By Theresa Russell
Driving down the Pigeon Forge Parkway, the profile of a ship suddenly comes into view. Not a surprising image in Fort Lauderdale or Miami, but in inland Pigeon Forge? Although I knew that there was a Titanic Museum in this gateway to the Smoky Mountains, I didn’t expect the museum to be a replica of the ship as I had only previously visited Titanic traveling exhibits. It was my lucky day to visit a museum dedicated to one of the most unlucky events in cruising history.
As I entered the very attractive building, I briefly wished that I were boarding a real cruise ship that would sweep me out to warmer weather on the open seas.
Alas, I wouldn’t be going anywhere, but was greeted by a uniformed first class maid who presented me with a boarding pass, complete with my persona for the day: Madeleine Newell.
As in real life, I was the eldest in the family, and I was musically inclined. Boarding Titanic in Cherbourg, France, after having traveled throughout the Holy Lands with my father and sister, I took up residence for my transatlantic crossing as a first class passenger. I would find out about my fate at the end of my museum cruise in the Memorial Room, where the names and fates of the passengers are displayed.
The museum thoroughly tells the story of Titanic from her conception on the drawing board until her death in the Atlantic. Informative visual displays complement the audio handsets that further detail the events and characters that bring the Titanic story to life.
The artifacts intrigue with the pièce de résistance being a replica of the Grand Staircase, only built for Olympic Class liners which also included the Olympic and Britannic. Built from original blueprints, this magnificent staircase cost over one million dollars to recreate.
It hints at the opulence of this grand ship and White Star Lines goal to not build a ship faster than its competitor Cunard, but one more luxurious and larger. At 883 feet long and 104 feet high, Titanic would be the largest passenger steamship in the world.
The Titanic Museum displays models of the ship complete with staterooms, public rooms and operational areas. Scattered throughout are trivia questions to test your knowledge of this magnificent ship. Younger visitors have their own commentary to follow with their handsets. Interactive exhibits include an iceberg and cold water for touching and my favorite, three sloped decks where you can test your ability to maintain your balance and footing.
A display about passenger Margaret Brown for whom the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” movie is based on, included facts about her life and encouraged me to watch the movie, which I haven’t seen.
At the end of the tour, which held my attention for several hours, I looked to find my passenger name, Madeleine Newell, on the Memorial Room wall. I had, in fact, survived the sinking of Titanic and went on to teach music at Wells College in Aurora, NY, a place that I have in real life visited. Madeleine also helped found the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Co-founder of the Titanic Museum, John Joslyn , produced the documentary, “Return to the Titanic…LIVE” of the expedition to recover artifacts from the Titanic. In addition to the Pigeon Forge location, there is a sister museum in Branson, Missouri.
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.