Museums

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Exhibit Titanic Survivors

Nearly 95 years after the sinking of the Titanic , the story of the ill-fated ship continues to enthrall the public like no other saga. Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition feeds that endless curiosity by bringing to the public never-before-seen items recovered from the wreck two and a half miles beneath the North Atlantic.

The interior of the new National Museum of the Marine Corps.
 
nick merrick © hedrich-blessing/courtesy of fentress bradburn architects2006_6_22
Exhibit Titanic Survivors

Nearly 95 years after the sinking of the Titanic , the story of the ill-fated ship continues to enthrall the public like no other saga. Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition feeds that endless curiosity by bringing to the public never-before-seen items recovered from the wreck two and a half miles beneath the North Atlantic. RMS Titanic , the company with diving rights to the site, sponsors the exhibit, dividing the five thousand–plus found objects among concurrent shows in cities around the world (current exhibitions are in San Francisco and Las Vegas). Ticket sales to the exhibit, which claims to be the most widely attended of its kind in history, in turn help fund the recovery missions, which are conducted by manned submersibles and remotely operated vehicles.

Handson explanations of all this nifty science are nicely woven in with displays of passengers’ personal effects (handbags, unsent postcards, and shaving brushes) and actual pieces of the ship that survived the “rusticles,” or iron-related bacteria at the bottom of the ocean. Entire public spaces are re-created in thoughtful detail around a few authentic remnants. But it is the exhibit’s interactive theme—a “you are there” approach—that lends the show its intimate feel. Profiles of passengers and crew, from first-class magnates to engine-room stokers, are highlighted throughout, and upon “embarkation,” visitors are given a reproduction of a ticket that belonged to a Titanic passenger (whose fate is disclosed at the end). It’s a humanizing detail among all that steel and ice. See www.titanic-online.com .— Amy Weaver Dorning

National Shrine Bringing George Washington Back To Life

“This has been a massive, very expensive effort because we’ve wanted to bring George Washington back to his rightful place as first in the hearts of his countrymen.” That’s how James Rees, the executive director of Mount Vernon , Washington’s estate on the Potomac River in Virginia, explains the building of the new visitors’ center and museum that just opened in October, after 11 years of planning and construction, $60 million of fundraising for initial costs, and another $50 million to endow future operations.

The result is stunning. Arriving at Mount Vernon, you now enter the Ford Orientation Center, which is spacious and light and airy yet remarkably unobtrusive from without. The offerings there, before you head out to Washington’s home, include a one-twelfthscale model of the house and every piece of furniture in it and a $5 million 18-minute live-action film that shows the young Washington meeting and courting his future wife, battling in the French and Indian War, preparing to cross the Delaware in 1776, and resigning his commission in 1783—all as a way of quickly acquainting you with his life and accomplishments in the years before what Rees calls Mount Vernon’s golden age, the happy time between the end of the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention and Presidency.

But the best new addition is the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, which you’re expected to visit after taking the tour of Washington’s house and enjoying the grounds. Part of the museum is a traditional exhibit space that will display 800 artifacts, foremost among them the great 1785 bust of Washington by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. But there’s also a string of galleries that give you a multimedia trip through Washington’s whole life. It includes among many other things TV monitors showing short films produced by the History Channel, a reproduction of a cabin at Valley Forge, a theater with a big-screen movie about the Revolution, and a room devoted entirely to Washington’s dentures (a painfully fascinating subject). But best of all are the three dioramas containing ultrarealistic life-size figures of Washington, at ages 19, 45, and 57, based on painstaking scientific research.