Seeing the Titanic in Las Vegas

Are Disaster Museums Appropriate?

iceberg Seeing a large portion of the doomed ship Titanic in the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, a part of me thinks that no part of this boat should have been brought back to solid ground. Yes, the story of the Titanic is an interesting one of hubris, fate, class, decorum. When I learn that the portion of the hull on display was raised only to sink back into ocean during rough seas (and how I would love to have heard portions of the conversation on the recovery boat that day) only to be retrieved again years later, I consider that the Titanic wanted to stay where it was. Why, really, are we bringing it up?

Yet I marvel at the shattered glass of the windows in that big section of hull. I ponder the endurance of perfume oils belonging to a passenger that are still fragrant after decades in the water. I peer at rows of casserole dishes that remained neatly aligned as so many elements of the colossal ship crashed around them. Even as I don’t avert my eyes, I wonder, should I really be looking?

Titanic exhibition at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas

The Titanic exhibition at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

I like the idea of themed museums, the notion of convenience, the opportunity for a bit of learning during an afternoon of gambling or shopping or show business. I know that the romance of so many lives lost, of these artifacts of people’s lives, is what draws visitors to a lesson on corporate arrogance, to one on regulatory oversight, to one on test runs. Would I go to an accident-prevention museum while on vacation? No way. Would I go to a museum dedicated to boats that actually do float? Not likely.

Titanic's captian, E. J. Smith

Titanic’s captian, E. J. Smith

I’ve seen Titanic the movie, though, and Titanic the slot machine, and I’ve driven by Titanic: The Experience in Orlando, Fla., and I think I might just think a bit differently about all of this if I had lost someone aboard. I didn’t, though, and so I peer on.

—Lori Tripoli

 

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