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Titanic centennial crosses land and sea

TITANTIC BELFAST

The six-story Titanic Belfast, scheduled to open March 31, anchors the Titanic Quarter, a redevelopment of the shipyard into apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants, and movie studio.

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the mighty White Star Line steamship slipped under the Atlantic Ocean’s cobalt waters. Hours after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage, the Titanic landed not only on the seabed, but also in the history books and annals of popular culture.

Thousands of ships over centuries have littered the ocean floor, but even 100 years after its demise, the Titanic grips the public imagination. “The chronicle of life and death of both the prominent and immigrants seeking a new beginning along with tales of courage and sacrifice, the characteristics and virtues we admire and associate with, seem to affect people more than other sinking ship accounts,’’ says Karen Kamuda, vice president of the Titanic Historical Society, founded in 1963 in Springfield.

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With the approaching centennial of the disaster that claimed more than 1,500 lives, get ready for an onslaught of ads for tacky souvenirs (dangling Titanic coal earrings, anyone?) and a 3-D version of James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster movie. But if you want to venture beyond the local multiplex, there are places around the globe, from Northern Ireland to rural Tennessee, that will commemorate the Titanic’s sinking:

BELFAST: The Titanic story starts at its birthplace. It was here in the city’s industrial glory days that the Harland and Wolff shipyard built the world’s largest ocean liner.

“For about 75 years, no one in Belfast mentioned the Titanic. It was a source of hurt pride, embarrassment, perhaps even shame,’’ says Susie Millar, who runs Titanic Tours Belfast. “Since the wreck was discovered, however, the city has been forming a new relationship with the Titanic. With our manufacturing industry gone, we were able to look back on what an industrial powerhouse Belfast was 100 years ago and with a renewed sense of pride in the innovation and engineering that went into building Titanic.’’

That pride shines at Titanic Belfast, a new visitor attraction scheduled to open March 31 that anchors the Titanic Quarter, a 185-acre redevelopment of the shipyard that includes apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants, and a movie studio.

Even before its opening, Titanic Belfast has become an architectural icon for a reborn city. The distinctive facade of the six-story building resembles four ship hulls covered in 3,000 silver anodized aluminum panels that gleam as brightly as the Titanic when it was launched from the slipway just yards away. Titanic Belfast’s nine galleries tell the story of the liner from its conception through the discovery of the wreck, and it features a virtual ride through the shipyard where visitors learn about the Titanic’s construction.

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Millar, whose great-grandfather helped build the Titanic and perished when it sank, leads guided tours of Belfast landmarks with a connection to the ship. Stops include the slipway, the home of chief designer Thomas Andrews, the drawing office where the Titanic was designed, and the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line vessel afloat and a scaled-down version of the Titanic. www.titanicbelfast.com, www.titanictours-belfast.co.uk

A final photograph of the Titanic as she lay anchored in Ireland’s Cork Harbor before her ill-fated voyage across the Atlantic.

Cork Examiner

SOUTHAMPTON, England: Often lost in the mythology surrounding the Titanic is the scope of its tragedy, and no place was hit harder than this coastal city. The sinking took the lives of 549 Southampton residents, mostly crew members, including Captain Edward Smith.

A century after the Titanic departed Southampton on its ill-fated voyage, the city on April 10 will christen the new Sea City Museum. After ascending a bridge resembling a gangway, visitors embark on a journey through galleries in which they can listen to the voices of Titanic survivors recounting their harrowing experiences and view artifacts such as Smith’s Royal Naval Reserve dress sword and a pocket watch found on the body of a steward. The museum is also hosting a temporary exhibit that explores the world’s enduring fascination with the tragedy.

Also on April 10, Southampton will host a memorial concert featuring classical and contemporary music and offer guided tours of the numerous monuments around the city commemorating the deceased. www.seacitymuseum.co.uk, www.southampton.gov.uk

COBH, Ireland: This southwestern harbor town, known as Queenstown before Irish independence, was the Titanic’s last port of call on April 11, 1912. The original White Star Line offices from which the final 123 passengers, nearly all third class, boarded tenders to the ship anchored in Cork Harbor will be reborn next month as Titanic Experience Cobh. Using interactive audiovisual exhibits, it will provide a flavor of what life was like for third-class passengers and tell the stories of the individuals who departed from Ireland.

Afterward, visitors can take a guided tour along the Titanic Trail through the town’s historic waterfront, which has changed little in the past century, and visit landmarks such as the actual pier from which the passengers departed.

Cobh’s yearlong Titanic 100 commemoration will be punctuated by a week of events April 9-15 that will include a series of outdoor concerts with prominent musicians and performers telling the story of Titanic’s connection with Ireland, a remembrance service, and a military tribute. On April 11, towns along the west coast of County Cork plan to mark the centennial of the Titanic passing its coastline - the ship’s last sighting of land - by lighting fires along its headlands. www.titanic.ie, www.titanic100.ie, www.titanicexperiencecobh.ie

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia: Wreckage from the Titanic and more than 200 bodies of victims were brought to this Canadian provincial capital, the closest major port to the disaster. Some of those artifacts, including a well-preserved deck chair and finely carved woodworks, are on display inside the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Visitors can wander the three city cemeteries where lie the graves of 150 victims, marked by granite headstones paid for by the White Star Line. A candlelight commemoration is planned the night of April 14 at Fairview Lawn Cemetery. www.novascotia.com/en/home/discovernovascotia/history/titanic

CAPE RACE, Newfoundland and Labrador: “Have struck iceberg.’’ That was the chilling distress message received by the Marconi radio station at this outpost on the rugged island coast of the closest land to the disaster 380 miles to the southeast. From here, rescue efforts were organized, and the awful news was relayed by telegraph around the world. A commemoration is planned for April 14 on the site of the Marconi station that received the Titanic’s message. www.titaniccommemoration.com

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn.: Leave it to the home of Dollywood and the Elvis Museum to sport a Titanic tourist attraction housed in a half-scale replica of the ship complete with a 30-foot-tall re-creation of the iceberg. Visitors to Titanic Pigeon Forge receive a “boarding pass’’ bearing the name of an actual passenger, and before leaving they search a panel of names to discover whether that person survived. Inside, there are reproductions of the famous first-class grand staircase, dining rooms, a third-class quarters, and a first-class suite. Twenty galleries feature hundreds of artifacts, and staffers are costumed as ship’s crew. There is a sister location in another resort town: Branson, Mo. Special events are planned at both locations throughout the year. www.titanicpigeonforge.com, www.titanicbranson.com

SPRINGFIELD: Less kitschy is the intimate Titanic Museum, founded by Edward Kamuda and run by the Titanic Historical Society, in the city’s Indian Orchard neighborhood. The museum boasts the world’s largest collection of Titanic artifacts, many of which were donated by survivors. Memorabilia range from original blueprints to Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s lifejacket.

The society is hosting the Titanic Centennial Memorial Weekend April 20-22, which includes the unveiling of a new memorial in Springfield’s Oak Grove Cemetery and events at the Castle of Knights in Chicopee that include lectures, a memorial service, and a formal gala dinner in the spirit of the cuisine served by the Titanic’s first-class restaurant. www.titanic1.org

NEW YORK. Titanic Anniversary Cruise: Miles Morgan Travel is sponsoring an eight-night cruise that leaves April 10 from New York, the Titanic’s destination. After a stop in Halifax, the ship will pause over the Titanic’s wreckage site for a memorial service at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. Guests can attend lectures by Titanic historians and sample the same type of food and drink enjoyed by the ship’s passengers. A similar cruise from Southampton, has been sold out for more than a year. www.titanicmemorialcruise.co.uk

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland and Labrador. Expedition Titanic: If hovering 12,500 feet above the wreckage site isn’t close enough for you, there’s always Expedition Titanic, which is sponsoring summertime trips to the shipwreck itself. For $60,000 and up, guests who book through high-end tour companies can voyage from this Canadian provincial capital to the wreckage site, where they glide over the Titanic in submersible vehicles. The wreck and debris field, discovered in 1985, are so deep that it takes over two hours to reach from the surface. www.deepoceanexpeditions.com

Christopher Klein can be reached at chris@christopherklein.com.

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