Titanic anniversary: Philadelphia and the Titanic 100 years later

Widener University is commemorating the centennial of the sinking of the
Titanic with a special museum show focusing on passengers and crew
members from the Philadelphia region.

“Each person entering the exhibit will be given a ‘boarding pass,’
with the name of someone from Philadelphia who sailed on the Titanic,”
says curator Joseph Edgette, a professor of education and folklore at
Widener and an authority on the Titanic. The back of the tag gives the
person’s age, who they were with and why they were sailing.
Philadelphians were on board the ship as crew members and as passengers
in all three classes.

“After they see the whole exhibit, the final room will have pictures
of everyone from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area,” Edgette
explains. “[Attendees] can see what the person on their boarding pass
looked like and find out whether they perished or survived.”

The exhibit has many artifacts from the ship and from survivors; a
lifeboat model; a display comparing the menus and dishware from first,
second and third class; and a section of a century’s worth of pop
culture reactions to the tragedy, from sheet music to movie posters.

Also on display will be some of the only known photographs of the
Titanic itself, including photos of people on board during the first two
days of the voyage. These were taken by Father Frank Browne, who left
the ship in Queenstown. “A lot of photos that people think are of the
Titanic are actually of her sister ship, the Olympic,” explains Edgette.

100 years of fascination

Brother Edward Sheehy, associate
professor of history at La Salle University, is another local Titanic
expert. “It caught people’s imaginations because there hadn’t been a
major sea disaster in the North Atlantic in 40 years,” he says. “And we
continue to be fascinated because there are so many ‘what-ifs.'”

Also intriguing is who was, and wasn’t, on the ship. Several famous
people were originally scheduled to sail but didn’t, including radio
pioneer Guglielmo Marconi and tycoon J.P. Morgan.

Four-legged passengers

were 12 dogs aboard the Titanic, three of which survived, Edgette says.
A special section of the exhibit will have pictures and information
about these dogs, including their names and their owners.

“There is such a special bond between people and their pets. For
many, they are considered to be family members,” Edgette says. “I don’t
think any Titanic exhibit has examined that relationship and recognized
those loyal family pets that also lost their lives on the cruise.”

Why Widener?

The Chester County college, originally
founded as a military academy in 1821, was renamed in honor of George
and Eleanore Widener in 1972. They had sailed on the Titanic with their
son Harry; Eleanore was the only one of the three to survive. George and
Eleanore’s grandson, philanthropist Fitz Dixon, served on Widener’s
board and asked that the college be named for them.

If you go

The exhibit, which is free and open to the
public, will run from today through May 12 in the Widener Art Gallery
(14th St. between Walnut Street and Melrose Avenue in Chester). Hours
are Tuesdays

from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

will be a reception on Saturday, April 14 — the 100th anniversary of
the sinking of the Titanic — from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the gallery.

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