The Titanic was discovered as part of a top-secret mission for the Navy.
I only learned the true story of the Titanic’s discovery this Saturday, when I visited The National Geographic Museum’s Titanic exhibit.
In 1985, the Navy hired Robert Ballard to search for the wreckage of two submarines that sank in the 1960s (the Thresher sank in 1963 and the Scorpion in 1968). Their aim was to learn if the ships were leaking radiation, reclaim any nuclear weapons, and find out if the Soviets had destroyed the Scorpion in retaliation for spying (they hadn’t). If questioned, Ballard would claim that he was searching for the Titanic, and in fact, he was. The Navy allowed him to search for the ship’s wreckage with the time remaining after his mission was complete. That left him just 12 days.
Ballard’s success hinged on something that he’d learned during the undercover operation: light pieces of debris scatter in a trail up to a mile away from a wreckage. He decided to search for Titanic’s debris, believing that it would lead him to the ship. He found the Titanic in 9 days.
It wasn’t until the 2000s that Ballard’s secret mission was declassified.
Photos from the Exhibit
The Alvin was a human-operated vehicle that could carry three people to a depth of 13,000 feet. This is the Alvin’s pressure sphere that held Ballard and his crew when they discovered the Titanic. The Alvin is still in use, but every piece of it has been replaced.
One of three viewports that they could look out of:
In addition to the discovery of the Titanic, the exhibit discusses the lives of the people who were onboard and how the ship sank. Many of the artifacts are replicas from James Cameron’s movie, both to illustrate what the Titanic had looked like when new and because the wreckage of the Titanic cannot be disturbed.
Part of the debris trail from the Titanic, as recreated for the movie:
White Star Line china identical to that which would have been on the ship:
A miniature replica of the ship:
A reconstruction of a wall in the Turkish Bath, a spa exclusively for first class passengers:
This room features an actual deck chair from the Titanic. It’s one of only 7 deck chairs still in existence and was pulled from the water by body recovery ships.
The Grand Staircase’s clock is the only section that remains from the movie set. The rest was washed out during filming. The movie showed historians how the real staircase may have been destroyed, since it wasn’t found with the wreckage.
The set of the Marconi room, where telegrams were sent and received:
The set of Cal and Roses’s first class sitting room:
And the necklace that caused so much trouble:
Third-class accommodations and Jack’s boarding clothes:
Below is a deck chair from the Carpathia, the ship that rescued Titanic’s survivors. The deck chairs were called “widow’s seats,” because the women sitting on them had just become widows.
I’ve always been interested in the Titanic and thought that the exhibit was fascinating, especially given how the wreckage was discovered. If you’re in town, I highly recommend that you see it. It’s on view through January 6, 2019.