I’m obsessed with the Titanic. I have several books about the ship on my bookshelf, and I have seen all the documentaries. Of course, I have also seen the 1997 movie—only twice, though.

When I visited New York a few years ago, the high point of my trip was an exhibition about the Titanic. Artifacts found around the wreck were on display, along with photographs of the passengers and stories about their lives. Some cabins and the famous staircase had been reconstructed for the exhibition to make the experience feel as authentic as possible.

With their exhibition tickets, each visitor received a replica of the original cruise tickets, with the name of an actual passenger on the Titanic and their class. After the exhibition tour, we could check a list on the wall to see whether the passenger had survived. I was Elna Matilda Persson, third class—the worst class. Not much chance of survival, as the lifeboats were primarily intended for first-class passengers.

MY FRIEND TRAVELED first-class. When she checked the list for her name, tears began to run down her cheeks.

“I survived!” she sobbed.

“What about me?” I asked. “Can you check if I made it?”

My friend kept scanning the list through her tears. Then she turned to me, her eyes full of pity and compassion.

“Sorry,” she said. “I think you drowned.”

THE EXHIBITION SHOP sold all kinds of White Star Line products, replicas of the original items, from plates and cups to schnapps glasses and red-and-white blankets like those that had been used in the cabins and on the first-class sun decks. Thinking about the flight back home, I didn’t buy anything—which I deeply regretted afterward.

Fortunately, the same exhibition was later on display at the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn. I had to visit, of course, to see my favorite items again and make up for not having bought anything at the exhibition shop in New York.

But the items that fascinated me the most were not on display in Tallinn! Why wasn’t the can of olives there? Or the champagne bottle saved from the bottom of the ocean? Or the collection of perfume vials?

ON THE OTHER HAND, the museum café served the same menu that had been served to the first-class passengers on the Titanic on the last night. Lamb with mint sauce, for example, and asparagus salad with champagne-saffron vinaigrette, with Waldorf pudding for dessert.

I had sauté of chicken Lyonnaise with creamed carrots and roasted potatoes. Delicious. I imagined I would drown after the meal, but somehow the feeling remained distant.

I bought two White Star Line schnapps glasses and two plates at the museum shop.

“They’re not original, you know,” the sales clerk deemed it necessary to point out as I was paying for my purchases.

WHY DO I HAVE this obsession? The Titanic left for its maiden voyage on April 10, which happens to be my birthday—but that doesn’t explain much. Something about such disasters is fascinating: the awareness that someone was wearing that particular piece of jewelry or those shoes when the ship sank into the icy sea and complete silence fell.

I must not be the only one with this obsession. Why would the touring exhibition be so popular otherwise?

At the exhibition in Tallinn, I was Dagmar Jenny Ingeborg Bryhl. The joy when I spotted my name on the list of survivors! That alone was enough reason to see the exhibition for a second time.

By Anna-Leena Harkonen
Published with permission from Rights & Brands

Photo: Erwan Hesry

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