April 11th, 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's first full day at sea. It will be my birthday. It will also, controversially, be the day when over five thousand artefacts from the decaying ship will be put up for auction in New York. Guardian photo collection. The objects range from parts of the ship, including a telegraph, chandelier, dishes, a porthole, and even a portion of the hull, to more personal artefacts that remind us of the human tragedy, like men's clothing, a pair of glasses and a bracelet with the name 'Amy'.
R.M.S. Titanic Inc. clearly finds no fault with what they are doing. This New York Times blog article points out that the artefacts were taken from the debris field surrounding the ship, while the ship itself was treated as a "sacred object" and left untouched. There are multiple conditions on the sale, disallowing the collection to be broken up, and requiring the buyer to make the collection available "to present and future generations for public display and exhibition, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes."
"virtually impossible to appraise". A court ruling was necessary to even allow the company to sell the collection. But that doesn't change the fact that R.M.S. Titanic Inc., its parent company Premier Exhibitions (who also created the 'Bodies' exhibit) and Guersney's stand to make a lot of money from the sale.
Many people are speaking out against this sale, and the dives as well. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald interviewed Lynn-Marie Richard, registrar for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, who was unequivocal when it came to the museum's interest in these artefacts. As a member of the International Congress of Maritime Museums, she says, "We’re into preserving and documenting — not into pillaging." The Halifax museum has a large collection of Titanic artefacts, but she is clear that they were all donated or on loan, and were picked up by the sailors who went to the Titanic's aid in 1912. The newspaper also spoke to Steve Blasco, a scientist with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, NS. He visited the wreck in 1991, taking samples to study the site and helping with the IMAX film Titanica. He equates taking these artefacts from the ocean floor with grave-robbing, and calls upon his relationship with a now deceased Titanic survivor, Eva Hart, who saw the site as her father's grave site.
publicly spoken out against tourist submarines causing irreparable damage to parts of the ship, and these same tourists taking objects from the debris field that were in no danger of deteriorating. Clearly there are scientists who are calling for more restriction to the site - but the lure of the wreckage seems to be proving stronger than the argument for historical preservation. In 2004 the site was extensively filmed and photographed to assess its condition, and in 2010 the complete site was mapped with 3-D technology. Shouldn't these records be enough to satisfy our curiosity?
previous post about dark tourism). It is unrealistic to think that they will be brought back down to the wreckage of the ship. I believe the company is truly doing the best they can in this situation. There are plenty of conditions on the sale, including making it available to the public. It just remains to be seen whether rich, responsible bidders exist, and are willing to follow the rules.
And, for my birthday, I think I will skip the Titanic memorial cruise, which is sold out anyway, and go relive the Hollywood magic of James Cameron's 1997 version of the sinking on the big screen with my 3-D glasses.
Picture of Titanic's bow is copyright Emory Kristof/National Geographic.
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