Shipwrecks in the Smokies: Titanic Fever

Just getting back on my feet after an epic Thanksgiving vacation which involved crisscrossing the eastern half of United States in a tiny, tiny car. We racked up a few thousand miles driving day and night for a week (that’s a lot for a guy who has been leery of leaving his zip code these days). There were moments of exhaustion and delirium, so you can excuse me for thinking the billboard I saw advertising a Titanic museum in eastern Tennessee at 4 in the morning was an apparition. I was looking for beers, deer and elk, but, as usual, found a shipwreck.

According to its website, Titanic Pigeon Forge is “the world’s largest museum attraction.” The 30,000 square-foot, ship-shaped museum houses more than 400 artifacts that “were either carried off the ship by Titanic passengers and crew or were recovered from the sea during the rescue effort.” An identical museum is in Branson, Missouri. Fascinating is the only word that comes to mind (that and the grad student standby: interesting). I can hardly describe my disappointment in not being able to stop and take the self-guided tour.

No doubt Titanic fever is on the rise. Indeed, experts predict it will become a pandemic by the 100-year anniversary of the April 1912 disaster. If the Titanic museums exemplify one end of the fever’s spectrum, then the shipwreck kitsch advertised in Sunday’s New York Times suggests just how variable the fever’s symptoms can be.

The full-page New York Times Store advertisement included a “Titanic Photo Signed by Last Survivor” (framed for $325), “Titanic 100th Anniversary Box” ($189 includes “authentic coal from the R.M.S. Titanic and five 1912 U.S. coins, including three made of silver…a reprinted Titanic front page”), and Titanic models (the 32″ for $295 or the 40″ for $395). The image above is from the store’s online flyer, which offers a few more items–“Titanic Commemorative Newspaper” (36-pages for $18.95), “Titanic Stock” ($75 for stock certificate issued 20-30 years after the ship sank), “Titanic Wood Debris from 1912” ($645 for a piece of history), and–only 6 left!–“Authentic Titanic Wreckage Wood on Marble Base” ($1,495). Hardly elitest, The New York Times Store offers shipwreck kitsch at multiple price points.

Finally, in the spirit of cyber monday I am passing along Titanic Fever (aka shipwreck kitsch) discounts and deals. Headed to Pigeon Falls? — text “ICEBERG” to 62447 for an undisclosed merchandise discount at the gift shop. More interested in having your Titanic experienced shipped to your doorstep? Use promo code “CYBER” at nytstore.com to save 15% and get free shipping on orders over $99.

What does this Titanic fever mean? What does it say about contemporary culture? About our relationship with the past, with disasters and the sea? Probably a lot. But that’s for future posts. Until then, happy shopping.

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2 Comments

Filed under Notes from the Field, Shipwreck Kitsch

2 responses to “Shipwrecks in the Smokies: Titanic Fever

  1. Tom

    You’ll have to return to the Titanic museum at a more reasonable hour and see what they have to offer. What a find!
    And you’re right, in five short months, the world will be talking about all the memorabilia of that infamous shipwreck.

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