The famous wreckage of the Titanic, first discovered in 1985 off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, continues to speak from its deep grave in the North Atlantic. The many research and study expeditions to the doomed ocean liner have led to feature films and documentaries, and numerous artifacts have been sold to collectors who have shared them with the public.
One of the latest discoveries – the violin owned by the ship’s bandmaster, Wallace Hartley, comes to the Titanic Museum in Branson, providing visitors in the U.S. with an opportunity to see this rare artifact for the first time.
Beginning March 7 and through Memorial Day weekend, the violin will be displayed in the Memorial Gallery, the final one visitors pass through during their visit where they learn the fate of the passengers and crew.
Hartley did not survive the disaster and his damaged violin was found strapped to his body and later returned to his fiancée, who had purchased it for him. More than a century later, the violin resurfaced in the attic of a home in England in 2006, coincidentally the same year the Titanic Museum opened in Branson. It was sold to a European collector in 2013 for $1.7 million at the Henry Aldridge & Sons Auction House of Devizes in Wiltshire, England.
When found, the violin was adorned with an engraved silver plate that connected it to Hartley and later it was also authenticated through testing of salt-water deposits. At the time it was sold, Andrew Aldridge, auction house director, said, “in my 20 years as an auctioneer, I can honestly say I don’t think any other article has made people show as much emotion as this one.”
While the new owner wishes to remain anonymous, he decided to share this amazing artifact with the Titanic museums in Branson, 3235 W. 76 Country Boulevard, and Pigeon Ford, Tennessee, both owned by John and Mary Kellogg-Joslyn, who are passionate about the subject matter and expanding their museums.
“We’re all about celebrating the lives of the all the passengers and crew and we’re so excited to display the treasured violin of Wallace Hartley,” she said.
The Music Gallery, a permanent exhibit added to Titanic Branson in 2014, already contains large photographs of Hartley and the other band members, many quite young, along with bio information. The Music Gallery is one of the most moving and memorable parts of touring the museum. The day I visited, a pianist played a baby grand piano that sits in the middle of the room, including the song, “My Heart Will Go On,” from the Academy Award winning 1997 film, “Titanic.” Thinking about the musicians selflessness as they continued to play that fateful night to calm the passengers was very emotional and powerful.
James Cameron, the Academy Award winning director, depicted this scene in the film, where Hartley and his band play “Nearer, My God to Thee,” reputed to be their final song as the ship continued to take on water. Haunting and chilling in the film, the song was played at Hartley’s funeral in the chapel and gravesite in Colne Lancashire England, which last year was made a historic site.
There were of course survivors.
Upon entering the Titanic Museum, each visitor receives a boarding pass of a real passenger and later in the Memorial Gallery learns his or her fate. Mine – first class passenger Helen Candee from Washington D.C., – survived the disaster. A writer and social activist, she wrote the book “How Women May Earn a Living,” an early feminist piece that encouraged women to be strong and independent.
I was relieved that my passenger lived and as I exited the museum that day I did so with sea legs because the experience was a bit of a roller coaster ride.
With the guides striking humorous and somber notes as they took us through the museum that shows how those booked in first class cabins lived on board versus the third class passengers. All in all, the museum is absolutely worth visiting and has added a historical and educational attraction on the Branson strip, a place the owners never saw themselves.
Both in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, John Kelogg founded Westgate Entertainment in 1980, while his wife served as the executive vice president of television for The Walt Disney Company for 20 years and was responsible for bringing the “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee show to the air. She also served as the executive-in-charge of production.
As CEO and president of the Titanic Museum in Branson, John Kellogg served as the
co-expedition leader of the 1987 Titanic expedition, the first to recover and restore artifacts from the ship’s final resting place on the ocean floor in the North Atlantic. He and his team of scientific and salvage experts completed 32 dives in the “Nautile,” the French institute’s deep-diving submersible.
Those artifacts then toured the world until he decided they needed a permanent home. When his wife brought the “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” show to Branson, the response was so positive they decided to open the first Titanic museum there.
There have been a number of research and recovery expeditions, including some led by Cameron’s fascination with the Titanic. The Academy Award winning director of the film “Titanic,” and a group of scientists also took submersibles to view the Titanic and their experience was the 2003 documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss.” He has made 30 dives to the ship and in 2012 made another film, “Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron.”
It seems arguable that there will ever be a final word on the public’s fascination with the Titanic. Titanic Museum Branson has welcomed more than 6.5 million visitors during its 10 years of operation, a validation of the owner’s belief that it would resonate with people.
“We’re constantly reinventing ourselves and trying to bring in new artifacts and galleries to enhance the experience for our visitors,” Kellogg-Joslyn said. “We’re storytellers at the at the Titanic Museum and we’re very excited to have this important artifact to pay further tribute to Wallace Hartley and the other musicians and everyone on board the ship.”