by Devon Brooke Clasen
A far cry from the flashy, showy style of so many shows and attractions in Las Vegas, “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” at the Tropicana Resort presents a moving, memorable yet haunting historic survey of the 20th century’s most infamous maritime disaster, showcased in a generously sized 25,000-square-foot retrospective.
Entering the exhibit, each visitor is outfitted with a personal audio device, supplying narrated commentary and facts as well as dramatic readings of historic quotes from figures connected to the ship’s construction. Additionally, guests are provided with a charming keepsake boarding pass for the RMS Titanic, complete with the name and personal information of an actual passenger, whose fate is to be revealed upon the exhibition’s completion; a clever yet sobering touch to truly personalize the experience.
Inside the exhibit, visitors stroll down aisles arranged chronologically, illustrating the timeline of events and detailing the conception, creation and completion of the legendary liner, deemed “practically unsinkable” in its day, a boast which virtually dared its ultimate fate. Brick corridors are appointed with blueprints, plans and large historic photographs interspersed among written tidbits, which serve to support the audio tidbits. The audio component merely serves to provide a more dramatic version of the facts. If you don’t mind reading the appropriately brief written accounts, the audio portion is not necessary, as the information presented is redundant.
Leaving the Titanic’s creation on land, visitors “board” the vessel, and travel down a replica of a service hallway, complete with rumbling engine noise courtesy of a cunningly hidden sound system which truly demonstrates the less-than-luxe conditions that the third class passengers experienced. A third class cabin is reproduced, similarly styled as the sparse, cramped, non-private accommodations of the Titanic’s poorest passengers. Next, the opulence and grandeur of the first class suites is presented; their luxurious accommodations feature newfangled electrical lighting, fine woodwork, delicate porcelain and a spacious floor plan, creating a striking juxtaposition of the lives of those lost, both rich and poor, aboard the doomed liner.
Visitors then walk onto a recreation of the leisure deck, which, dimly lit, chilled to approximate frigid arctic evenings, blanketed by a star field and enlivened with sound and lighting effects, truly gives the impression of the stark surroundings and isolated feel of the ship’s distant location. According to the timeline, that fateful moment is close at hand, and the next portion of the exhibit offers a tangible, tactile experience to transport visitors to that night, to truly understand the icy conditions awaiting the ill-fated passengers. A life sized iceberg, housed in an effectively darkened and gloomy room, is maintained at North Atlantic Ocean temperatures, and invites visitors to experience the chilly sensation of the freezing ocean waters that awaited. Emblazoned on the walls, quotes from firsthand witnesses describe the perilous events following the ship’s ominous encounter with the “berg.”
Arranged throughout the exhibit, a variety of morbid relics, artifacts and vestiges, recovered from the ship’s wreckage site, restored and dramatically displayed, provide a moving, even heartbreaking account of the passengers’ lives. Some items, like jewelry, mirrors, well-tanned leather accessories, glassware and ceramics seem untouched by time, and it remains unfathomable that they’ve spent a lifetime at the bottom of the sea. Fragile paper documents, money and postcards haven’t fared as well, as the ravages of time and corrosive salt water have left their mark. Rusted hardware, fixtures and appointments from the vessel are poignantly presented, and the awe and power of that moment is truly felt by all who pass by.
Most profound of all, personal items such as clothing, jewelry, toiletries and family keepsakes allow visitors to feel the intense gravity of the disaster in a way not possibly communicated on either the big or small screen. One can imagine that the delicate pair of spectacles or the chef’s toque on display may have been worn just moments before their owners’ untimely fate. Perhaps the most somber artifact, the exhibit includes a corroded clarinet played by a band member of the infamous Titanic orchestra, whose melody played on even as the ship met with its end. Viewing these items, visitors feel a very real sense of loss and tragedy.
Upon completion of the exhibit, visitors can examine a wall featuring the names of all the passengers, and find the person named on the boarding pass provided at the entrance. To discover whether “you” survived or not points to the uncertainty and unpredictability of survival, no doubt experienced by all during this devastating disaster.
Two souvenir photo ops are offered throughout the tour, one with a green screen backdrop later filled in with a digitally reproduced scene, the other on a recreation of the aptly named Grand Staircase. Benches are arranged along the tour, allowing guests to rest and take in the enormity of that fateful day. Uplifting it is not, but historically fascinating, powerful and undeniably moving, “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” provides a stirring and historically significant option for visitors seeking substance with their Vegas style.