'd spent part of the American Civil War living in Liverpool and working at Rumford Place, then the offices of a Charleston cotton firm managed by one Charles Prioleau, and still tucked off Chapel Street near the waterfront (to this day the Star Spangled Banner flies next to the Union Jack over the façade).

Rumford Place had another visitor in 1958. By then it was home to the Mercantile Marine Service Association, which was approached by a retired mariner trying to clear his name upon the release of the movie A Night To Remember. Stanley Lord had been captain of the Californian, the ship bound for Boston from Liverpool that reportedly ignored the Titanic's distress signals. He died four years later, aged 84, at his home in Wallasey.


'I'm not a Titanic nut but I get why so many people are spellbound by the story and so many places are touting for business'


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