When I told Steve I was going to get to take a break from working all weekend for a tour of the Titanic museum, he asked, incredulously, “What are you going to see in a Titanic museum?  It sank, right?  What else is there?”

“Uh… well, I’m not sure, actually, ” I said, “but I guess I’ll find out.”

Simply put, the Titanic museum is one of the most fascinating museums I’ve ever visited, anywhere in the world.  It tells the story of building Titanic, which is really an industrial history of Belfast.  It follows the rise of the linen, ropemaking and shipbuilding industries and their contributions to this great, unsinkable ship that was the pride of the city at the turn of the century.  Most of the museum walks its many visitors through every rivet, drape and tablecloth on this magnificent ship, which employed many Belfast citizens at the turn of the century.

The sinking, the most familiar part of the story, is told in a darkened room with lights shimmering like water in moonlight.  The sequence of Morse code messages sent from the ship gives the ominous timeline in stoic fashion, while the voices of survivors tell their stories aloud.  The effect is as if you are in the cold, dark water, listening to the halting voice of a now elderly woman describe bodies floating, the silence, the cold.   I was incredibly moved by this part of the experience.

The next section of the museum handles the rescue of some passengers by the Carpathia and the recovery and burial of victims, primarily in Canada, along with the sorrow experienced in Belfast.   Finally, the last display shows the underwater exploration equipment that located Titanic on the ocean floor when the U.S. was searching for a lost nuclear submarine, along with a stunning underfoot video of the wreckage as if you are cruising along its length, looking down from above.

We heard that it was an either a foolhardy gamble or incredible vision that city leadership decided to build this multi-million pound homage to a sunken ship as the centerpiece of its revitalization strategy for Belfast.  Based on my visit, I’d say it was a brilliant, crazy, visionary idea…  the fact that first-year attendance has doubled original projections is testament to the quality of this amazing experience.  Bravo, Belfast!   #smartercities Challenge

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