A rendition of the 46,328 ton Titanic, built half-scale to her original size, is moored on about three acres at the corner of 76 Country Blvd. and Highway 165 in the heart of Branson. A crew from London created the facade sculpted from gunite with special polymers and containing 40,000 rivets. Doing Steel of Joplin manufactured the needed smokestacks. An iceberg serves as the main entrance.
The 17,000 sq. ft. structure houses 20 galleries on two floors and contains over 400 artifacts. A self-guided 90-minute tour is designed to give guests the sensation of being an original passenger on the Titanic's 1912 maiden voyage.
My name on my "Titanic" boarding pass was Lillian Winifred Bentham. At 19, I was traveling second class from Southampton, England to Rochester, New York. On the evening when the ship hit the iceberg, I thought it safer to remain on shipboard until a young man in my group came rushing to tell me that the situation was indeed serious...Was I a part of the approximately 86% of the second class female passengers who survived? Records show that a far larger proportion of third class female passengers didn't.
Just before entering the maze of passageways and rooms of the Titanic, Branson's newest museum attraction, "guest passengers" are given boarding passes with clues as to their fate. It isn't until they reach the Memorial Room that they know whether their passengers survived or went down with the ship.
"Passengers" entering the Model Gallery soon after boarding the ship are greeted by this 18-foot, 1:48 scale model of the Titanic as she appeared on her maiden voyage in 1912. Peter Davies-Garner of England, currently living in Germany, was commissioned to re-create the ship from Harland and Wolff shipbuilder's plans, archive photos and about 200 drawings. It took him two years to complete the project.
An eerie feeling pervades the vessel as the ship's "crew" wander through the crowd. Wasn't that the ship's master, Edward John Smith (the impersonator Lowell Lytle to his friends), the most senior captain of the White Star Lines? I asked myself wondering what happened to the burly man in the uniform of his rank that had been standing off to my right. He apparently had descended the ship's elaborate Grand Staircase and evaporated into thin air.
A large number of showcases provide visitors insight into the workings of the ship, the people who were on board, and the culture of the early twentieth century.
As for the passengers, I'm told after reading a letter by artist Francis Millet that he posted at Cherbourg that there's a "queer lot of people on the ship. There are a number of obnoxious ostentatious American women. Many of them carry tiny dogs and lead their husbands around like pet lambs." This bit of information along with an exhibit of the fashions of Lady Duff Gordon provide insight into the high society, its romance and extravagance that the Titanic has come to symbolize.
Did you know that it took 22 tons of soap to move the Titanic, the largest ship ever built, from its construction site and that 100,000 Belfast residents witnessed the event; that its overlapping steel plates were held together with three million rivets; and that on its maiden voyage she had a near accident with another ship that had lost its moorings near Southampton? "Test your knowledge" stations abound to prove your newly acquired expertise.
Young visitors to the new Titanic Museum attraction in Branson plunge their hands in icy water to understand what the temperature of the water was like at the time of the Titanic disaster.
For those who enjoy a hands-on experience, there's a place to shovel coal--620 to 630 tons were required to make sure the ship maintained its 21-22 knots, to ring the Crow's Nest bell, to steer the ship, to experience standing on a sloping deck, to sit in a full-scale lifeboat and to find out how long you can hold your hand in the icy water that eventually became the Titanic's tomb.
A seemingly never-ending visual experience begins in a hall of portraits of passengers and crew randomly lit to create a ghostly glow. It continues with glimpses into the huge disparity between the furnishings of the first class and third class cabins.
A loud speaker from the Marconi Room with its 1912 wireless equipment implores its now imaginary occupant that he should send an SOS, the new call that was replacing the CQD of old, and that it may be his last chance to call. Soon you discover that it's a starry night when you step onto the bridge as the ship held together by its unwelded low grade iron rivets all too quickly approaches the monster field of ice, an 80-mile ice flow.
Meet John Joslyn
John Joslyn, president of the Branson Titanic project, spoke of a "mystique" that surrounds the Titanic. People share a common bond on the subject of the Titanic that he believes to be part of their religious thinking. "Man proposes, God disposes," he said.
"It was the largest object ever made by man that in less than a week was gone," Joslyn explained. " Man, arrogant at the time, absolutely didn't heed iceberg warnings."
As a Los Angeles producer, Joslyn told the story of the Titanic in documentary form on T.V. as well as in many touring exhibits. He worked with James Cameron, Academy Award winning director of the Hollywood epic film, Titanic and is proud to now own Cameron's 26-foot recreation of a section of the Titanic shown in the underwater movie sequences. It is now the highlight of the museum's Discovery Gallery.
"The room is dominated by this chilling model. And even though I've seen the real thing in my dives to the Titanic, it still sends shivers up my spine when I look at it," Joslyn said. He was referring to Cameron's model which duplicates the bow of the vessel that continues to lie on the ocean floor, one thousand miles east of Boston. For more details about the original voyage, go here.
Joslyn especially is proud of having the license to 112 photos taken by Jesuit Father Francis Browne during his voyage on the Titanic before being fortuitously ordered to disembark by his superior. The Father Browne Collection is part of the artifacts that lend meaning to the historical setting of the voyage.
A first class chamber maid stands at the bottom of the Grand Staircase at the beck and call of all of her patrons. Jaynee Vandenberg, a polished actor, insists she's from the south of England. Her British accent does not make anyone think otherwise.
"We know we had to have the ship's Grand Staircase," Joslyn said. "That drove everything else. We think we've captured the attention of every age group...even the elusive teens."
Passage is a fraction of the original fare. For ticket information, phone (800) 381-7670.
Photos by Vince Rosati
and Mari Winn Taylor