Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about places around the globe that will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the mighty White Star Line steamship slipped under the Atlantic Ocean’s cobalt waters. Hours after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage, the Titanic landed not only on the seabed, but also in the history books and annals of popular culture.
Thousands of ships over centuries have littered the ocean floor, but even 100 years after its demise, the Titanic grips the public imagination.
With the approaching centennial of the disaster that claimed more than 1,500 lives, get ready for an onslaught of ads for tacky souvenirs (dangling Titanic coal earrings, anyone?) and a 3-D version of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster movie. Beyond the local multiplex, the Titanic story is being retold in multiple ways.
BELFAST –– The Titanic story starts at its birthplace. It was here in the city’s industrial glory days that the Harland and Wolff shipyard built the world’s largest ocean liner.
“For about 75 years, no one in Belfast mentioned the Titanic. It was a source of hurt pride, embarrassment, perhaps even shame,’’ says Susie Millar, who runs Titanic Tours Belfast. “Since the wreck was discovered, however, the city has been forming a new relationship with the Titanic. With our manufacturing industry gone, we were able to look back on what an industrial powerhouse Belfast was 100 years ago and with a renewed sense of pride in the innovation and engineering that went into building Titanic.’’
That pride shines at Titanic Belfast, a new visitor attraction scheduled to open March 31 that anchors the Titanic Quarter, a 185-acre redevelopment of the shipyard that includes apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants, and a movie studio.
Titanic Belfast’s nine galleries tell the story of the liner from its conception through the discovery of the wreck, and it features a virtual ride through the shipyard where visitors learn about the Titanic’s construction.
Millar, whose great-grandfather helped build the Titanic and perished when it sank, leads guided tours of Belfast landmarks with a connection to the ship. Stops include the slipway, the home of chief designer Thomas Andrews, the drawing office where the Titanic was designed, and the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line vessel afloat and a scaled-down version of the Titanic.
SOUTHAMPTON, England –– Often lost in the mythology surrounding the Titanic is the scope of its tragedy, and no place was hit harder than this coastal city. The sinking took the lives of 549 Southampton residents, mostly crew members, including Captain Edward Smith.
A century after the Titanic departed Southampton on its ill-fated voyage, the city on April 10 will christen the new Sea City Museum. After ascending a bridge resembling a gangway, visitors embark on a journey through galleries in which they can listen to the voices of Titanic survivors recounting their harrowing experiences and view artifacts such as Smith’s Royal Naval Reserve dress sword and a pocket watch found on the body of a steward.
Also on April 10, Southampton will host a memorial concert featuring classical and contemporary music and offer guided tours of the numerous monuments around the city commemorating the deceased.
COBH, Ireland –– This southwestern harbor town, known as Queenstown before Irish independence, was the Titanic’s last port of call on April 11, 1912. The original White Star Line offices from which the final 123 passengers, nearly all third class, boarded tenders to the ship anchored in Cork Harbor will be reborn next month as Titanic Experience Cobh. Using interactive audiovisual exhibits, it will provide a flavor of what life was like for third-class passengers and tell the stories of the individuals who departed from Ireland.
Afterward, visitors can take a guided tour along the Titanic Trail through the town’s historic waterfront, which has changed little in the past century, and visit landmarks such as the actual pier from which the passengers departed.
Cobh’s yearlong Titanic 100 commemoration will be punctuated by a week of events April 9-15 that will include a series of outdoor concerts with prominent musicians and performers telling the story of Titanic’s connection with Ireland, a remembrance service, and a military tribute. On April 11, towns along the west coast of County Cork plan to mark the centennial of the Titanic passing its coastline –– the ship’s last sighting of land –– by lighting fires along its headlands.
CAPE RACE, Newfoundland and Labrador –– “Have struck iceberg.’’ That was the chilling distress message received by the Marconi radio station at this outpost on the rugged island coast of the closest land to the disaster 380 miles to the southeast. From here, rescue efforts were organized, and the awful news was relayed by telegraph around the world. A commemoration is planned for April 14 on the site of the Marconi station that received the Titanic’s message.