Everyday objects — perfume vials, a hat, a chandelier — spent decades under two miles of saltwater off the coast of Newfoundland until divers found them in 1985. Now these things crisscross the country, and starting Nov. 16 they’ll be on display at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium.
About 25 million people have already seen these artifacts. The West Palm Beach museum director thinks 80,000 more people will come to see them here.
“Even though it sank in 1912 it still evokes a lot of passion and curiosity,” said the director, Lewis Crampton.
Twenty-five million people wouldn’t pay all that money to see a hat and a chandelier if it didn’t. Leonardo DiCaprio may have helped.
“It’s a fascinating story,” said Paul-Henry Nargeolet, who is among the world’s most renowned deep-sea divers. He’s been to the wreck six times and helped raise a big chunk of the hull.
“I love the artifacts,” he said. “The wreck is a time capsule. Suddenly, time stopped.”
A watch went down with the ship (probably a lot of watches did). Nargeolet found it with the hands frozen at the hour of the disaster.
Others of his favorite artifacts include the perfume vials. They belonged to a German expatriate living in Manchester, England, named Adolphe Saalfeld. Saalfeld was 47 when he took a First Class cabin on the Titanic, headed for New York on business.
When the ship, the largest moving machine ever built, struck the iceberg, Saalfeld was in a first class smoking cabin. Someone told him to go to the boat deck, and he escaped unharmed. His 62 samples of musk and carnation and lily of the valley sunk and remained below for 88 years.
Divers brought them up in 2000 and discovered some still smelled of flowers.
Anyone who pays $15 (or $11.50 for kids and $13.50 for seniors) can see the perfume vials and about 100 other artifacts.
That’s a small fraction of the more than 5,500 artifacts that have been recovered from the wreck site. The company that owns the collection, Premier Exhibitions, has exclusive wrecker rights at the Titanic and keeps everything it finds.
Meanwhile, the ship itself remains, split in two, at the bottom of the ocean.
Nargeolet is “a rock star in the Titanic community,” said Theresa Nelson, a Premier spokeswoman.
He was a French naval officer and deep-sea diver until he got an irresistible job offer: Lead expeditions to the Titanic wreck. So he climbed into the submarine that would take him to a place where the pressure around the craft is 6,500 pounds per square inch.
“It’s dangerous, but it’s not scary,” he said. “If you have a leak in the sub, you are dead before you are aware you have a leak.”
Nargeolet was also the guy who discovered the black box of Air France 447, which revealed the cause of the 2009 crash.
Crampton, the science center director, has overseen the largest expansion of the museum since it opened in 1961. The extra space, increase in visitors and a big grant made it possible to buy the blockbuster Titanic: “The Artifact Exhibition.”
He gets excited talking about it.
“Imagine, if you will, the terror,” he said. “Those who sank knew that once they hit the water, they wouldn’t last more than 10 minutes. The band is playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee,’ and the ship is going down. And the rule is women and children first, which is being enforced by a guy with a horse pistol.”
Everyone who walks into the door gets a boarding pass with a passenger’s name on it. At the end there’s a memorial wall to see if your name matches any on the wall.
The odds are good. Seven hundred five passengers survived the shipwreck; 1,523 did not.