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Atlanta Company Brings Titanic Mystique to Georgia Aquarium

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Atlantans might be familiar with the story of RMS Titanic, the “unsinkable ship” that met its end on its maiden voyage, but a new exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium is drawing more than 1,000 visitors a day to get a better picture of life on the famous ocean liner.

Sites all over the world pay homage to the victims of the Titanic’s tragic sinking, but a partnership between two Atlanta entities made the exhibit's worldwide debut at the aquarium possible.

Carey Rountree, the aquarium’s senior vice president for sales and marketing, told GlobalAtlanta attendance at the “Titanic: Aquatic” exhibit has been steady since making its debut Aug. 22.

The exhibit is the result of a partnership between the world’s largest aquarium and Atlanta’s RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc. that salvages and displays artifacts from the Titanic wreck site.

Premier’s “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” has toured the world as a traveling museum since 1991, attracting more than 20 million visitors. RMS Titanic won the sole rights to salvage items from the wreck in a 1994 U.S. court decision.

Tom Zaller, the Atlanta-based company’s vice president for exhibitions, said the idea of a Georgia Aquarium partnership started small but became a mission to present an all-new Titanic experience.
“It started with the idea of bringing one artifact to the aquarium, then it just snowballed,” he said.

“Titanic: Aquatic” is meant to provide a hands-on experience of life on the ship, including artifacts recovered from the wreck, re-creations of cabins inside the vessel and audio and visual presentations about its short but historic existence.

Mr. Zaller said that Premier staff was faced with the challenge not only of presenting something new to their company, but to do so in a different environment than they are accustomed.

“We've never had an exhibition in an aquarium before we had to take into consideration the humidity changes and different things we don't normally deal with in a museum,” he said. “We took the opportunity to rewrite a lot of the material to fit with the mission.”

Mr. Rountree said the exhibit furthers the aquarium’s mission of educating Atlantans about the ocean.

“The whole idea of the Georgia Aquarium was to bring the oceans to Atlanta. We've done that with animals; we're doing that now with artifacts,” he said.

Atlanta advertising and public relations firm Creaxion helped facilitate the partnership between the aquarium and RMS Titanic.

“Both being Atlanta-based companies, this was a great opportunity to bring the Titanic in and showcase the story of Titanic, but also the story of how the power of the ocean impacts man and in turn how man impacts the ocean,” Mr. Rountree said.

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors are handed a boarding pass including the name and information of an actual passenger aboard the Titanic. They then pass through displays about life on the ship and its tragic end, and at the end can find their character’s name on a passenger list and discover if they lived or not.

Along the way, visitors can touch a frozen chunk of ice to get a feel for how cold the water was the night of April 14, 1912, when Titanic sank. Other hands-on displays include a demonstration of the submarine that RMS Titanic pilots 12,500 feet below the Atlantic to recover artifacts from the wreck.
The objects themselves are mostly everyday items like clothes, dinnerware and luggage transformed into historic relics by the human tragedy involved with the ship’s sinking.

“Everybody on board that ship had a story and that’s why these objects are so powerful,” he said.

There are no concrete plans for the exhibit to be held in other cities, but Mr. Zaller said there has been interest expressed and the project will continue to explore that possibility.

Public captivation with the Titanic story is evident in the success of Premier’s exhibits and about 120 memorials to the famous ship around the world, not to mention the highest-grossing film title of all time.

Developers in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Titanic was built, are only now beginning to capitalize on the tourism potential of the famous ship.

GlobalAtlanta visited Belfast in June to examine business and tourism initiatives there. A major project getting underway involves renovating the former Harland and Wolff shipyards into a 185-acre mixed-use development, the new Titanic Quarter.

Decades of division and conflict in the United Kingdom province prevented renovation of the docks where Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic were built and launched.

But with a peace deal in place since 1998 and regional government restored last year, construction is under way on the new city quarter. The site at Belfast’s Queen’s Island is expected to house 25-30,000 people and create 25,000 jobs when completed over the next 15 years.

At the center of the project’s first phase is to be a steel and glass Titanic museum, designed in four sections reminiscent of the bows of a ship coming out of the water, the same design used for the front of the Georgia Aquarium.

Right now the only monument to the ship in its hometown is an informal mural, painted by Belfast residents on the side of a building to display the city’s shipbuilding history.

Posted on: 2008/9/13 18:59
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