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Titanic museum launched in Southampton, England

By Raphael Satter
Associated Press / April 3, 2012
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SOUTHAMPTON, England—Most people associate the drama of the Titanic with icebergs, lifeboats, and flares fired into the night. Few think of the heartbreak that took place as news of the tragedy filtered home.

Curators of Southampton's new SeaCity Museum -- opening April 10 -- hope to tell the story of the shattered city that the infamous ship left behind when it sank on April 15, 1912.

"This is Southampton's Titanic story," said exhibition manager Dan Matthews, who gave journalists a tour Tuesday.

Southampton, one of England's premier passenger ports, lost some 500 residents when the White Star liner sank beneath the waves. Many here initially refused to believe the news that the ship was no more. But soon the town was in shock, with flags lowered to half mast and an open air service that drew tens of thousands of mourners.

SeaCity explores the lives of Southampton's working-class crew, and the impact that their tragedy had on the city's families. It does so by offering a virtual tour of the ship, one introduced by a slightly eerie recording of a child calling out: "Bye-bye, have a good time!"

Inside, visitors can follow the careers of various crew members -- from cooks to stewards and watchmen. Recordings from survivors -- played into a dark, chilly room -- provide an unsettling conclusion to the tour.

The museum also explores the legend that grew up around the doomed vessel. Among the souvenirs and memorabilia: A "Tubtanic" bath plug; Iceberg Brewery beer mugs; and, if beer isn't your thing, a "Gin and Titonic" ice cube tray.

The Southhampton museum is merely the latest in a string of Titanic offerings. Last Saturday, Belfast opened its impressive 100-million pound ($160 million, (EURO)120 million) Titanic Belfast visitor center to celebrate the city where the doomed ship was built.

With 100,000 tickets already sold, Belfast is betting the center will deliver a lasting tourism boost to the conflict-scarred city.

Officials hope the center's stunning exterior -- four jutting prows of the ship, lined in silver steel paneling, six stories high -- will create an icon that people will come to associate with Belfast, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

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