Titanic Tour

Leo and Kate are nowhere in sight, but a herd of their young fans has just arrived at "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," which recently opened in Boston. I wonder how many times these camp kids have seen Hollywood's "Titanic," and if they'd be as eager to see the artifacts if it weren't for the movie.

As "Titanic" churns toward box-office sales of $2 billion, this exhibition, hosted by New York-based RMS Titanic Inc., is expected to be lucrative as well. Other shows in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Greenwich, England; and Hamburg, Germany, have attracted record crowds.

"Awesome" is the kids' mantra of the morning, starting with the Discovery Channel film about the four expeditions to the wreck site since 1985. It shows how divers probe frigid waters 2-1/2 miles deep in a state-of-the-art submarine equipped with a video camera and mechanical arms.

Of the 5,000 objects recovered so far, more than 300 are in Boston. Others are either undergoing conservation, on the Queen Mary, or in Japan, where they begin a five-city tour next week.

A man's three-piece suit, a gold-and-silver bracelet with the name "Amy," a check from the ship's A La Carte restaurant, and even a legible love letter are among objects that paint a portrait of passengers aboard the luxury liner.

Some say the show corrects misinformation about the tragedy of April 14, 1912. Others say it's a history lesson brought back to life. "If you want to get in close contact with history, you can't just read about it," says Titanic historian Claes-Goran Westerholm.

Then there's William F. Buckley Jr., quoted in the show, who says that the research and recovery efforts "present artifacts for public exhibit so that future generations will be cautioned in their pursuit of extra human conceits."

Other scholars question if it's necessary or even moral to retrieve the artifacts and profit from them. "We consider it to be a grave site," says Edward Kamuda, founder of the Titanic Historical Society.

Of course explorer George Tulloch, president of RMS Titanic, disagrees: "We should respect our ancestors by passing on their memories in a meaningful, three-dimensional way to our descendants."

Next month, Mr. Tulloch and a salvage team will attempt a second time to raise a 22-ton section of the ship's hull - live on prime-time TV. Tulloch hopes to transport the piece, more than three stories high, to Boston as a centerpiece of the exhibition, where visitors will watch as conservators work to restore the rusted piece.

Apart from accusations of grave robbing and commercialism, there's no denying that the expeditions themselves, from the viewpoints of science, technology, and conservation, are indeed "awesome."

* 'Titanic: the Artifact Exhibition' is at Boston's World Trade Center until Nov. 1. For future tour dates, visit www.Titanic-online.com

Comments? E-mail them to wolcott@csmonitor.com

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