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Thursday, Feb 09, 2012 - Canvassed | Art & culture

The Nat brings the Titanic to Balboa Park

Put your hands on an iceberg, wander through the ship's remade cabins and experience the world's most famous sunken ship

By Melanie Ehrenkranz
Titanic Exhibit Quote
- Photo by Melanie Ehrenkranz
Bertha A. Mayne was 24 when she boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, France, on April 10, 1912. Mayne was a nightclub singer from Brussels, Belgium, headed toward Canada to get married. What she didn't know was that a giant iceberg was standing in her way. 

A hundred years later, the San Diego Natural History Museum (The NAT) in Balboa Park has recreated Mayne's and the rest of the passengers' journey on the Titanic, from the departure to the sinking of the ship in Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, which opens to the public Friday, Feb. 10. Viewers are invited to take a chronological tour through the exhibit, gaining a glimpse into the ambiance of the ship with re-creations of rooms and more than 200 recovered artifacts from the ship's ruins.

At the entrance, each viewer is issued a boarding pass of an actual passenger from the ship. At the end of the exhibit, viewers can find out the fate of the passenger. Inside the walls of the museum, the interior of the Titanic is brought to life. Cabin rooms are fully furnished, and insight into the time period's class distinctions are evidence in the differing qualities of the first- and third-class cabins. 

Passing through the black-and-white checkered floors of the Verandah Café, viewers find themselves standing in front of a sepia-toned, panoramic photograph of the Grand Staircase. Taking in the ornate image of the curving staircase  undoubtedly will have film-fans envisioning Kate and Leo in the infamous stairway scene. 

Viewers then walk from the seemingly blazing coal-filled boiler rooms to the chilling iceberg wall. The room is dimmed so that the iceberg appears to glow in the corner. Quotes from passengers abo
ut the collision with the iceberg line the walls. 

A Captain Smith look-alike actor urges everyone to put their hands on the icy wall for 30 seconds to feel just a fragment of the pain passengers of the ship felt when they were thrown into the freezing sea. Several people line up with their palms pressed against the glacial wall, wincing as a half minute goes by. The room is silent as everyone breathes hot air into their hands and stares at the imprints in the wall. 

Bertha A Mayne, by the way, stayed in Cabin C-90. She survived. More than 1,500 other passengers, though, weren't so lucky. 

 
 
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