On the tenth of April, 1912, Miss Hannah Riordan from Glenlouga, Kingwilliamstown, Co. Cork, Ireland, was aboard the Titanic, heading for New York. She was traveling with her cousin, Patrick O’Connor. They had confidently boarded the largest, most luxurious ship afloat, in Queenstown, Ireland, and were traveling third class. In Southampton, England, Mr. Masabumi Hosono, a civil servant from Tokyo, Japan, went aboard as a second-class passenger. He was traveling alone and was the only Japanese on board. As we went into the Titanic Artifact Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, in Tampa, FL, my husband and I were given their boarding passes and were suppose to assume their identity.
A pair of glasses, a derby hat, money, a watch and more items, exhumed from their watery grave, two and a half miles down in the cold North Atlantic Ocean, were on exhibit in glass cases around the first room we came to. The next room had a chronology of events as they occurred, starting in 1907 when J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line and Lord James Pirrie conceived the idea of dominating passenger travel by building the largest ships the world had ever seen.
Next, we were welcomed aboard by Captain Edward Smith, who was wearing an elegant 1912 uniform. He was booming with hospitality and didn’t care what class we were traveling, which is more than I can say for some of the first class passengers we met, later. We started down the elegant first class hallway, expensively decorated with cream colored painted woodwork and Oriental carpeting. As we went around the corner we were awed by the grand staircase directly in front of us. Above it was a massive wrought iron art glass dome with a magnificent crystal chandelier hanging from the center. The hand carved wooden balustrades were accented with gold leaf. Large black and white tiles in geometric designs were on the floor in front of it. The stairs went half way up and then split to the right and left.
A lacy bronze grillwork door, used to restrict the first class dining hall for first class passengers, dishes, decanters for drinking water, cooking utensils and other paraphernalia, all taken from the real Titanic, were displayed in the next room. Then we came across two ladies, wearing fancy period clothing, who were sitting in a small, but elegant first class café, an exact replica of the one on the ship. One of the ladies got up and offered me her jewel-clad hand. She wanted to know my name and what class I was traveling, and if I had seen John Jacob Astor and his eighteen year old wife. She was so hospitable, with a take-charge attitude, she annoyed me, but I tried to cope with the situation without seeming unfriendly. I said I wasn’t sure what class I was traveling so she told me to look on my boarding pass. I did and read, "Third class."
"You’re not allowed in here. This is first class only," she instructed me.
I sat in an empty white wicker chair at her table and said, "I like first class."
She was so completely offended by my insolent behavior she was going to call someone to remove me to third class. Not schooled in the art of role playing and finding myself in so much trouble, I could think of no other answer than to move on, frightened by the experience.
A placard on the wall in the next room explained the scandal of the day that was keeping first class passengers so amused. John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest men in the world, had recently divorced his wife so he could marry his eighteen-year-old girlfriend. They had an extended honeymoon in Egypt, and, when the bride became pregnant, they decided to go back to America. Astor went down with the ship. Shunned by his family, his wife, who did survive the disaster, gave birth to John Jacob Astor V, alone. He started the chain of Winn-Dixie stores during his lifetime.
We next, passed a beautifully decorated first class bedroom and the obnoxious lady from the café was sitting on the bed. She looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and said, "Third class is around the corner."
Afraid of another scene, we continued to third class. It had been furnished with unpainted wood bunk beds. A talkative third class passenger greeted us and when she found I was also a third class passenger, invited me to choose a bunk. She told us all her business and that of her employer, more juicy gossip.
Many more items, from the ship, had been brought up from the deep, including the famous safe, but we weren’t prepared to see a piece of the actual Titanic. The room was in semidarkness and an imitation of the sounds and coldness of the air gave a feeling of what it was like to be there. A 20,000-ton piece of the hull was displayed behind a thick sheet of clear acrylic. Glass portholes were broken and one was falling lose. A small piece of the hull was under another piece of acrylic with a hole in it and we could put a finger in and feel it. It was hard to leave that awesome exhibit.
Books and gifts, related to the Titanic, were on sale at a special gift shop within the exhibit.