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I died on the Titanic

I spent most of the past week doing touristy stuff in Philadelphia PA, only to return to Toronto to do a bit more touristy stuff here: I visited the Science Centre this week so that my sister and I could get our inner Titanic geeks on at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit.

My sister and I are Titanic geeks. Of the highest order. I am a Titanic geek on sufficient scale that, when viewing the Jim Cameron film for the first time in '97, I was able to fact-check his writing as it went along. (I buy Cameron's much-debated contention that the ship split above the water-line, by the way; I just don't think the stern went below the water in a vertical elevator-drop after that.)

The fate of the stern matters to the Artifact Exhibit, as it was the stern's split - and the mile-long debris field created when the ship cracked open like an egg - that gives us the 300-odd treasures recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic and put on display in the Titanic's traveling road show, now installed at the Science Centre.

At the beginning of the exhibit, visitors are given a faux boarding pass bearing the name of an actual Titanic passenger - I was randomly hooked up with Thomas Brown, a coincidental amalgam of my last name and my brother's middle name. Spooky.

The exhibit is then laid out in relative chronological order as a tour through the ship, and then its sinking. Pre-boarding artifacts give way to replicas of the first-class boarding area and gauzy baubles from the upper echelons. We then moved lower, to the third-class hallways (complete with their life-ending iron grates, which locked steerage passengers below decks during the sinking), into a mockup of boiler room 6, and then out into the ice field.

The only noticeable tip of the hat to the usual scientific gimmickry of the Science Centre was a giant piece of ice that visitors were encouraged to touch, in order to remind themselves that the water in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912 was in fact even colder than the iceberg itself. I could keep my hand on the ice for about twenty seconds before the pain became too much; I kept my hand in my pocket for the rest of the tour.

The largest piece of the ship to be presented on display was one of the Welin davits that was used to lower one of the precious few lifeboats into the water. The rest of the items on display were smaller, on the order of jewelry, china, clothing, and in an amusing twist, a third-class toilet (self-flushing, as steerage passengers apparently couldn't be trusted to know how to flush for themselves).

The end of the exhibit featured a series of Toronto-specific Titanic stories, all of which were suitably movie-worthy that Telefilm Canada should start doing some serious screenwriting investment on the subject.

The end of the tour also featured a wall which bore the names of all survivors and victims of the Titanic tragedy. Whipping out my trusty boarding pass, I was unsurprised to learn that my semi-namesake, Thomas Brown - a second-class passenger from South Africa - died in the water on the fateful night in question. He was traveling with his 15-year-old daughter, Edith, who survived the tragedy and went on to have ten children... none of whom I am even remotely related to.


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