The two-story museum, which is shaped like the ship but is half the size of the original, contains more than 400 artifacts that are valued at over $4.5 million.
As guests enter, they are given a boarding pass of an actual passenger or crew member of the Titanic. Visitors find out if their counterpart survived or perished in the Titanic Memorial Room at the end of the self-guided tour.
Guests also have opportunities to walk a $1 million replica of the ship’s grand staircase, touch an iceberg and feel 28-degree water, shovel “coal” in the boiler room, stand on the sloping decks of the stern and sit in a lifeboat.
“We find the best way to remember the passenger and crew of Titanic is to bring the ship to life,” said John Joslyn, owner of the Titanic Museum attractions in Pigeon Forge and Branson, Mo.
Joslyn led a $6 million expedition to the site of the sinking in 1987, two years after the wreckage was discovered by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
The footage from 32 dives that his team conducted during 44 days at sea was used in a two-hour television special titled “Return to Titanic…Live!”
Numerous artifacts were also retrieved and became part of an exhibition that toured the United States in the 1990s.
Hundreds of thousands turned out to see a public display of the objects in Memphis in 1997. Shortly thereafter, Joslyn told his partners that it was time to find a permanent facility for the collection.
However, Joslyn decided that the original artifacts were too controversial for the museum he had in mind. Some questioned whether their removal had been handled appropriately while others suggested it was grave robbing.
Although Joslyn maintains that the expedition team adhered to strictly professional standards, he felt it best to lease 80 artifacts from another collector for an exhibition in Orlando. He gathered other items at annual auctions held in New York and London.
When Joslyn studied visitor surveys, he was surprised to learn that their favorite aspect of the exhibit was not the artifacts that he had spent so much time and money collecting.
“They loved the stories about the passengers and crew and how we brought those to life. They also loved how we had recreated the state rooms and grand staircase in all its elegance,” Joslyn said.
In 2006, the Titanic Museum opened in Branson, Mo. The Pigeon Forge attraction followed in 2010.
About 500,000 visitors come through the museums each year.
The museums have hosted several special events and exhibits this year leading up to today’s 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.
A century after the Titanic went down in the Atlantic, Joslyn said the great ship still holds allure for history lovers of all ages.
“People just can’t enough of it,” Joslyn said. ̋