"Actually, Cameron did a good job of staying true to the story we know," Tom Zaller says of the director's 1997 hit film. "People associate Titanic with the movie now. We use that as a tool to communicate the story. This exhibit brings together all the elements."
It takes visitors on an interactive journey that detours into a memorial gallery and a room filled with a touchable iceberg. In addition to smaller pieces (including musical instruments, toys, and jewelry) lifted from the ocean floor, a three-ton piece of the ship's hull and its triple chamber whistle will be on display. "There's a lot of science to it," says Zaller, vice president of production for Clear Channel Entertainment, the company behind the exhibit. "It sits 12,500 feet below the surface. A ship of that size, built in that time, that actually floated, is a scientific feat itself.
"And there's the emotional factor. People know the movie, and so many people tie Titanic to a change in culture. This story reaches across all socioeconomic boundaries and barriers. It's a story about people."
Many of whom (1,523, to be specific) died when the 46,000-ton boat went down on April 14, 1912, after striking an iceberg. Since 1987, six joint U.S., French, and Russian expeditions have visited Titanic's wreckage in the North Atlantic. "We want to bring up things that tell the story better," Zaller, a Chagrin Falls resident, explains. He participated in the most recent dive in August 2000 and is one of only 150 people to have made the excursion.
"I watched these subs go up and down for days," he says. "And it seems like routine, but you're still in the middle of the ocean and dumped over the side in a little piece of metal. And you're down there for 12 hours with no heat, no air conditioning, no bathroom. I never did anything like this before."
The Great Lakes Science Center is showing more than 50 pieces not included in other Titanic: The Exhibition tours (it previously had runs in Chicago, Las Vegas, Munich, Seattle, and Tokyo, among other cities). And much is made of the excavations in the exhibit, as would be expected from a show that is partially funded by the team responsible for the dives. The final gallery showcases processes used for recovery and preservation.
"It's an absolutely unforgettable experience," says Zaller. "This is probably the greatest story of all time." We know of a certain robe-wearing Messiah who may disagree, but at least a smitten Leo didn't play him in a movie.