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Titanic exhibit an emotional experience and chilling reminder of historical tragedy

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The Titanic exhibit at the Luxor.
TVT and Premiere Exhibitions

There’s a definite chill in the air when you step out on the deck re-creation of the new Titanic exhibit. One moment you are marveling at the stunning staterooms and grand lobby of the great ship, and the next you’re so close to the icebergs, you can actually touch them.

It’s a highly emotional moment that takes you right back to the horrendous 1912 maritime disaster that drowned 1,523 passengers. The rich, the famous and the unknown were among those who perished on the ship the engineers said could never sink!

I walked out on deck and felt the replicated cold of a chilly Atlantic Ocean night. In one hands-on experience, I touched ice similar to that which the ill-fated Titanic collided with -- and then sank. You could say it’s slightly eerie, and one is definitely humbled by what happened. In a sense, without scaring you, there is a feeling that the souls of the passengers are watching as you explore their icy grave.

It wasn’t until 1985 that the wreckage was discovered, and not until one of the seven research and recovery expeditions in 1998 that a 17-ton section of the largest piece of the ship -- the hull for the C deck’s two first-class cabins -- was successfully brought to the surface. This is now a new addition to any of the previous Titanic exhibitions.

Now here in Las Vegas at the Luxor, you can get right up close to that incredibly well preserved metal wreckage discovered in 12,500 feet of water 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland. If the death of the Titanic was a tragedy, its new life as a stunning exhibit is a true miracle. It provides an amazing opportunity to experience real-life history.

The adventure begins with the purchase of a boarding pass ticket -- issued in the name of one of the passengers. You can explore the wall of names to see the fate of that person. Many new attractions have been added to this latest, enlarged, 14,000-square-foot Titanic exhibit at the Luxor, including the tiled floor of the grand staircase, cabinets of passengers’ jewelry, letters, cards and even sheet music. In all, there are 300 artifacts brought up from the ocean depths, including the navigational compass and steering wheel.

Leach Blog Photo

The Titanic exhibit at the Luxor.

About 18 months of design work went into the new Luxor exhibit space and five months of new construction work before last week’s official opening. Ironically, while we can freely meander the galleries, hallways and public spaces of the re-created ship thanks to RMS Titanic Inc. and Premiere Exhibitions Inc., the salvaged ship is still the subject of intense legal wrangling between the British, American and Canadian governments nearly 100 years later.

“We consistently see how Titanic resonates and touches everyone,” said Arnie Geller, chairman and CEO of Premier Exhibitions Inc. “Each of us can relate to someone on Titanic, and the retelling of her story feeds our curiosity time and again. It is a blockbuster experience.”

Luxor President Felix Rappaport added: “Titanic’s maiden voyage was a moment in time that has captivated us for decades, and the Luxor is now home to the authentic pieces of the story that re-creates this historic event.”

You know me and my collection of fun facts! I asked the officials at Premiere Exhibitions to put together the startling statistics for Vegas DeLuxe readers:

It cost $7.5 million to build the Titanic, and it carried a $5 million insurance policy. It would cost about $400 million to build Titanic today.

If the ship’s bow had crashed straight into the iceberg, the Titanic and most of its passengers would have survived.

Even if all 20 lifeboats had been filled to capacity, there would only have been room in them for 1,178 people.

At first, most of the passengers did not believe the Titanic was really sinking, hence the low number of 19 aboard the first lifeboat, even though it could carry 65.

Leach Blog Photo

The Titanic exhibit at the Luxor.

Lookout Archie Jewell had told his mate George Symons, “You can smell the ice before you get to it.” The minerals in icebergs that have broken off from glaciers in Greenland give off a distinctive odor as the icebergs melt on their journey south.

The Titanic was one of the first ships in distress to send out an “SOS” signal; the radio officer used “SOS” after using the traditional code of “CQD,” followed by the ship’s call letters.

At the time of Titanic’s destruction, the temperature of the water was only 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius). Most of those struggling in the water in their life jackets would have succumbed to hypothermia, while others may have had heart attacks.

Although several passengers and crewmembers on the lifeboats wanted to return to the ship, the majority protested out of fear that the hundreds in the water would swamp the boats.

Initial headlines of the Titanic disaster claimed all passengers survived and the ship was being towed to land.

The White Star Line was not blamed for the Titanic’s sinking because the Board of Trade feared that this would result in lawsuits that would hurt the line’s profits, damage the reputation of British shipping, and cause thousands of customers to switch to German or French liners.

No skeletons remain at the wreck site. Any bodies carried to the seabed with the wreck were eaten by fish and crustaceans.

A first-class ticket for a parlor suite on Titanic cost $4,350, which would be approximately $50,000 today.

First-class passengers had the luxury of paying for their leisure while on board: a ticket to the swimming pool cost 25¢, while a ticket for the squash court (as well as the services of a professional player) cost 50¢.

The forward part of the boat deck was promenade space for first-class passengers and the rear part for second-class passengers. People from these classes thus had the best chance of getting into a lifeboat simply because they could get to them quickly and easily.

The Titanic had its own newspaper, the Atlantic Daily Bulletin, prepared aboard the ship. In addition to news articles and advertisements, it contained a daily menu, the latest stock prices, horseracing results and society gossip.

A medical officer greeted the third-class passengers. He wanted to be sure that none of the immigrants had any health problems that would prevent them from entering the United States.

There were only two bathtubs for the more than 700 third-class passengers aboard the ship.

Sixty chefs and chefs’ assistants worked in the Titanic’s five kitchens. They ranged from soup cooks and roast cooks to pastry cooks and vegetable cooks. There was a kosher cook, too, to prepare the meals for the Jewish passengers.

Dorothy Gibson, a 28-year-old silent screen actress, was the resident movie star for the Titanic. She would later star in Saved From the Titanic, a movie made one month after the disaster. Her costume was the dress she wore on the night of the sinking. Exhibit officials told me that she is now the last remaining survivor alive but is too frail to travel any longer from her home in Britain.

Tennis player R. Norris Williams and his father, Charles, felt it was too cold to remain out on deck as the ship went down, so they went into the gym to ride the exercise bikes.

Ironically, in the 1898 novel Futility, 14 years before the sinking of the Titanic, Morgan Robertson penned a fictitious tale about a ship named Titan, which collide with an iceberg. Some of the uncanny similarities between the book and the Titanic disaster include the month (April), the length of the ship (Titanic 882.5 feet, Titan 800 feet), and the number of passengers on board (Titanic 2,200; Titan 2,000).

Prior to 1912, the Titanic was the largest ship built and also the largest moving object built by man. Its construction that began on March 31,1909, took two years to complete. The vessel was nearly four city blocks long at 882 feet and was 11 stories high and 92 feet at its widest point.

It was built for a speed of up to 29 mph. The most interesting statistic to me was that although it was equipped to carry 3,547 passengers, it had lifeboats for only 1,178 of them!

It is an exhibition definitely worth seeing. Add it to your Vegas Must Do List. In a city that doesn’t have much history of its own, there’s something very special about actually being able to step back in time nearly 97 years.

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