The RMS Titanic sunk just over 110 years ago this year, taking with it over 1,500 lives. Since the 1985 discovery of the ship’s site at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, artifacts and pieces of the wreckage have made their way to the surface and been distributed throughout exhibits around the world.
We were invited in to have a look at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at Luxor Hotel & Casino, where 32 new artifacts were recently debuted. The 25,000 square foot facility is home to numerous artifacts, a 15-ton portion of the Titanic’s hull and multiple recreations of spaces from the ship. We also talked with Jeff Taylor, the Director of Collections at E/M Group, about the new items.
Inside the New Findings at “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”
Can you tell us about the new artifacts?
Taylor: All the newly installed artifacts are making their first visit to the Las Vegas venue, and several of these are being exhibited for the first time anywhere. The artifacts represent passenger-focused objects, and the majority are linked to specific passengers.
Nine pieces of paper currency from a Gladstone Bag recovered in 1987 were rotated into the exhibit. Highlights of this currency are a 10 Gold Certificate with the portrait of Michael Hillegas, the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1775 to 1789 and a $20 National Bank Note from the First National Bank of Eureka California.
William Henry Allen: A folding magnifying glass and an ink pen that recovered in its original paper wrapper and box. Franz Pulbaum: Newly added artifacts from Franz include pages from a miniature pocket calendar, tobacco silk he used as a bookmark in a leather pocketbook and a postmarked envelope with the U.S. postage stamps. Marion Ogden Meanwell: A pair of new boot laces and two wooden pencils.
Edgar Samuel Andrew: Recently conserved, we reunited a wooden hairbrush and separate wooden back piece with the leather case it was discovered inside back in 2000. This wooden hairbrush is on display for the first time in any exhibition. William Edward Hine, Third Baker: Newly installed in March of this year is a small blue cobalt bottle.
How has the exhibit evolved over the years?
Taylor: The core layout and flow of the exhibit have changed little since the Luxor installation in late 2008. The exhibit tells Titanic’s story beginning with the construction of the ship, departure from South Hampton, and life onboard—complete with reconstructions of Third and First Class Cabins, the Grand Staircase and a section of the Promenade Deck. The exhibit finishes with the Iceberg Gallery, the Big Piece Gallery and a passenger Memorial Gallery. We rotate the artifacts within the galleries, but the layout has remained consistent.
The biggest developments are the addition of video installations that show dive footage from the wreck site and representations of Titanic crew members and passengers relating to the story of the Ship. We have also added QR Codes and readers to the exhibit to enhance the experience of passenger boarding passes. We hope to continue to improve the exhibit with video interactives and other enhancements.
Is the search for new artifacts still ongoing?
Taylor: The Company had announced plans in 2019 to recover the Marconi Telegraph in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic made the expedition impossible. The Company maintains the recovery of the Marconi is a priority before it is lost. The Company has been focused on stabilizing operations in our permanent and touring exhibitions, and any recovery expedition plans will be made through the proper approval process when we are confident it is safe for all to participate. In the meantime, we are actively identifying areas of interest in the debris field for possible future recovery.
How were these pieces recovered?
Taylor: As noted earlier, all the artifacts recently installed in Las Vegas are passenger-focused. All these artifacts were recovered from inside 10-separate leather bags between 1987 and 2000. The tanning process and chemicals on these leather bags repel the microorganisms in the ocean that would otherwise cause delicate artifacts such as wood, textiles and paper to deteriorate. Each leather bag was recovered by the mechanical arms of manned submersibles capable of diving to the depths and pressure of the Titanic wreck site.
What do you hope to see in the future in terms of new discoveries?
Taylor: During the first recovery expedition in 1987, the team recovered the smaller bronze cherub from the aft Staircase. During the 2000 expedition, the recovery team discovered the base of the large cherub at the foot of the Promenade Deck’s forward landing— the foot imprints upon which the cherub stood are clearly visible on the base. I would be thrilled to see the recovery of the cherub that matches this base. Other hopes for discovery would be additional leather bags which are likely to hold passengers’ belongings. Reconstructing lives and stories based on the contents of leather bags allows us to honor and remember these passengers and continue to share stories and research on Titanic and her passengers.