2012 Titanic Belfast Museum: The History of 9/11’s Future?

[Today we’re pleased to publish a post from our friend Danny Alias over at When Danny Met Sally. Danny is a A) recording artist on Kill the DJ Records, France; B) blogger; C) antique dealer/co-owner of Broadway Antique Market, Chicago; D) all of the above. The correct answer is, almost unbelievably, D.]

One hundred years from now, how will we remember 9/11? Since that unholy day America has remained conflicted over why it happened, what it meant, and, perhaps more profoundly, just where we go from here. For some the answers will evolve over decades. For most others the answers will never be found.

But the world has faced similar tragedies before. The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is regarded as the first global modern media disaster, as Marconi’s new wireless technology was used to announce to the world this horrific event. Beyond the catcalls of “unsinkable” the tragedy was as unprecedented as it was unthinkable. It was an impossibility made possible… and by an iceberg, no less.

Mass media’s first response was of inconceivable disbelief. What was to follow became a mixed bag of conjecture, misinformation, unconfirmed truth, and error. To coin a well-tossed phrase: the final truth of everything comes in last every time.

The scale of the disaster was beyond any emotional acceptance; the loss of life, staggering. Nearly every ethnic nationality was represented in the death toll. And it all occurred within the largest moving object ever created by the mind of man: RMS Titanic.

Of course 9/11 was no accident. But the World Trade Center, the tallest towers in the world, twin monument to the ingenuity of twentieth-century man, were still gone. The loss of life touched nearly every country on the planet.

Now only a dozen years later we are pumping out a flooded museum that has yet to open and waiting for a replacement skyscraper to be completed… eventually.

But there is a lesson here, and I believe it can be found in the imagineers who have conceived Titanic Belfast.

After ten decades of Titanic media and multimedia history/exploitation–the books, the films, the musical, the 3-D recreations, the touring exhibits, and oh yes, the auctions of recovered rare artifacts–what could possibly be left to say? When did disaster morph into entertainment?

Happily there is one crucial element waiting to be explored: humanity. The thousands of people (and the city) that built Titanic. Why not return home like a memory lost in time, to Belfast? Back home to where it all began. Where it will always remain. The soul of its creation.

Architecturally Titanic Belfast simultaneously resembles the four corners of the ship itself (in actual height) as well as the imagined scale of the infamous iceberg. It’s a visual twist that foretells the attention to detail and design to come, elements crucial to the success of this venture. The facade juts out at almost 25 degree angles with over 3,000 anodized sheets folded origami-like into complex designs, two-thirds of which are completely unique, inventing varying light patterns at every angle. In a sense it reflects where the ship meets the sea, and the sea meets the sky.

Visitors move through ten cleverly conceived multimedia exhibits. Entering into “Boomtown Belfast” you meet the men who built the great ship: the names of each designer, their photos, personal information, even recorded comments from friends about what they were like as individuals. The designers and engineers are humanized, their artistry forever memorialized.

The next gallery is perhaps the most inventive: the “Arrol Gantry and Shipyard Ride” is an electronic dark ride that recreates the art of nineteenth-century shipbuilding through the use of CGI animation and various special effects. This is not a cheesy Disney-inspired carnival ride but more of a simulator experience that tastefully takes visitors through the more dangerous aspects of early shipbuilding.

What follows are detailed exhibits covering the launch of the Titanic, fitting out the ship with in a million details of practicality and luxury, the maiden voyage, the sinking, the aftermath, and then a review of the myths and legends concerning the event. The final exhibit is an exploration of the wreck and an oceanic center.

What is missing–and perhaps thankfully–are the original artifacts that have found their way into traveling museum collections and auctions alike. One explanation is the staggering cost of acquiring these items in an ever-escalating market. The other, however, is that Titanic Belfast is not about a cup and saucer. It’s not about a life preserver. It’s not about the button off a First Class officer’s jacket. If this is what you seek, please Google the next Titanic touring show. (I’m sure there’s a holographic one in the works somewhere.)

No. Titanic Belfast is a tribute to those that built and sailed on this iconic ship. It is a chronicler of the event and its aftermath from 1912 to 2012. A lifetime, with the emphasis on human life. An iceberg cannot melt away the memory of over 1,500 souls nor the thousands who built the most futuristic object of their age. They now live, and are alive, at Titanic Belfast.

And here again is the lesson learned: the memory of 9/11 cannot be of terror. Even now, a mere dozen years from the event, the wound is still too deep, too painful. In point of time we are still much, much too close to the event to focus our perspectives. (This is also why the Freedom Tower and its future plans have languished for so many years.) We may think we have accepted the reality of September 11, 2001, but we haven’t. It too was the unprecedented event of the age–a tragedy too awful to accept, too impossible to wrap around in our modern minds.

One hundred years ago a telegraph announced a great disaster to the world. Unbelievable.  9/11 unfolded on live television. Incomprehensible. And then it repeated itself endlessly on the medium of television and another new wonder of the age, the Internet.

Consider then that it has taken the town of Belfast, the mother and father of Titanic herself, one hundred years to absorb the event in this most magnificent and dignified way. In the immediacy of our present lives, healing still takes time.

One hundred years from now, what will 9/11 mean?

I pray that we reflect on those that built World Trade, for those that lost their lives that day in the towers, in those blessed yet fated planes, at the Pentagon, and in a field near Shanksville, PA.

Long live the dead, heroes for years and forever.

Reflect, then sail on.