A ship's porthole. A tool's wooden handle, without the blade. A leather purse. A $10 bill. An ornate brass button.
The items arranged on a table at the Utah Museum of Natural History were simple and ordinary, yet each had a story and each delivered a powerful emotional jolt.
They are relics of the Titanic, the most famous wrecked ship in history, among many others that will be on display at the ZCMI Center from May 29 until Jan. 8, 2005. The museum, sponsor of the exhibit, hosted a press conference Tuesday to announce details of the exhibition.
Salvaged from 2 1/2 miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the well-preserved objects were collected from the debris field of material scattered on the ocean floor around the wreck. They told these tales:
The porthole belonged to a third-class passenger compartment, historians determined from its size. "You can just imagine someone looking out this porthole saying good-bye to Southampton, with every expectation of arriving safely in New York," said Mark Lach of RMS Titanic Inc., the company that owns salvage rights to the wreck.
The handle was from an upholsterer's tool, preserved inside a leather bag. The blade rusted away but the wood remains. Two friends were working their way around the world, taking on upholstery projects. One missed the boat — Titanic — but his friend carried his tools with him intending to return them when both reached the United States. The friend died that dreadful night of April 14-15, 1912.
The purse was preserved because tanning chemicals used to cure leather repel microorganisms. The ornate, colorful banknote inside the purse was safe from organisms.
The button carries the insignia of the Titanic's steamer line, the White Star Line. It was a spare officer's button that was carried in a bag along with a pipe. Since Third Officer Herbert John Pitman was a smoker, it may have belonged to him. (Pitman survived the sinking and died in 1961.)
The material was just a sample of the exhibition, which should display about 160 items salvaged from the Titanic, as well as re-creations of rooms in the giant steamer, a simulation of the engine room where workers shoveled coal as the ship sank, and even a large ice sheet in the form of an iceberg.
An especially poignant exhibit will be perfume samples on their way to America. After nine decades on the ocean's floor the perfume retains its flowery smell — a scent visitors will detect when they walk through.
Science plays an important part in the exhibition, titled "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition." Museum director Sarah B. George said part of the exhibit will be information about the painstaking conservation of material salvaged.
The exhibition will be in a "museum annex" to be constructed at the ZCMI Center
Tickets, available through a number of outlets, go on sale Saturday at Ticketmaster. Cost ranges from $14.95 for most adults to $3.50 for school groups. Tickets also will be sold at ZCMI Center and the museum starting May 29. Further information is available by calling 581-6928.