No matter how incongruous the display was, it was eye-catching. Shoes do get the attention of most girls and I am one of those girls. The link between the gargantuan Ferragamo wedges near the entrance to the Titanic exhibit at the Art Science Museum wasn’t clear at first, but, on hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t so much the link to the exhibition per se. The connection was with the whole concept of Marina Bay Sands as being more than a hotel, casino and shopping area. It was also an art venue for installation art; the wedges were a fitting display given the shopping ambience of the place with its up market brand stores. Like homage to Ferragamo who invented the shoe wear first for Judy Garland, nothing encapsulates the popularity of the footwear than the colourfulness and size of the display.
Walking past the wedges, you’re in front of the entrance to Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition in seconds where you are greeted by a young usher volunteer who hands you a boarding pass go the R.M.S. Titanic, but forgets to mention the significance of the card. The concept was similar to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC where I was handed an identification card before entering the exhibit. I had to walk in the shoes of the victim of the holocaust. This time I was walking in the shoes of 50-year-old Mrs. George Dunton Widener (a.k.a. Eleanor Elkins) from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was accompanied by her husband, George, and her son, Harry, and their two servants, Edwin Keeping and Emily Gieger. Her boarding pass had X on the 1stclass cabin box.
The whole party were returning from a trip to London and Paris where Eleanor had bought furniture for a new home and a trousseau for their daughter, while George conducted business. Harry, meanwhile, had bought rare books. On the evening of April 14, the day before the ship sank, she and her husband hosted a dinner honouring Captain Smith in the ship’s luxurious Á La Carte restaurant.
Pictures weren’t allowed – much like the policy at the Holocaust Museum – except for the official photos taken by the exhibitors at the recreated bow of the ship at the entrance. Yes, you can, for a moment, be like Jack and Rose in the movie Titanic. Another photo spot is the recreated Grand Staircase where Jack and Rose met towards the end of the film. Other sections of the ship recreated were the corridors of the first class cabins, the third class cabins and the long Promenade Deck under a starry night. A piece of an “iceberg” was in the Iceberg Gallery. Almost everyone who touched it didn’t feel the chill until after reading the explanation – the passengers didn’t die of drowning but the cold waters, which were colder than the iceberg that that ship struck.
The gravity of the tragedy didn’t hit until one got to the section that showcased the moment before they struck the iceberg and after they struck the iceberg. The crew didn’t see the iceberg and couldn’t have seen it because there were no binoculars in the ship – they forgot to put one in the flurry of getting the ship ready for the journey. That historical fact felt like a cold slap on the face. The next slap came after reading that the number of lifeboats was cut down because, if I remember what I read correctly, the owners didn’t want the top deck cluttered. The ship only carried lifeboats meant for 1, 178 people. However, the small number of lifeboats only formed part of the reason why many died. According to the explanation boards, majority of the passengers, especially the first-class cabin passengers, strongly believed in the Titanicbeing unsinkable because they were designed by experienced engineers using advance technology, and stuck to their guns.
Moving to the section where they displayed the “rescued” belongings of passengers hammered in the thought that kept running through my mind – “They could have survived.” The belongings are numerous and the stories behind them heartbreaking. I couldn’t forget the bottles of perfumes that one passenger was hoping to launch in America when he found a buyer. The bottles were still intact and so was the heady smells of the fragrances. One passenger was “lucky” – he was kidnapped so he wasn’t able to board Titanic. Meanwhile, his friend guarded his belongings and waited for him until the ship sailed and sank.
Others were victims of fate – a family was transferred to Titanic because of the coal strike. Most of the ships couldn’t travel because all the coal available was siphoned by Titanic, which used tons of coal per few hours. Captain Smith’s fate took on a macabre twist. He promised his family that Titanic would be his last voyage.
A section in the exhibition gives viewers a chance to look for the names of the people on their boarding passes. Did one survived or perished? Suddenly, you’d hear people shouting, “I survived!” and off they’d walk to finish the exhibition. Like the ones who perished, the others were silent. I, or Mrs. George Dunton Widener, survived, but her husband wasn’t so lucky.
*The exhibition runs until April 29, 2012 and is open from 10am to 10pm daily. Last admission is at 9pm. Ticket is S$24 (adult).For more information, visit http://www.marinabaysands.com/ArtScienceMuseum.