Do any of you know what this is a picture of? If you look very closely, etched into the ground on the left and the right is the outline of two ships, and in both there are circles marked where their four funnels were. The ship on the right is less well known: it was christened the Olympic. Its sister ship on the left was Titanic.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to have some spare time during a visit to Belfast, so I visited the Titanic Museum on the banks of the Lagan. It’s built at the head of the two slipways for these giant vessels, and was a really interesting tour. Unfortunately my time was limited so I wasn’t able to read as much or linger as long as I’d have liked, but standing there looking out at those two outlines was quite something. It was another of those moments when your hair stands on end, when there’s a palpable something in the air.
The museum itself sheds light on the history of Belfast, on the importance of the linen trade and then shipbuilding. There’s a short ride which gives some insight into life in the shipyards, and the cramped conditions the riveters had to work in. The sheer scale of the endeavour is really brought home to you – those ships were massive. Seeing what the cabins would have looked like for the different classes of passengers, and taking a virtual tour up through the numerous decks was a real eye opener.
I’d have liked to spend more time on the portion which talked about the discovery of the wreckage, and to have watched more of the eerie footage which has been shot there. I have read that James Cameron, when pitching his idea for the film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslett, had outlined his plans to have footage from the actual vessel as part of the opening scene, in part because he’d always wanted to go down to see the wreck for himself. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s some story if it is factual.
I mentioned the funnels earlier. One thing I found out on the tour was that only three of them were “real”: the fourth was used for ventilation and to provide a more aesthetic look. Is that a visual “alternative fact” perhaps? It was hard to believe that under full steam the ship used 600 tons of coal a day. I can’t really picture what that looks like, but I guess it gives some idea as to how big and heavy Titanic must have been when fully laden.
Next time I’m in Belfast, I hope to have the opportunity to visit the site again. There was so much more to see, and so much more to feel.