Last month my family and I went on a dream trip to Ireland!
In addition to enjoying impossibly green landscapes at every turn…
…we also got the opportunity to visit what is undisputedly the world’s greatest Titanic museum, Titanic Belfast!
Here are some of the incredible things we saw…and truly astonishing facts we learned:
First, if you’re wondering why the ultimate Titanic museum is in Belfast, it’s because James Cameron’s favorite ship was built there!
The museum stands directly next to where the Titanic (and its sister ship, The Olympic) were assembled between 1909 and 1911. In fact, if you tour the museum, you’ll visit a room with floor-to-ceiling windows that lets you look out at the slipways where the ships were built.
Here’s the wildest fact I learned about the ship’s construction in Belfast: Supervisors from the shipbuilding company took to wearing top hats for protection while walking the site. Why? Because — when the bigwigs passed by — disgruntled workers tended to “accidentally” drop rivets from the top of the ship.
One of the coolest things about Titanic Belfast is how many relics from the actual ship it has. Other Titanic museums and collections tend to mainly have items from the sister ship, The Olympic, or ones that were meant to be on the Titanic but weren’t. For example, a past collection I saw had an extra menu they printed for the trip but left back in England.
But Titanic Belfast has a first-class menu that was on the actual voyage! After the ship’s final lunch, steward Frederick Dent Ray signed the menu and gave it as a souvenir to passenger Dr. Washington Dodge, with whom he’d struck up a friendship. Dodge gave the menu to his wife who put it in her purse. Later, after Dodge’s wife and son were safely in a lifeboat, Dent escorted Dodge to safety in lifeboat number 13.
This deck chair from the Titanic was floating in the water when the Liner RMS Carpathia arrived at the scene and commenced rescuing 700 people. One of its crewman saw the chair and fished it out!
This fur coat belonged to Mabel Bennett, a first-class stewardess, who threw it over her nightgown before escaping in a lifeboat. In the late ’60s, she gave the coat to her great-niece who had it slightly altered to be more modern. WHO ALTERS A FREAKING RELIC FROM THE TITANIC?!
And this life vest is one of only six (out of an original 3,500) that still exists in the world today. It was recovered from the field of debris by Robert Edwards, quartermaster of a ship chartered by the White Star Line to search for bodies.
Another fascinating item on display is this letter that was composed on the ship (the very day it went down) by Esther Hart and her seven-year-old daughter, Eva.
The letter — intended to be sent to Esther’s mother — was written on letterhead that reads: “Onboard the R.M.S. Titanic.” It begins with a lengthy summation from Esther about their journey…
…and ends with a message from young Eva in her little kid scrawl: “Heaps of love and kisses to all. Eva. XXXXXXX.”
The most amazing artifact on display — and easily one of the most iconic items of the 20th century — has to be this violin belonging to Wallace Hartley, one of the legendary “And the band played on…” musicians who continued to play on the deck even as the ship went down. While Hartley didn’t survive, his violin was later found floating atop the water, safely stowed in its case.
As you can see, the museum takes great pains to honor the human stories behind all of the people on the ship. One story that really caught my family’s attention was of this six-year-old boy named Robert, who survived the Titanic only to be hit and killed by a car two years later.
Speaking of each person’s story, there are touch screens at the museum that allow you to search the names of everyone who was on the boat…and see if they lived or died.
Another unforgettable fact we learned is that the ship offered first-class passengers a very popular perk — the ability to send messages via telegraph back to people on land! Unfortunately, the passengers were obsessed with this proto-texting and kept wireless operator Jack Phillips so busy sending “HAVING A GREAT TIME ON THE BOAT, OLD PAL!” messages that he missed some key warnings about icebergs.
In fact, he was so overwhelmed by the endless messages passengers wanted to send that, when nearby ship The Californian sent the warning “WE ARE STOPPED AND SURROUNDED BY ICE,” Phillips replied, “SHUT UP! YOU ARE JAMMING MY SIGNAL!”
The Californian’s only wireless operator, Cyril Evans, soon went to bed — perhaps put off by the response from Phillips. But this meant that, after the Titanic hit the iceberg and Phillips began desperately messaging for help, there was no way to contact The Californian which was only 11 miles away!
Tragically, Titanic’s sister ship The Olympic heard the distress call and made a desperate, full-speed trek to help despite being more than 500 miles away.
The tragedy led to sweeping reforms in the industry. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know it starts with a safety drill before leaving port. That protocol was put into place after the Titanic disaster. Other post-Titanic reforms included increasing the minimum number of lifeboats onboard, requiring a radio operator to be on 24/7, and the founding of the International Ice Patrol, a group that monitors icebergs and warns ships of danger.
Of course, the Titanic had sunk to the bottom of the ocean by the time the Carpathia arrived, and the ship’s final resting place is brilliantly depicted at Titanic Belfast. As you can see below, museum guests are able to stand on a glass floor and peer down into (what looks like) the dark recesses of the ocean…with the rotting Titanic on its floor.
Another incredibly cool thing you can see at the museum are recreations of the rooms on the Titanic. Below is a First Class Stateroom, which — as you can see — was quite sizable and modeled to look like the finest five-star hotel room.
This image is of a second-class cabin…a big jump down in size and luxury, but not terrible!
And this image is of a third-class cabin. Imagine two people trying to co-exist in there! They must’ve spent lots of time on deck, I’d imagine.