By Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Times Staff Writer
Concert halls don't often get turned into museums, but starting Saturday, the Mahaffey Theater is turning over a portion of its second-floor ballroom and atrium into a five-month visiting exhibition of Titanic artifacts from the only company permitted by law to recover objects from the wreckage site on the ocean floor.
Tickets are priced at $19.12 (Get it? The ship sank 100 years ago on April 15, 1912) to see an exhibition that focuses on the human stories told through artifacts. In all, 125 artifacts are on display, retrieved from the debris field that stretches for miles behind the sunken ship, said Kim Terbush-Watson, the registrar of the exhibition who oversaw the setup and display.
On a recent tour of the exhibit, Terbush-Watson was sporting a lab coat and white gloves as she carefully set amazingly pristine porcelain au gratin dishes into a sand-filled display case, replicating how the dishes were first found on the ocean floor. The wooden box they were encased in had long ago rotted away, but the porcelain still shines like it just came out of the Pottery Barn catalog.
"Most of the porcelain survived very well, and things that were encased in luggage also were preserved," she said, "so we have currency, letters, clothes. The tanning process used at the time for leather luggage protected what was inside."
So the stories of the passengers here get told through perfume from a maker who was traveling to New York to sell his samples or china etched with the logo of the elite White Star Line.
Upon entering the exhibition on the second floor of the Mahaffey, visitors will receive a replicated boarding pass of an actual passenger on board Titanic. They then begin their chronological journey through the life of Titanic, moving through the ship's construction, to life on board, to the ill-fated sinking and the artifact recovery efforts.
There are models of first- and third-class cabins, and the iceberg makes an appearance in the form of real ice on a wall display that visitors can touch.
As visitors exit, there is a memorial wall, where they can find out if the passenger whose name is on their boarding passes survived the trip.
There's a high-tech element as well, with touch-screen videos showing the sonar, 3D and HD imaging that have been used to map the wreck site of Titanic and document its current condition. The Mahaffey is one of the first venues to showcase the interactive elements from the expedition of the wreck site in the summer of 2010.
The Titanic story continues to fascinate. Over the past 15 years, more than 25 million people have seen this exhibition in museums in Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris and London.
RMS Titanic, Inc. is the only company permitted by law to recover objects from the wreck site of Titanic. It has conducted eight research and recovery expeditions there and recovered more than 5,500 artifacts.
In addition to the touring exhibitions, the company maintains a large permanent exhibit in Las Vegas at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, where they have replicated the ship's Grand Staircase.
St. Petersburg last had a tour of Titanic artifacts during a 1997 exhibition at the now-closed Florida International Museum. The exhibit drew more than 1 million visitors.