Titanic:  The Artifact Exhibit - California Science Center - April 27, 2003

The California Science Center is currently hosting Titanic:  the Artifact Exhibit from February 9, 2003 through September 1, 2003, daily from 10am to 5pm.  The California Science Center is located at 700 State Drive, Exposition Park, near the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, west of the Harbor (110) freeway.

Parking is available for $6 in the visitor lot at 39th and Figueroa.  Be advised that the parking lot is quite a ways from the California Science Center.  There is a shuttle that runs from the parking lot to the front entrance of the California Science Center, but there is no posted information about when the shuttles start and end.  If there's anyone in your party that would have difficulty making that walk from the parking lot to the front entrance, you might want to consider first dropping off that party in front of the California Science Center before proceeding to the parking lot and then meeting up.

Tickets are available individually for the exhibit itself ($9.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors and students [13 and older], and $4.50 for children ages 4 through 12) and for the IMAX documentary film entitled  "Titanica" ($7.50 for adults, $5.50 for seniors and students, and $4.50 for children), and combination tickets for both the exhibit and the film are also available ($15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $7 for children).  There is also an audio tour that you can purchase for $5 at the exhibit entrance which includes head phones broadcasting additional information at various points in the exhibit.  Exhibit and film tickets are available either through Ticketmaster or through the ticket booth at the California Science Center.  Be warned, though, that Ticketmaster adds a fee of $2.25 per ticket ordered.

Showtimes for "Titanica" are 10am, noon, 1pm, 2pm, 4pm and on Saturdays and Sundays only, there is a 6pm showing as well.  Tickets for the exhibit are given with staggered entrance times, allotted in 15 minute intervals.  The first entrance time of the day is 9:45am, and the last entrance time of the day is 4pm.  Since the exhibit ticket only allows you one entrance into the exhibit itself, if you're going to see the film as well, be sure to coordinate the timing of your film and your exhibit entrance time.  For instance, if you're planning to attend the 10am screening, you should request an exhibit entrance time after 11am, and if you're attending a later film screening, you should request an exhibit entrance time either before or after the film that gives you enough time in the exhibit itself.  (Having an exhibit entrance time of 1:30pm when you're planning on attending the 2pm film would be a bad idea.)

Be advised that no food, beverage, videotaping or photography are allowed inside the exhibit.  There are a few things outside of the exhibit that might be of interest to photograph, so you can bring a camera for those, and you will be allowed to go through the exhibit carrying, but not using, the camera.

We had arrived at Exposition Park on Sunday at about 9:30am.  After parking the car, we then met up with other friends and went to the ticket line.  With the exorbitant handling fee that Ticketmaster charges, we had decided to just get tickets at the California Science Center.  We figured that the tickets for the exhibit itself wouldn't be sold out, and while we all wanted to see "Titanica", we wouldn't be terribly disappointed if we didn't end up being able to see it.  It is interesting to note that Ticketmaster only offers tickets to "Titanica" for the noon and 2pm screenings, so there must be a limit to what tickets are available through Ticketmaster, so be advised that even if Ticketmaster says they're sold out for a particular time, that doesn't necessarily mean tickets aren't available at the box office.  We bought our combination tickets and were happy that we had decided not to pay the extra Ticketmaster charge.  None of the prior information had made mention of the staggered entrance times, so while we had also purchased tickets for the noon screening of the film, we realized that we didn't know if we'd have enough time to go through the exhibit at a comfortable pace.  We went back out to the box office to try to exchange film times, but they just crossed out our noon showtime and handwrote "2pm" on the ticket as they didn't expect the screenings to sell out.  We entered the exhibit at about 10:30 and it took about an hour, going at a leisurely pace, to make it all the way through.  The exhibit wasn't particularly crowded at that time of day, so it might take longer on a day with more visitors.

I will detail below what you can expect to see in the exhibit.  If you don't want spoilers in that fashion, I will tell you now that I thought it was a fantastic exhibit, with many interesting artifacts but was mostly affecting because it helped to relay what it must have been like to have lived in that time and to have been on the Titanic.  I definitely think the exhibit is worth seeing.  I enjoyed "Titanica" as well, but having seen James Cameron's "Ghosts of the Abyss" only two weeks prior, I was probably less impressed than I might have been otherwise.  Still, because the style is very different, I do think the film is worth seeing, especially as a companion piece to the exhibit.

For the review of "Ghosts of the Abyss", please click here.


Following the spoiler space is more detailed information about the exhibit.











From the entrance on the first floor of the building, you can look up and see two huge posters advertising the Titanic's planned journey from Southampton, England to New York.  On the second level of the building is a greatly detailed replica of the Titanic, along with information boards about its conception and construction.  The exhibit itself is on the third floor of the building.

As you approach the entrance, you are given a boarding pass, which is a replica of a boarding pass for an actual passenger on the Titanic.  The boarding pass includes the passenger's name, age, country of origin, companions, class of travel, cabin number (if known), and some biographical information.  Each person is given a boarding pass of a passenger of his/her own gender.  My passenger was in second class, whereas the passengers of the other three people were all in first class.  Another person tears off the exhibit portion of your ticket, and you enter the exhibit.

After the initial dark foyer, you enter the first room which is filled with artifacts from and information about the ship and its passengers as Titanic is about to set sail.  I found this room to be very affecting because you read about all the hopes and dreams of the passengers as they are about to embark on their voyage, but you read all of this with the knowledge of what is to befall them.

After making your way down a corridor that resembles the B-deck of the ship, you reach a reconstruction of the grand staircase.  The staircase is roped off, but it's amazing to stand there and feel what it must have been like on the ship.  There is a person at the bottom of the stairs who greets you in character as a member of Titanic's crew and in the process, gives lots of information including the amenities available to first and second class passengers.  He also mentioned that since it was Sunday, third class passengers were allowed on that deck to attend church services, but they were only allowed to pass through that area, not actually go up the staircase.  It was a great idea to have somebody there in that role, and he was obviously very knowledgeable with his facts.

In the next room, there are informational placards of the menus that were offered in each of the three class dining rooms.  There are also recovered artifacts from each of the three dining room classes, and over the speaker, there is broadcast dining music as well as sounds that one would expect to hear from a busy dining room aboard the luxury liner.

In the next room, there is more information about the various amenities on the ship, including a recreation of what a first-class suite looked like.  Broadcast over the speakers now, in addition to pleasant music, are the sounds of the engine at a low volume.  Personal effects artifacts are available to see, and also scattered around the room are short bios/stories of various passengers and crew members, with information about how they ended up on the Titanic and their ultimate fate after the tragedy.  There is also a placard that details what a second-class suite is like with a reference to a recreation, but there was no such cabin to see.  We thought perhaps that cabin was with a different Titanic exhibit at present, as there are multiple Titanic exhibits on display in the United States and abroad.

After making your way down another corridor, one very different from the B-deck earlier, you come across a duplicate of a third-class cabin, and the difference between these accommodations and the other classes are very evident.  There was a woman there as well who was supposed to be a resident of the cabin.  I had heard her talking to some people before us, and she too was giving out information much like the man at the staircase, but she was just going on break when we walked up to the cabin, so we weren't able to speak to her.  We did notice that in this area, there was no more music being piped in, and the sounds of the engine were much louder and more pronounced.

The next room is the boiler room, where the first inklings of trouble were to appear.

The next room tells the story of the tragedy itself.  In the darkened room, with a backdrop of stars reminiscent of what it might have looked like the night of April 14, 1912, there is an iceberg that you can touch, with a placard explaining that the water that night was even colder than the iceberg, and that most of the people who died that night died from hypothermia.  On a television is broadcast a recreation of the Titanic being hit by the iceberg and eventually breaking into two and sinking to the bottom of the ocean.  There are also projections around the room with comments from some of the passengers of what it was like that night.

The next room has information about the aftereffects of the accident, including newspaper stories and more placards with stories of individuals who didn't survive.  On one wall, there are four lists of passengers, one list for each class of passenger and one for the crew, and each list is divided into two sections, those who were saved and those who were lost.  It was heartbreaking to see the list of third class passengers and crew, which contained the majority of those who did not survive the tragedy.  From these lists, you can also see the fate of the passenger whose boarding pass you were given.  In each of our cases, our passengers survived.

The final room details the recovery efforts through the end of 2000 to salvage the sunken Titanic, including a replica of the submersible used on the dives.  The centerpiece is a giant piece of hull that was recovered in 1998 that measures 23 feet by 12 feet and weighs about 20 tons.  There are diagrams that tell you exactly where this piece of hull was on the Titanic.  There is also some information about the artifact conservation process and the painstaking measures that need to be taken to assure that recovered objects do not disintegrate following recovery.

I found the exhibit to be very interesting and quite affecting, partly because you are looking at actual artifacts recovered from the wreckage and that, in some instances, belonged to the passengers themselves, but particularly because of the individual stories that you could read about.  While the statistics of the dead are staggering in and of themselves, it becomes much more personally involving when you read about individual people and their particular circumstances.  While I'm interested in the story of the Titanic, I wouldn't say I'm overly fascinated with it (attendance at one Titanic exhibit and two Titanic films all in one month notwithstanding), but the exhibit draws you into the sequence of events, from the initial fascination at being aboard this grand and opulent ship and the wonder of all the available luxuries, to the less grandiose surroundings of the third class who though have no fewer dreams of where this passage will take them, to the utter terror and tragedy of the destruction of this grand ship and the loss of so many lives.  The exhibit takes you very well from the visions that made the construction and realization of this great dream possible to the arrogance and callousness that contributed to making the accident more of a tragedy than it needed to be.

Once you exit the exhibit, you are then in the merchandise shop that's been set up.  There are all manner of merchandise available, from numerous books detailing various aspects of the Titanic story, videos, clothing, toy replicas, and even dishware replicating those used on the Titanic.  While I understand the merchandising aspect of this phenomenon, there was something about the overmerchandising that bothered me, but one item in particular I found to be in very bad taste and borderline offensive.  Among the other things for sale are packages of rock sugar packaged as "iceberg rock crystal candy".  Given the devastating effects that the iceberg had on the Titanic, her passengers and her crew, it seemed the height of insensitivity to use the iceberg as a marketing device for something as inconsequential as candy.

After we'd finished browsing around the shop (and picking up a couple of books in the process), we decided to spend some time looking around the California Science Center at the other permanent exhibits.  Some of them were interesting, but I personally wouldn't have gone to see the exhibits if I wasn't already there for the Titanic exhibit.  We also browsed around the first floor gift shop before heading across the way to the IMAX theatre for our film.

Once they take your ticket at the door, you are let into the lobby area to wait to be let into the theatre itself.  While waiting there, we noticed that on the overhead television monitors, they were playing clips from "Titanica".  It made no sense whatsoever to me to show in the lobby clips from the film we are about to see.  There are 2 other IMAX films being shown in that theatre.  It would have made more sense to me to be showing clips from those films instead.

Once the film started, the theatre was about one-third full.  "Titanic" was shot in 1991, runs 40 minutes,  and details one of the dives down to the Titanic wreckage.  This film takes a very removed look at the Titanic, surprisingly so considering one of the survivors is featured during parts of the film.  While the excitement of the expedition's leader is very evident, it's a much more detached look at the wreckage itself but still fascinating to see.  Of particular interest to me was the section of the film that discussed the building of the Titanic, including the information that they had to build big enough structures before they could even start building the ship itself as none of the existing ship-building equipment was capable of handling a ship the size of Titanic.

Once the film was over, we made our way out and took the shuttle back to the parking lot.


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